As a celebration of British heritage, the Local History Room at May Memorial Library in Burlington will have a display during the month of July of materials on researching British ancestry and of information related to the reign of Queen Victoria.
This display was prompted by a special gift from local resident Fran Outhwaite, a native of Surrey, England and longtime Burlington resident. Outhwaite was born in 1923 and emigrated in 1939 at the age of 16 as a war refugee. Among reminders of home given to her by a family member was a special commemorative issue of The London Daily Mail published on June 23, 1897 celebrating the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s ascendance to the throne.
Queen Victoria ascended the throne in England in 1837. Because of the length of her reign, she celebrated two very public jubilees or anniversaries of her coronation. The first was held in 1887 and marked 50 years of her reign and the second was held in 1897 and marked 60 years of rule over Great Britain. Until 2015, Queen Victoria was the longest reigning monarch in British history at almost 64 years, but this record was surpassed by the current Queen Elizabeth II in the fall of 2015.
The commemorative tabloid is printed in gold ink and includes detailed line drawings of the royal family and the Prime Ministers who served under Queen Victoria. It also contains specifics of the speech to her subjects on the occasion and of the parade route and menu served at the celebratory festivities.
Fran Outhwaite wanted the library to have the memento of Queen Victoria because she cherishes the few belongings from her childhood. After being displaced in 1939 during World War II, she didn’t see her homeland for another 6 years, at which time she returned to England as a member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. She was a member of this branch of the Canadian military from March 1943 until April 1946 and is one of a diminishing number of older citizens who served in a uniformed capacity during the World War II era.
In an interview after the war, Outhwaite relates being stationed in London at the end of the war and climbing a lion statue at the Queen Victoria memorial in order to get a better view of the August 1945 WWII victory parade headed by King George VI. Outhwaite later became a naturalized U.S. citizen, made her home in Burlington, and has been active here in the N.C. Bluebird Society and the Friends of Alamance County Public Libraries.
She’s an enthusiastic and knowledgeable birdwatcher and enjoys spending time outdoors even as she approaches the age of 93. She’s remembered by the library staff as the jaunty voice on her home answering machine informing callers that she’s unavailable due to “taking tea with the Queen”.
Confirmed Anglophiles of the current generation often follow the news of Prince William and Princess Kate, the young photogenic Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but to a bygone generation Queen Victoria will always be the yardstick by which English monarchs are measured. By donating Queen Victoria memorabilia to the library, Outhwaite remains true to the sentiment of the Rupert Brooke poem that no matter where she goes “there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.”
By Lisa Kobrin
Reference Librarian, May Memorial Library