In 1864 Queen Victoria announced a city would be named in honour of her late husband. Prince Albert had died three years earlier and contrary to popular belief the monarch did not retreat from public affairs but merely declined the more visible aspects of her royal duties. Behind the scenes she was furiously planning the glorification of Albert’s memory and decided the awarding of city status to ten sites around the nation would be just the very thing.
Six would be in England, three in Scotland and one in Wales. Ireland’s neglect was what eventually led to the war of independence. From little acorns. At the time the two powerhouses of Welsh civic pride were Caernarfon and Tenby. Both hit upon the idea of erecting a great statue to boost their chances of achieving city-hood. Prince Albert was the obvious choice and so in the mighty spring of ’64 it became massively obvious that it was on.
In the 19th century size was everything and so the two towns set to building the loftiest monument, assuming it would secure them the great prize. Spies were dispatched from both towns and reports sent back. By the tenth week of construction it became painfully obvious that the Caernarfon statue was going to be the bigger and moulds having been cast it was simply too late to turn back.
Panic set in at the Tenby construction site. All seemed lost but with only three days remaining before the awarding of the honour an architectural marvel was discovered in Paxton’s Tower, former home of rich eccentric Sir William Paxton. Originally designed as a base for a jewel encrusted statue of his dog Karl it was described at the time as a “god awful giant plinth”. Mrs Paxton hated Karl and as soon as her husband died she had the statue melted down and turned into crochet hooks for war widows.
At a stroke the plinth propelled the Tenby statue of Albert into the stratosphere massively overshadowing the Caernarfon version and so they thought, guaranteeing them city status. Unfortunately for both towns, in a surprise upset, the then popular resort town of Merthyr Tydfil was given the award. In a fit of pique Caernarfon tore down their statue of Albert and replaced it with one of the great educator Hugh Owen. Tenby’s was simply too big to be disposed of and stands to this day.
Merthyr was later stripped of it’s city status after a sex scandal during in an ill judged attempt at to attract the Olympics to the area.