Looking back at Royal visits to Suffolk as The Queen celebrates her 90th birthday
- Credit: Archant
The Queen has been to Suffolk and Essex many times – private visits as well as the showpiece official dates that linger long in the memory.
Here, we chart some of those big occasions that drew the crowds.
“Our sense of what it is to be British derives as much from the treasured towns, villages and coastline of East Anglia as it does from the great cities like London or Birmingham,” said the Queen on one of her visits to Suffolk and Essex.
Never were truer words spoken.
With a treasured home in Norfolk, our monarch is unquestionably in tune with the rhythm and character of the region. That’s made every visit to East Anglia extra-special.
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It’s the anniversary celebrations that spring readily to mind – the silver jubilee tour in 1977, for instance, and the golden return a quarter of a century later. Sadly, though, early travels to the region came about through tragedy.
After the 1953 North Sea floods devastated the east coast, killing more than 300 people and leaving many thousands homeless, the new Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh initially viewed damage in Norfolk.
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Prince Philip later that February flew to Martlesham, near Ipswich. He had a trip up the Deben and witnessed work to plug gaps in the county’s river- and sea-walls.
The Queen went to Essex and Kent. There’s a lovely picture of her walking on planks, laid on the sodden ground, at Tilbury.
Five years later, she made an official visit to Harwich, a town with a proud maritime history.
July 21, 1961, was a huge day for Suffolk. The royal yacht Britannia dominated Harwich Harbour as the Queen visited. It started with a parade at HMS Ganges, the Royal Navy’s land-based training centre at Shotley with its famous mast. It was a thrill for 1,800 or so ratings to find their period of training coincided with the visit of their queen.
Then it was on to Ipswich and a 21-gun salute in Alexandra Park.
Next stop was the site of the Civic College, which the monarch officially opened and where she was met with a fanfare by the Herald Trumpeters of the Royal Artillery.
Also on the agenda was the kind of popular celebration that would today probably be unthinkable – driving around Ipswich Town’s Portman Road pitch in a modified Land Rover, before 8,000 children and other guests. The stadium itinerary featured displays, demonstrations and a poetry recital.
The day wasn’t limited to Ipswich. The Queen went on to an exhibition of local industry, arts, crafts and agricultural produce in Stowmarket, and travelled through Woolpit and Beyton on her way to Bury St Edmunds and her second 21-gun salute of the day. There was also an inspection of the 1st East Anglian Regiment on Angel Hill. A busy day finished with a tour of the Abbey Gardens and a motorcade procession through Bury.
On June 2, 1967, Her Majesty opened the new concert hall at Snape Maltings, the brainchild of Suffolk composer Benjamin Britten, who’d felt a larger venue was needed for the Aldeburgh Festival of the Arts. The festival leased and converted one of the main buildings. Almost exactly two years later, after the opening night of the 22nd Aldeburgh Festival, fire ripped through the concert hall. It was rebuilt in time for the 1970 festival, and the Queen returned to Snape to perform another opening ceremony.
Visits to East Anglia came thick and fast that decade: a trip to Essex in 1971 saw a tour of Maldon. Then, in the November of 1975, she opened the £11 million Post Office Research Centre at Martlesham Heath, near Woodbridge – Europe’s most advanced telecommunications research facility. The dignitary saw how experts were developing ways of dealing with more calls and coming up with ideas for handling more telex messages. The Queen also used a Victorian handset to listen to a recording of herself making the first STD call in Bristol in 1968. It’s said she told people: “My goodness! I sound just like Queen Victoria!”
It seems quaint, in these digital days, to think we were thrilled by the ability to make long-distance calls without having to go through an operator!
The trip to Martlesham Heath had some neat symmetry about it, too, as the Queen’s father, King George VI, had been about four decades earlier. Then, the land was still Martlesham Airfield.
There wasn’t long to wait for “the biggie”, with 1977’s Silver Jubilee marking the 25th anniversary of the year Princess Elizabeth became queen upon the death of her father.
After a long tour of New Zealand and Australia, the Queen embarked upon a punishing schedule of visits across the UK. July 11 brought her back here. The monarch and the Duke of Edinburgh flew in to Ipswich, to be greeted by the traditional 21-gun salute.
For the crowds out early to secure the best vantage points, there were ample opportunities to catch a glance of their Queen – and perhaps receive a wave – as she travelled around town by car. The party initially went to the Cornhill in the heart of Ipswich. The Queen also visited St Clement’s Hospital in Foxhall Road, before heading for Felixstowe, where the royal yacht Britannia awaited.
The next day: Grimsby, Doncaster, Sheffield, Barnsley and Leeds.
It wasn’t long before Her Majesty was back – a quick visit in 1978 for the races at Newmarket. In fact, the Queen’s passion as a horsewoman and animal-lover has often brought her to the county. She has been patron of the Animal Health Trust at Kennett, Newmarket, since 1959. The charity works to diagnose problems, prevent them, and – ideally – cure them.
The year of 1978 also saw the sovereign cheered by crowds at the Essex Show, near Chelmsford. Her mother and father, the king, had attended in 1948.
The sun shone and union flags were waved by children in March, 1981, when the royal guest came to open the AHT’s new equine virology unit. A year later the Queen was again in Newmarket, this time for the Hunter Improvement and National Light Horse Breeding Society’s Stallion Show that was held at Tattersalls.
We reported: “The Queen Mother, Princess Anne and Princess Margaret have all visited the show, but this was the first visit by the Queen, who has been patron of the society since 1953.”
In May, 1983, the Queen returned to the town to open the National Horseracing Museum… and attend the race meeting whose card included the 2,000 Guinea Stakes.
And 1984? Back again to Newmarket – accompanied by the Queen Mother. They visited the museum and the monarch saw some of her foals at local studs.
In May, 1985, the Queen opened the £17m Colchester General Hospital, which had greeted its first patients the year before. The royal party then crossed into Suffolk to fly from Ipswich Airport – handing committed fans a chance to catch a glimpse as her glass-topped car and police escort passed by. Cheering supporters gathered at places such as Capel St Mary and even on the Orwell Bridge, while more than 100 people went to the airfield to witness her departure.
Aviation was a theme the following month when the Queen travelled to RAF Wattisham, near Stowmarket, and met aircrew from 74 Squadron. She also chatted to 1st Wattisham Guides and Brownies, and was entertained by pupils from Ringshall Primary School.
In the 1980s, “The Queen” and “Newmarket” really did go together like horse and carriage. Elizabeth returned in 1989 to see the new equine fertility unit at Mertoun Paddocks in Woodditton Road. The guest viewed the laboratories, operating theatre and some of the 114 acres of paddock – and stayed longer than anticipated.
The Queen met identical-twin ponies Romulus and Remus, who were born the previous year after the bisection of a six-day-old embryo.
She also saw four-day-old Polish Konik pony stallion Winston, brought to Britain as a seven-day-old embryo frozen in liquid nitrogen!
In 1994, the Queen spent three quarters of an hour at the New Astley Club, for stable staff, in Newmarket. The original Astley Institute had been opened by Edward, Prince of Wales. She was cheered by a crowd of 200 or so and unveiled a plaque to commemorate the club’s centenary.
Afterwards came a trip to the Jockey Club, where she met her daughter for lunch. In the afternoon the Animal Health Trust enjoyed a return visit when the Queen came with The Princess Royal. Anne, president of the charity, helped show her mother around its sites at Kennett and Newmarket.
At Balaton Lodge, the visitors watched Risky, a three-year-old thoroughbred, exercising on a treadmill, and learned about research into the stifling climate horses were likely to face at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Royal-watchers were touched to see the Queen kiss her daughter goodbye before leaving.
The pull of Newmarket was strong. In 1997, the monarch came for a day at the races, touring the course and watching the opening meeting of the season. It was an occasion marking the 50th anniversary of the British Horse Society, which promotes riding and the welfare of horses. The Queen had lunch at the Jockey Club, and at the course presented a trophy to winning owners including Robert Sangster.
The following April, she opened the state-of-the-art Beaufort Cottage Equine Hospital. Part of a local veterinary practice, it had already treated one of the Queen’s racehorses for a knee problem.
There was a wait for the next visit but, when it came, it was a major one: part of the golden jubilee celebrations of 2002. During her trip to Suffolk the Queen opened the Ipswich Waterfront. She and her husband touched down in Alexandra Park and were driven to Coprolite Street. They walked to the Old Custom House and were then driven to Felaw Maltings. At the maltings, converted into a business centre, Her Majesty unveiled a plaque.
The royals later headed for Stowmarket, where the Queen and Prince Philip looked at specially-installed exhibitions celebrating Suffolk’s agricultural heritage. The couple also visited Bury St Edmunds.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were back in the county the following year, when at RAF Honington they met about 300 family members, friends and colleagues of personnel serving in Iraq.
Not every visit was high-profile. In 2006, the Queen and Prince Philip travelled to Ipswich on a busy teatime train and virtually rubbed shoulders with passengers while drinking tea and eating biscuits in a first class carriage. They arrived at Ipswich at 6pm, ready for a private weekend in the county. Two years later, the Queen made a return visit to Rossdale and Partners veterinary surgeons in Newmarket to open an equine diagnostic centre home to some of the most advanced veterinary equipment in the country.
A bright April day in 2009 saw the Queen in Bury St Edmunds for the annual Maundy service – the first time the town had hosted the traditional event in which the sovereign gives specially-minted coins to people nominated for their service to the community.
Maundy Thursday commemorates the day of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the apostles – the word Maundy relating to his command, or mandatum, to love one another.
The Queen was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh for the ceremony, dating from the 13th Century, that was held at St Edmundsbury Cathedral. She gave coins to 83 women and 83 men – one male and one female for each year of her life.
Thousands of well-wishers turned out to see the Queen, and after the service the monarch and the Duke of Edinburgh chatted to people during a walkabout. In a speech, the Queen said: “It is a long time since I was last in Bury St Edmunds itself, so I am especially delighted to return.
“Over the last 50 years I have had the good fortune to receive loyal support and generous friendship from people across the region, be it those living in small villages or large towns and cities. For this I would like to thank you all most warmly.
“As I travelled here this morning, I was reminded of the evolving history which has formed these counties, and which gives the whole region the reputation for which it is famed: people with an independence of spirit, a commitment to enterprise, and a tradition of dependability, living against a backdrop of beautiful countryside and priceless heritage.”
She added: “Ipswich, Norwich and Cambridge have all become centres of excellence in their different ways. New residents, new businesses and new technologies are welcomed. Our generation is indebted to those whose work over the years has helped to shape and maintain this beautiful landscape. The way we look after the countryside affects the lives not only of those who work on the land but all those living in rural and urban communities.
“Our sense of what it is to be British derives as much from the treasured towns, villages and coastline of East Anglia as it does from the great cities like London or Birmingham.” The year saw another visit to Kentford and the Animal Health Trust, with the Queen flying in by helicopter. Then, in 2011, the sovereign was lauded by hundreds in west Suffolk. After a morning by the gallops, where racehorses are exercised and trained, she called on Newmarket Day Care Centre to mark its 30th anniversary.
In May, 2014, Essex enjoyed a big day when the Queen spent the morning at Chelmsford Cathedral, marking the centenary of the diocese and talking to volunteers.
Then it was on to Felsted School, between Braintree and Great Dunmow. Not only was the school celebrating 450 years of existence, it was enjoying happier times after serious damage to a boarding house when fire broke out in 2012.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh opened a new building and met staff and pupils.