Recalling many royal visits to the county

Queen Elizabeth II receives another bouquet from the crowd at Chatsworth in July 2014.

Recalling the late Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Matlock exactly 10 years ago, Godfrey Holmes reflects on other big royal occasions exciting Derbyshire folk.

THE date was July 10, 2014. The personage: the late Queen Elizabeth II, over 60 years into her platinum-plus reign. The place: Matlock Town’s Railway Station. The purpose: to re-visit the renowned Lea Mills knitwear company upon its 230th anniversary, for the first time in 46 years; then to proceed to Chatsworth House, to re-acquaint the Duke and herself with Peregrine Cavendish, the esteemed 12th Duke of Devonshire, exactly 10 years after his inheritance of the title.

Very few Dukes and Duchesses are as influential – or as regal – as the Devonshires, inextricably linked to Prince, now King, Charles; to former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan; also entangled with a whole tribe of Mitfords and Mosleys. In addition, the poet John Betjeman and the late Princesses Margaret Rose, and Lady Diana, found their bolt-holes at Chatsworth; Princess Anne winning several horseback competitions there, too. 

Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by the 1st Duke of Edinburgh, actually began visiting Derbyshire in 1949 – three years before her accession – in order to open Derby’s Council House. Then in 1957, the Queen travelled 23 miles from Sudbury Station to Burton-upon-Trent, Tutbury and Repton – whose former headmaster, Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher – had actually crowned her in Westminster Abbey five years earlier.

Another 20 years later, during 1977, the late Queen was back in Derby to celebrate its new city status: the only city so created in combination with her Silver Jubilee. And while she was in the county, Queen Elizabeth opened the new headquarters of the Derbyshire Constabulary at Butterley.

In that same year, lucky crowds in Knifesmithgate got a glimpse of their monarch as she made one of her sporadic, this time one of her Jubilee, visits to Chesterfield itself.

Swanwick must have stayed in majestic memory, because our former Queen returned eight years later, in 1985, both to see Thornton’s Chocolate kit out its brand new confectionary factory there; and then on to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the foundation of Queen Elizabeth I’s Grammar School,  Ashbourne.

In May 1992, the Queen officially unveiled Carsington Reservoir: one of the only entirely new giant lakes to be artificially created since Rutland Water  nearly two decades earlier.

Two other royal visits deserve a full mention here: the more important a tour involving a future Queen who never actually became the Queen. On an historic day in November 1981, newly-married Prince Charles and his wife Diana, Princess of Wales, came to Chesterfield to open the new Pavements’ shopping centre. And, amazingly, a “Youtube” video-film, over 12 minutes long, survives to, flickeringly, commemorate the occasion.

The day started with Chesterfield’s Market Place absolutely packed with excited schoolchildren, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, old soldiers, and weeping women holding bunches of flowers and cuddly toys for the Princess’ unborn child. Wheelchairs given priority behind the ropes. And after a Mayoral banquet on trestle tables, Prince Charles inaugurates the mall itself, the feted Diana unveiling the adjoining Peacock Heritage Centre; before both royals pass through more crowds to access the Crooked Spire – numerous gorgeously-clad clergy to greet them – for a special Service of Thanksgiving.

Three-and-a-half years later, on March 15, 1985, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived by royal train into the yet unaltered Chesterfield Midland Railway Station; then proceeded up an excited and  jostling crowd on  Hady Hill to open the “new” Chesterfield Royal Infirmary relocated – open for business a year earlier – from its former site opposite the Do’Nut. Doubtless it had been intended that the two operations coincide, but that impossibility did not deter dozens of smiling nurses – also holding flowers and toys – standing in Chesterfield Royal’s foyer in the hope of a word with their monarch, who was still gripping her famous handbag, an accessory doubtless containing a spare marmalade sandwich!

Last July, the hardworking Princess Anne – who is Patron of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine – officially opened the new Emergency Department at Chesterfield Royal Hospital.

And now that one Queen has died and we have another Queen, Camilla, there will doubtless be extra royal visits to Derbyshire.