The first and last of Her Majesty’s visits to our region

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PRINCESS ELIZABETH made her first visit to Durham in 1947, shortly after her first overseas tour to South Africa, and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the historic city.

On October 22, all the streets around Darlington’s Bank Top station were packed with people eager to get a first glimpse of the young woman who would one day be queen as she arrived on the 5.47pm train.

She was driven to Wynyard Hall for the night and the next morning to Durham, where large crowds watched her arrive at Prebend’s Bridge and were greeted by the mayor, Henry Ferens. (below).

He would later recall: “It was a beautiful autumn morning but with a lot of mist. As we came to Prebends Bridge to wait for him, mist obscured the central tower of the cathedral. As we waited, the mist suddenly lifted and when the princess got out of her car, the sun was shining so that shafts of light descended through the riverbank trees, glowing in autumn hues.

“When I showed her the view from the deck, she said, ‘How absolutely stunning. I had no idea Durham was so lovely.’

The Northern Echo: Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth during her visit to Finchale Training College, Durham, 1947.

Their first visit of the day was to Finchale Abbey Training College (above)where the princess visited a cobbler’s workshop and then visited the garden where the gardening took place – she was too gracious to mention that all the students with their hands in the dirt wore inappropriate smart suits, white shirts, vests and ties, but then she probably marveled at how perfectly straight all the plants in the flowerbeds were, that there were no weeds in sight, and that the lawn had a sharp edge like a razor.

The Northern Echo: The Queen visits Finchale Training College in Durham, 1947.

Visiting Finchale Training College in 1947

The main part of her visit was to lay the foundation stone of St Mary’s College for Women on Elvet Hill Road. The college had become part of the university in 1920 but its desire for suitable premises had been thwarted by the Great Depression and then World War II.

The echo of the north: queen durham 1947

Laying the foundation stone at St Mary’s College and, below, greeting Durham officials and their wives on Palace Green (Photo courtesy of Gilesgate Archives)

The Echo of the North: Princess Elizabeth's first official visit to Durham City accompanied by the Mayor of Durham Coun HC Ferens, receiving officials and their wives at the Cathedral Ear, 23/10/1947.  Image courtesy of Gilesgate Archives

She then went to Palace Green for a final look around before leaving.

A month later, on November 20, she married Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey and Durham – then famous for its flooring – sent a rug as a gift.

Representatives from all the places that had sent gifts were invited to the palace for a reception, and on seeing Cllr Ferens the Princess approached and said, “How nice to see you again so soon, Mr. Mayor.” I enjoyed my visit to Durham.

The Northern Echo: The Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, pictured with dignitaries during her visit to Durham in 1947.

Princess Elizabeth visiting Palace Green (above) and Durham Cathedral (below) on her first official visit in 1947

The Northern Echo: The Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, leaves Durham Cathedral in 1947.

THE LAST

Her Majesty’s last visit to our region was probably in May 2015, when she visited Richmond Castle to mark the merger of two regiments of Royal Lancers: the Queen’s Royal Lancers and the (Prince of Wales’) Royal Lancers.

Led by lancers, 400 soldiers marched through the damp streets to the castle where Her Majesty, resplendent in rose but protected from the elements by a makeshift canopy, inspected them.

The Northern Echo: ROYAL: The Queen and The Duke of York attended a parade for the Queen's Royal Lancers merging with the 9th and 12th Royal Lancers at Richmond Castle today Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT.

Queen Elizabeth at the bottom of the image approaching the covered dais, large enough for a royal figure, from which she could inspect the troops at Richmond Castle

After an RAF flypast, the Queen met members of the regiment, including Class II Warrant Officer Richard Doherty.

He said: ‘I didn’t think the Queen would address me, but she asked me about my job – and my son Finley stepped in to tell her he was four. She told him that was a very good age to be.

The Northern Echo: Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to Richmond Castle to watch the Queen's Royal Lancers and 9th/12th Royal Lancers Merger Parade

Wise words from someone who was 87 at the time who might have added some advice on staying dry because in 70 years of touring the North East there is not a single report that speaks beautiful blue skies and wall-to-wall sunshine. All mention the damp and cold, and many images feature umbrellas and Her Majesty waving through raindrop-spotted car windows.

The Northern Echo: ROYAL: The Queen and The Duke of York attended a parade for the Queen's Royal Lancers merging with the 9th and 12th Royal Lancers at Richmond Castle today Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT.

This is how Echo photographer Sarah Caldecott captured the octogenarian monarch as she was driven from Richmond and the region for the final time. Her small figure cocked her head in the back seat so that her bright, beady eyes could see through the splashes running down the window pane the part of her kingdom she had first fallen in love with 70 years ago.

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