The first function of the memorable day's programme took place shortly after ten o'clock, when there was an official opening of Blake Gardens as public pleasure grounds of the townspeople. The history of the acquirement of the gardens by the Corporation is too well known to need recapitulation. Sufficient is it to say that the Corporation has so well improved and admirably laid out the grounds as a public pleasure resort that the place preserves much charm for all sections of townspeople, and the delight they experience in taking in the avenue of trees and promenade along the river band, and with its well-kept lawns and floral sights - is an evidence of how they appreciate the enterprise of municipal authorities in having procured and bought to perfection such an ideal spot of enjoyment.
The opening ceremony was to be performed by the Mayor, but in his absence the duty devolved upon the Mayoress, who acted in that capacity throughout the day's proceedings. The ceremony was of a civic character, the number of the Corporation and other prominent townsmen assembling in the Town Hall at a quarter past ten o'clock, and then accompanying the acting Mayor (Alderman H.W. Pollard) and the Mayoress in 'state' procession to the Gardens. The pageant, which included besides Alderman Pollard, several other ex-Mayors - Alderman F.C. Foster, T. Manchip,, and T. Good and Mr. J.H. Wadden - in their scarlet robes, was headed by the Bristol Silver Band, and the brilliant way in which the thirty-six performers enlivened the route with march music aroused increased interest in the proceedings. On the arrival of the procession at the Dampiet Street entrance to the Blake Gardens, Alderman Pollard handed the Mayoress a gold key of handsome design, which had been presented to the Mayor by the members of the Corporation. The key (supplied by Messrs Rainforth and Son) was enclosed in a pretty case and bore the following inscription: 'Presented by the Corporation of Bridgwater to the Mayor (Alderman Manchip) on the occasion of the opening by him of the Blake Garden, Coronation Day, 1902'.
The Mayoress opened the door with the key and the procession, followed by a large crowd of spectators, entered the grounds, which were looking a picture of loveliness, and proceeded through the avenue of chestnuts to the promenade on the bank of the river, where the Mayoress was to unveil a commemorative tablet set in an artistically designed balustrade overlooking the tidal-way. When the company had assembled at the spot Alderman Pollard's two young sons presented to the Mayoress, amid applause, a handsome bouquet of flowers, which she carried during the remainder of the day's proceedings. The bouquet was composed of liliuns, lanefoliums, elbum, atophanotia, tuberoses, shrubertia, etc, and was supplied by Messrs Hayward Bros.
Alderman Pollard, addressing the gathering, said there had been a necessity for some little alteration to be made in the programme, there that morning, on account of the Mayor, at the command of the King, to be in London at the Coronation ceremony. They had, however, a very good substitute with them in the Mayoress (applause) who had kindly consented to unveil the tablet to the memory of King Edward VII on the occasion of his Coronation that day. The gold key which he had the pleasure and honour of handing to the mayoress at the entrance of the gardens was subscribed by every member of the Corporation, who were very pleased indeed to have the honour of making some little contribution on that unique occasion. With regard to Blake Gardens, he had intended to have recalled their history that morning from the time they were acquired by the town, but he found that there was such a long programme of proceedings to be carried out that it was absolutely impossible for him to do so. He should like to say, however, that they all knew what the Gardens were like before the Town Council took up their improvement, and they could, therefore, now see what a beautiful place they had been converted into, and if the Council would only back up the efforts of the Blake Gardens Committee the Gardens would be still further improved (Hear, Hear and applause). He would also remaind them of the very pleasant situation of the Gardens in the very centre and heart of the town, thus enabling working classes, especially the girls and other working in the shops in the immediate neighbourhood, to enjoy their use. There was an interesting fact in connection with the Gardens, and that was that they were associated with the name of Admiral Blake, who was born within a stone's throw of the spot on which they now stood, and in addition to fighting a good many battles for his country in foreign climes, he probably fought upon the site of the Gardens with many a Bridgwater boy (Laughter). He did not know that he could say more, but he would at once call upon the Mayoress to unveil the tablet and declare Blake Gardens public property for all time. (Applause).
The Mayoress then, amid much applause, pulled aside the Union Jack covering the tablet, the inscription on which was seen to be as follows: These Gardens in the 16th century, formed the garden of the house in which Admiral Robert Blake was born and resided for many years. In commemoration of these being opened to the public this tablet was erected in the year of the Coronation of his Majesty King Edward VII. Alderman T.W. Manchip, Mayor'.
Addressing the gathering, the Mayoress, in a very short and appropriate speech said: Ladies and Gentleman, I am desired by the Mayor to apologise to you and to express his very deep regret that he is unavoidably prevented from being present on this most interesting occasion and from joining with us in the festivities arranged in honour of the Coronation of his most gracious Majesty King Edward VII. The duty and pleasure of publicly opening these magnificent Gardens, associated as they are with the memory of the renowned Admiral Blake, I gladly accept. They have been wisely secured for the goos of the inhabitants of this ancient borough, and I believe we have every reason to feel that with proper regulations, they will exercise a strong influence for good (Hear, Hear, and applause). This lovely avenue of trees, these splendid walks among the flowers, and this delightful promenade by the river will, I fully expect, have a refining effect on all those who are fortunate enough to use them, and will, indeed, be greatly appreciated. The handsome and valuable gold key with which I have been presented will, I assure you, ever remind the Mayor and myself of this most remarkable and memorable year in the history of our town and empire (Hear, Hear, and applause). I have now the greatest pleasure in declaring these grounds open to the public (Applause).
THE MAYORESS PLANTS A COMMEMORATION OAK.
The company then proceeded along the promenade to the Old Taunton Road end of the Gardens, where in a lovely part of the delightful Gardens an oak commemorative of the historic day was gracefully planted by the Mayoress. A large crowd had already surrounded the roped off enclosure, and the simple ceremony was enacted amid such beautiful surroundings, with the ermine clad ex-Mayors and the townsmen accompanying them grouped in the vicinity of the Mayoress produced a pretty scene. Some of the earth had been removed from the spot where was intended that the oak should be planted, take root and grow up a loving witness for generations of a memorable day's proceedings, and the spectators watched with interest the Mayoress as, with much grace, she removed more of the soil with a spade, and there was great applause when the oak was placed in position and the Mayoress shovelled the earth around the base of the young tree.
Alderman F.C. Foster then stepped forward, and said he had the honour to submit to the gathering a resolution, and that it was to the effect that they accord to the Mayoress their sincere thanks for so gracefully and ably officiating at that function that morning. He undertook the duty of proposing that resolution with very much pleasure. They fully appreciated the kindness of the Mayoress for so ably officiating for his Worship the Mayor, who, in loyal obedience to the King's command, had denied himself the pleasure of being with them that day and had gone to London to represent their ancient borough in Westminster Abbey at that illustrious ceremony of the crowning of his Majesty, whom they all wished complete restoration to health and a long and prosperous reign with a happy and a contented people (Hear, hear, and applause). The thought that they were inaugurating that day their local celebration in honour of that great event of the crowning of King Edward VII with that function that had been performed added lustre to the proceedings of that morning, and would tend to impress upon their minds of the inhabitants the acquisition of those artistic and beautiful Gardens which had been so ably opened by the Mayoress and dedicated to the public use, and in which it was hoped that all classes and sections of the people for generations to come would find healthful and happy enjoyment (Hear, hear, and applause). The next thought that came to their minds was that that morning they stood upon historic ground, as they had seen by the tablet which the Mayoress had unveiled. The Gardens, too were to bear the name of Blake - Bridgwater's noble and foremost son. They were therefore supplementing the memorial recently acquired of the great Admiral, and which was now standing on the Cornhill, and they were thus continuing to perpetuate his memory in their midst - a feature worthy of mention on that auspicious occasion. He had, he added, proposed with a great deal of pleasure the vote of thanks to the Mayoress for so ably and gracefully officiating on that occasion. They regretted the absence of the Mayor, but in his loyalty he had done his duty, and he (Alderman Foster) thought the town at large would approve of the Mayor going to London that day, and he felt that none of the loyal inhabitants of the borough would wish that Bridgwater should not be represented in Westminster Abbey (Hear, hear, and applause). Under the circumstances, therefore, he felt they would give to the Mayor a justification for his absence from them that day. They knew it was a disappointment to the Mayor, but he thought it would tend to alleviate that disappointment if he knew from them that day that his going to Westminster Abbey met with their entire approbation (Hear, hear). He would not conclude without congratulating Alderman Pollard and Mrs Pollard for their happy thought in arranging that their two sons should present to the Mayoress a magnificent bouquet of flowers as a token of appreciation. It reminded them, he thought appropriately, of a civic incident of the past, and that was that the elder of the two boys was a silver cradle lad of the borough (Laughter and applause). He would close his remarks with the sentiment, 'Good wishes to the Mayor and Mayoress of the ancient and loyal borough of Bridgwater, and God save our King and country' (applause).
Alderman T. Good, in seconding the resolution, said he was sure they all appreciated the very gracious manner in which the Mayoress had performed the ceremony. They also congratulated his Worship the Mayor upon the good fortune that had befallen him in being able to be present at Westminster Abbey on such a unique occasion in the century just entered upon. They all congratulated themselves, however, upon having s good a representative as the Mayor had left behind him in the person of the Mayoress, who had always shown how graciously and efficiently she attended to all the duties of the office of Mayoress (Hear, hear). He was struck with the well-chosen words she gave to them at the unveiling of the tablet, and they all agreed with her in wishing that these grounds would have a refining influence in the future upon the inhabitants fo that ancient borough. They looked upon the celebration that day as of a threefold chapter. In the first place it was a celebration of the Coronation of King Edward VII; in the next it struck him that it was a second memorial to their noble townsman Admiral Robert Blake (hear, hear) and thirdly, it would be a commemoration deeply and fixed in the memory of the Mayor and Mayoress of the auspicious event in which they had the honour in taking part (applause).
The Mayoress then spoke, saying: 'I declare this tree to be well and truly planted in commemoration of the Coronation of his most gracious Majesty the King'. She added that she should like to thank all those gentlemen who had expressed themselves so nicely towards the Mayor and herself. There were many things that would make them in the future look back over that year. Among others that would recall that year to her memory was the lovely, handsome and costly gift that she had had in the way of a ring from the Ladies who had so ably helped her and given her valuable assistance in connection with the decorations by preparing the paper flowers, etc. She appreciated that assistance very much, and she should always look back with much pleasure to the many happy meetings they had had (applause).
Hearty cheers for the King and Queen and the Mayoress followed, and the civic procession left the Gardens, and to the strains of the Bristol band returned to the Town Hall, the day's proceedings having begun most auspiciously.