The Man with the Silver Spade


Map from ‘Thornes Park’, a history trail (see link below).

Along the Victorian avenue of horse chestnuts in Clarence Park, Wakefield, a handful of trees that have been lost over the years have recently been replaced. The park is named after the Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, grandson of Queen Victoria (and second in line for the throne), who planted a tree – a ‘white chestnut’ – here on Thursday, 30 April, 1891, using a sliver spade presented to him by Lady Green, wife of Sir Edward Green, M.P., of Heath Old Hall.

The local fish and chip shop, Avondale Fisheries, is another reminder of his visit.

Technical and Art School

Arriving at Kirkgate Station from York at 1 p.m., the prince had joined a procession through the centre of town to open the new Technical and Art School in Bell Street (where it remains to this day, currently in the process of acquiring university status):

“the Royal visitor said it had given him much satisfaction to promote to the best of his ability institutions such as they were interested in that day, especially knowing as he did the deep sympathy his grandfather, the late Prince Consort, had in these subjects, and the excellent effect they have in elevating and further educating the people.”

Manchester Courier, 1 May, 1891

I get the impression that the prince felt himself in the shadow of his grandfather, Prince Albert. I’d go along with his sentiments on ‘elevating and educating’, as I studied A-level geology at the college and for several years I attended the evening life class. In the autumn term of 1975 my first regular job was teaching drawing to students on the graphic design course and in the 1990s I ran the ‘Yorkshire Landscape and Geology’ course here for Leeds University’s department of continuing adult education. Devising the course, which included field trips to Dales and coast, inspired my book Yorkshire Rock, a journey through time.

The Old School of Art

The new Technical and Art School took the place of the ‘Fine Art and Industrial Institution which ‘for upwards of 20 years . . . had been so successful and had produced such excellent results’. The prince described this first Wakefield School of Art as one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the country. I was surprised to learn recently that the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society (which is still going strong) played a major part in its foundation.

One Last Visit

View of Wakefield from Lowe Hill, 1866.

At a luncheon with the Mayor in the Town Hall the prince made a comment which proved chillingly accurate:

“His Royal Highness, in his speech, said he felt it was a fitting occasion, as he feared that would probably be the last time when he would visit a town in the northern part of England for a ceremony of that sort that it should be in Wakefield, the capital of the West Riding . . . he had had opportunities of visiting many towns in the northern part of England, and nowhere had he received a more flattering or kinder reception than there that day. (Applause.)”

He was referring to the fact that he was coming to the end of a three year stay in York, but sadly in the following January he died in an influenza pandemic that was sweeping the country.

White Chestnut

But back to the events of that afternoon in April, 1891:

Sir Edward Green (I don’t know if he looked like this, but it how I imagine him).

“The procession was then reformed and a start made for the park. In extent this will be about 20 acres, 2½ of which, forming an old landmark known as Laur [Lowe] Hill, have been given by Mr. C. Milnes-Gaskell, M.P., who has also sold another portion of the  part to the trustees at a merely nominal value. The cost of purchasing and laying out the park is about £6,000, which has all been raised by public subscription.—Mr. Percy Tew delivered an address, after which Lady Green presented a silver spade to the duke, who proceeded in the customary manner to plant a white chestnut tree in commemoration of his visit.”

The Royal Baccarat Scandal

Also present was Sir Edward and Lady Green’s son, Edward Lycett Green, who was involved, as a witness, in the Baccarat Scandal. Prince Albert Victor’s father, Edward, Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, had also been present at when Sir William Gordon-Cumming was accused of cheating at cards.

The case came to court in June, 1891.

Prince Albert Victor, known as ‘Eddy’ to his friends is the most famous suspect in Jack the Ripper conspiracy theories. He appears as such in movies, novels and comic strips.


My history trail booklet on Thornes Park, and Clarence and Holmfield Park, is available from Willow Island Editions, post free in the UK.

Friends of Clarence, Holmfield and Thornes Parks

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