When the Queen came to Barnstaple

As the Queen celebrates her Platinum Jubilee, our Assistant Librarian looks back at her visit to Barnstaple in 1956.

People always remember when they met the Queen or Prince Philip.

When I was at Secondary School, we were taken to the Essex Schools Athletic Sports Championship. During the day three of us needed to go to the toilets located at the front of the Stadium. When we came out, we saw members of the ATC standing to attention along a path, so being nosey we went and stood between them to see what was going on. A big car drew up and out got Prince Philip arriving to present the winners prizes. We waved and cheered and as he walked past, he asked us if we were enjoying the event to which we replied, “Yes thank you”.

When we got back to our seat we were greeted with “You missed the arrival of Prince Philip”, to which we responded, “oh no we didn’t”, much to the envy of the rest of the group!

In 1979 the Queen paid a visit to Bournemouth where I was working as a Librarian and we were allowed to go up onto the roof of the Library building to watch the small figure of the Queen down below in the Square, doing “walk about” with the crowds.

Although to my husband this is small fry as when he was a Police Officer in London, he used to guard the Royal Family and often relates various anecdotes.

The Barnstaple Visit

There are locals today who would remember the Queen and Prince Phillip’s visit to Barnstaple on Tuesday 8th May 1956.

The North Devon Journal in its Thursday edition on the 10th May, carried a number of pages of articles and photographs of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s visit.

Photo NDJ Bx 351-02 [printed – North Devon Journal 10th May 1956 front page.]

One heading was: – ”Some wait all night for a glimpse of the Queen”. From 6.00pm on Monday evening a party of local shop assistants took up position on the pavement outside Barnstaple’s Victoria Road Station clad in blankets to keep warm overnight. They wanted to get a view of the Queen “standing up and walking about” rather than in a car. [North Devon Journal 10th May 1956, font page]

At 10.00am the Royal Train arrived at the now closed, Victoria Road Station in Barnstaple. There was one hiccup on the arrival when an official opened the wrong door of the train. He isn’t named but I bet he had a red face!

The Queen inspected the guard of honour formed by the 4th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment before in a procession of closed cars, she and the Duke drove along Victoria Road, where 2,000 children lined the street, along Taw Vale to where the crowds were thickest in the Square, via the High Street and Boutport Street to the Queen’s Hall, now the Queens Theatre, in Boutport Street.

Photo NDJ Bx 351-11 [printed – North Devon Journal 10th May 1956.]

There the wildly cheering crowds were five deep at the barriers, and she stood smiling on the steps for a few moments acknowledging the cheering with a wave.

Inside the Queen’s Hall she was met with representatives of 10 North Devon Local Authorities, took their places on the platform backed with rich gold curtains and a 12-foot bank of flowers in red, white and blue. Immediately in front of the stage was an arrangement of 1,500 tulip heads in red and white forming the St George Cross.

Photo NDJ Bx 351-063 [printed – North Devon Journal 10th May 1956. Queen presented to Dignitaries]

A turquoise blue Royal Barum Ware beaker made by C.H.Brannam’s Pottery of Litchdon Street, Barnstaple was presented by the Mayor as the Towns gift to commemorate the Queen’s visit.

Recorded on Pathe News, as the Queen and the Duke left the stage passing a table displaying the Borough Plate, presented by mayors of the Borough during Elizabeth the First’s reign, the Duke paused to have a closer look. The items included 20 Silver Spoons, owned by the North Devon Athenaeum, which had been made from silver mined in Combe Martin.

The Royal Party left the Queens Hall via the Pannier Market where 5,000 local school children, seated in eight tiers, were cheering themselves hoarse and excitedly waving flags. The Duke stopped to speak with two St John’s Army girl Cadets to ask if they had treated any casualties.

Photo NDJ Bx 351-10 [Young voices echo through the Pannier Market as the Royal Visitors walk to the Guildhall, North Devon Journal page7.]

In the Mayor’s Parlour of the adjoining Guild Hall the Queen drank tea and the Duke coffee before signing the distinguished visitors’ book and autographing photographs of themselves to present to the Mayor.

On leaving the Guildhall the Queens’ attention was brought to the Gloved Hand, normally only displayed for the opening of the Barnstaple Fair, hanging from one of the windows.

Colour Photo[ BWO-Bx05-81]

The Royal Visitors left by car for Eggesford Forest then drove on to Exeter.

In the following weeks paper, Thursday 17th May, was an article headed “Thanks from the Queen, Palace message to Barnstaple” The Mayor received a letter expressing appreciation for the enthusiastic reception from the people of Barnstaple in particular the full-throated greeting of the children assembled in the Pannier Market.

Her Majesty is very pleased to have brought away the beautiful Barum vase which she will long treasure as a memento of her visit to the Borough.

Not everyone was happy with the arrangements for the visit. At a meeting of the Barnstaple Electors Association the question was asked “Why were the children brought in from the country placed in the Pannier Market while Barnstaple children in the streets? It was our market and Barnstaple children should have been there. It was not much for our children to see the Queen in a car- nothing compared to the show in the Pannier Market”

Shows you can’t please all of the people, all of the time.

…Sandi Vass, Assistant Librarian


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