Heritage: How a Harold Wooden man saved Queen Victoria’s life

Professor Ged Martin recalls a local man’s claim that he took a blow aimed at Queen Victoria

After 64 years on the throne, Queen Victoria was so venerated that it’s hard to believe that she’d been the target of assassination attempts earlier in her reign.

Most would-be attackers were sad figures. Suffering from severe disability – he could hardly walk – teenager John Bean loaded a pistol with tobacco and shot at Her Majesty from close range in 1842. His cry for help was answered by a prison sentence with hard labour.

On June 27, 1850, the Queen visited the Piccadilly mansion of her uncle, the Duke of Cambridge. The last of George III’s useless sons, Prince Adolphus was on his deathbed, and Victoria came to say farewell.

News of his visit quickly spread, and a crowd gathered to watch their monarch depart.

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As the Queen left in a landau, a small open carriage, a tall man with a military bearing lunged forward, and struck at her with his stick.

Although visibly bruised, Victoria firmly ordered her coachman to drive on.

The attacker, Robert Pate, was an eccentric and embittered ex-Army officer, who lived alone, taking exercise by goose-stepping across Hyde Park.

Sentenced to seven years’ transportation, he was one of the last convicts sent to Tasmania.

After serving his time, he married an Australian heress, and returned to England. Godfather died in 1895, a wealthy man.

Four years later, with remarkable bad taste, his stick, with its brass ferule, that had crushed Her Majesty’s bonnet, came up for auction.

This prompted a Harold Wood resident to reveal the real story of Queen Victoria’s escape.

The Reverend William Holder was a Congregational Church minister who’d retired to King Alfred Road.

On that fateful day, 49 years earlier, he’d positioned himself at the front of the Piccadilly crowd waiting to glimpse their sovereign. The arrogant godfather had tried to shove him aside but, as Holder recalled, “I stubbornly refused to move an inch, as I wished to get a good view of the Queen. I intended that nobody should oust me from my position.”

His obstinacy probably saved the monarch’s life.

As the Queen’s landau swept out of the gates, Holder recalled that the man behind him “raised his stick and made a desperate attempt to strike Her Majesty a terrific blow on the head.”

Although evidently several inches larger than the teenager who blocked him, Pate was not tall enough to lean right over young Holder.

“Happily the full force of the blow was spent on the top of my head,” Holder explained. The Queen was only slightly injured.

“Happily” is a nice touch: the Reverend William Holder was a royalist and a patriot!

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The “stunning” blow threw him against the Queen’s carriage.

Assuming he was the attacker, the police seized him, but somebody shouted, “That’s the wrong man; it’s the one behind”, and Pate was arrested.

Although badly dazed by the blow, Holder retained vivid memories of the incident.

He heard the Queen calmly remark to her coachman, “I am not hurt, drive on”.

An elderly American tourist (yes, we had tourists even then), shouted “God bless your Majesty that you are saved”.

The police protected Pate from the angry crowd, who wanted to lynch him.

Half a century later, Holder still suffered occasional headaches and even attacks of giddiness, from the blow he’d received protecting his Queen.

He had retired from the ministry in 1897, but the Congregational Church was not a wealthy organization. His pension was only £20 a year. (When the State pension was introduced for the elderly poor in 1909, the rate was £13 a year single and £19.50 for married couples.)

Holder broke his silence hoping that Queen Victoria might reward him with employment in the Royal Household.

Instead, he obtained a nice part-time retirement job, open-air work with a chance to meet new people. He became a funeral chaplain at Manor Park Cemetery.

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