York, England Visitors Spent “Happiest 10 Days of Our Lives” in York, Pennsylvania
A previous post included my York Sunday News column on the “royal” reception given to Alderman Henry Rhodes Brown and his wife, Clara, during the 150th Anniversary celebration of Congress meeting here in York. Brown, a former Lord Mayor of York, England was selected on short notice to represent that city at the York, Pennsylvania multi-day event.
Brown gave an unwritten speech at one of the events. Historical Society of York County (now York County Heritage Trust) director, Robert C. Bair asked Brown for a copy of the talk, and Brown promised to reconstruct it and send it to Bair. The Browns left York on October 17, 1927 to continue touring North America. On October 29, Brown wrote from Indian Agency, Manitoba, recapping his York address.
He states that he “is proud to be an Englishman…, a British subject, who loves his King and Queen….” but also loves and respects Americans. Brown was enthusiastic about history, a factor in making the decision to board ship for the celebration with only eight days’ notice. He reminded his audience that the English York was the oldest city in the British Empire, Constantine was proclaimed Emperor there and that York may have been the seat of King Ebrane, contemporary with the biblical King David.
Brown made the point that even though “old York” in England had a longer history, “old York” in America (which he distinguished from the American New York), “…will have much to be proud of in the great historical importance attaching to your having had the great distinction of having been the actual seat of government in your Nation’s darkest hour, and that it was at your city the actual convention was drafted which begat this great American nation.”
He went on:
“We, in Britain, desire the most cordial friendship and closest understanding and cooperative workings of the two peoples. We feel the two peoples must try to understand each other, must work closely together, if the best interest of the whole world are to be maintained. In 1776 you got your Independence. Seems a misfortune the two great English speaking nations would have separated. But I would remind you that it was not the English nation that fought you, but the first of the German Georges, George the Third, who could not speak a word of English, and his ministers who thought they could coerce your people by taxation.” (Brown was speaking in 1927, just about midway between the two great wars in which Britain and the USA were united against Germany.)
Brown closed by repeating how important it was that the two great nations and their people maintain their mutual friendship.
In a cover letter to Bair, Brown touchingly extended his personal thanks:
“I should like you to accept personally and convey to all others possible our most sincere thanks for what was probably the happiest 10 days of our lives, for whilst amongst you we were made truly happy by the extreme kindness of all whom we met.”
Henry Rhodes Brown was the founder of the Brown’s of York department stores and served as Lord Mary of England twice (1913-14 and 1932-33). His great-granddaughter recently shared a transcription of a diary Mrs. Brown kept during their visit here with York County Heritage Trust.