The primrose or prima rosa is the first rose of the year. It is also known as a primula and has about 1000 varieties. The best known is the common primrose, the bright yellow flower that not only grows in our gardens, but can be found in woodlands, hedgerows and shady meadows. It grows up to 20 cms high and has oval tapering leaves which form a rosette. The solitary yellow flowers are borne on long hairy stalks and usually appear from February until May.
The primrose was supposedly the favourite flower of Benjamin Disraeli who was Prime Minister to Queen Victoria in 1868 and again from 1874 to 1880. Queen Victoria sent a wreath of primroses to Disraeli’s funeral saying that they were ‘his favourite flowers’. But it seems that she may have been referring to Prince Albert. However, in following years, on this day, people wore primroses in remembrance of Disraeli and the date became known as Primrose Day.
Disraeli is remembered for his reform of housing and working conditions, his purchase of a controlling interest in the Suez Canal and for being laughed at when he made his maiden speech to Parliament. In 1876 he created the title of ‘Empress of India’ for the Queen and she made him Earl of Beaconsfield in the same year. He was also a novelist and started to write in an attempt to pay off debts incurred by losses in stocks and shares. He is often remembered too for being born a Jew, although he converted to Christianity at the age of thirteen after his father had a row with the synagogue.
In 1883 a statue of Disraeli by Mario Raggi was unveiled in Parliament Square, London and in following years it was festooned on the anniversary of his death with primroses.
With the passage of time Primrose Day has fallen out of fashion, but it was once observed quite keenly. An entry in a diary by William Robert Richards of Martock for April 1895 reads: “Primrose Day was well observed here, a large number of people wearing the deceased statesman’s favourite flower.”
The following extract is from an old newspaper dated 1927.
“19th April 1927: The eldest daughter of the landlord of the Leather Bottle was married:
‘Primrose Wedding’ at Leverstock Green
Primroses and primrose colourings were features of a pretty wedding on Primrose Day (Tuesday) at Leverstock Green Parish Church when Miss Sibyl Seabrook, elder daughter of Mr and Mrs Seabrook of Leverstock Green was married to Mr Edmund Bradbury Barnes Perkins, eldest son of the late Mr Thomas and Mrs Perkins also of Leverstock Green. Yellow daffodils and primroses also figured largely in the floral decorations in the church, these remaining from the Eastertide Festival. Gazette 23rd April 1927.”
The artist James George Bingley who lived from 1841 to 1920 painted a watercolour called “Primrose Day”. Another painting, this time in oils, was by Ralph Todd and is entitled “Primrose Day 1885”. It shows a young girl in a blue dress and white apron with a basket of yellow primroses on her knee. Beside her on a table are more primroses and yellow primroses are displayed in a glass jar.
“And all England, so they say,
Yearly blooms on Primrose Day”
Perhaps it is the political associations that have caused it to decline in this country, but I think it would be nice to wear and display primroses on one special day, just because they are so beautiful and such a firm statement of springtime.