Sheffield Town Hall was opened by Queen Victoria on the afternoon of May 21, 1897, postponed from a year earlier, due to the death of Prince Henry of Battenberg, husband to Beatrice, her youngest child.
The story of the grand opening is remarkable because Queen Victoria completed the ceremony, and other duties in the city, without ever leaving her carriage.
On 23 September 1896, Victoria had surpassed George III as the longest-reigning monarch in British history (that distinction now going to our present Queen), but she requested that celebrations be delayed until 1897, to coincide with her Diamond Jubilee.
By this time, she was 77-years-old, much frailer, and her time spent in Sheffield was momentary.
The Town Hall opening was a disruption in her journey from Windsor to Balmoral, where she would celebrate her birthday and spend the summer holidays.
Because of this, she didn’t arrive in Sheffield until late afternoon, arriving at Sheffield Railway Station accompanied by Princess Christian and the Duke of Connaught.
The Royal party were met by the Mayor and Mayoress, the Duke of Norfolk, and his sister, Lady Mary Howard. From the station, a procession was led by the Chief Constable and his mounted police, and a troop of the 17th Lancers.
Thousands of cheering people lined the streets, waving flags, as the parade headed towards the principal entrance of the Town Hall on Pinstone Street, met by the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Lathom, who directed the ceremony.
At 5pm, Victoria remained in her carriage while the Recorder of Sheffield read an address, handed to her in a gold casket, specially made for the occasion by Mappin and Webb.
The Queen handed her reply to the Mayor, after which other addresses were presented by the Duke of Norfolk, on behalf of the Sheffield General Infirmary, by Sir Frederick Mappin, MP, on behalf of the Town Trustees, and by Mr Alexander Wilson, Master Cutler, representing the Cutlers’ Company.
The “golden key” (also by Mappin and Webb) was handed to Victoria, who inserted it into a detached lock, connected by electricity to the gates of the entrance. As she turned the key, the gates swung back as if by magic, and a flourish of trumpets announced that the Town Hall was open.
Afterwards, the Royal procession went to Norfolk Park, where fifty thousand schoolchildren had gathered by invitation of the Duke of Norfolk.
She then went to the Cyclops Steel and Iron Works, belonging to Charles Cammell and Company, where her carriage was drawn into a temporary shed in front of a mighty furnace. Here, the party held glass screens before their eyes, and watched the rolling of armour plate for the new battleship “Ocean”.
By 7.30 in the evening, Queen Victoria was speeding northwards by train to “gain strength for her approaching jubilee.”