Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: 1954 royal visit to Dewsbury
I was so transfixed by the Queen I missed the Duke
Few of us who saw the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh when they visited Dewsbury and Batley in 1954 will ever forget it.
I was only 13 when I stood with thousands of other Dewsbury schoolchildren on Longcauseway eagerly waiting to see them.
So eager were some to make sure they saw the royal couple, they had an all-night vigil to claim the best seats.
Although the visit was planned for mid-morning, the crowds began to gather outside the old Dewsbury Central Railway Station hours before the police cordon was set up at 7.30am.
Some women brought their own collapsible seats while others, eager to get a good view of the royal train, sat on the rooftops of nearby buildings.
Three women who were determined to get the best view camped out all night in front of the town hall where the royal couple were due to receive their official welcome.
They were Mrs Esmerelda Powell, of East Parade, Eastborough, her next door neighbour, Mrs Lucy Field, and Mrs Mary Powell, of School Street, Dewsbury.
The three women, fortified with coats, rugs, Thermos flasks, food and cigarettes, spent the night sitting on a seat in the middle of the traffic island in front of the town hall.
Their all-night vigil was rewarded early next morning when the police arrived to set up the stand, thus allowing them to claim the best three seats which gave them a direct view of the podium on which the proceedings would take place.
More than 6,000 children waving Union flags lined Longcauseway, and cheered loudly when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh walked by.
There were exclamations of delight from the crowd at the delicate colouring of the Queen, and comments about her trim figure, which they all agreed could only be appreciated by seeing her in person.
The Queen acknowledged the cheers of the crowds with a kindly wave and a friendly Duke of Edinburgh, wearing a dark brown pin-striped lounge suit and carrying a bowler hat, walked behind, smiling and waving at the children.
Numerous police officers had to form a chain because of the enthusiastic crowds pushing forward to get a closer view, and the cheers were deafening.
Among the people presented to the Queen on the town hall steps were civic dignitaries, clergy senior police officers and representatives from industry, both bosses and workpeople.
One man, who made both the Queen and the Duke laugh heartily, was Mr Carter Garforth, a veteran of industry, who was still working at 84 at Wormalds and Walker’s mill in Thornhill Lees.
When the Queen told him he was wonderful to be still working at that age, he replied that he owed it all to his lifelong faith in eating plenty of tripe.
He also told her: “I’ve never been off work once in 73 years except when I slipped on the ice and missed the bus.”
The woman worker representing industry in Dewsbury, Mrs Ethel North, was also presented to the Queen and told her she had been working in the same mill for 55 years.
The royal party then went into the town hall where the Queen and Duke signed a specially prepared page in the distinguished visitors’ book.
After the visit, hundreds of people went into the town hall and many of them just couldn’t resist sitting on the chairs on the dais which the royal couple had occupied.
Throughout the morning the crowds were entertained by the band of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry which was positioned in front of the town hall.
Many of the town’s young men had served in this regiment and many hundreds of them had lost their lives fighting in World War One.
The regiment was often invited to the town to take part in civic ceremonies and special parades, and in 1947 were given the Freedom of the Borough by the old Dewsbury Town Council.
My own personal recollection of that day was the kindly police officer who, seeing I was smaller than most of the children, pushed me to the front so I could see better.
The Queen passed within a few a few yards of me and I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
Here was the Queen of England who I’d only ever seen on postage stamps and Pathe newsreels at the pictures.
I remember every moment, and how surprised I was at how small and dainty she looked, her lovely complexion and smile, even the colour of her coat – sapphire blue.
Many in the crowd swore afterwards that she’d looked directly at them and smiled. I certainly did.
But oh the disappointment on realising I’d been so transfixed at looking at her, I hadn’t noticed Prince Philip walking behind her. I’d missed him.
A full description of what the Queen was wearing was published in the Reporter the following week for those who hadn’t been able to be there.
The report stated: “The Queen wore a waisted coat in the new fashion shade of sapphire blue, trimmed with black braiding on the collar and pockets.
“Her close-fitting hat was in the same colour with a spray of matching blue feathers on the side.
“Her shoes and gloves were black and she carried a black leather handbag and a bouquet of roses and lilies which had been presented to her by the Mayoress when she arrived.”
In the evening when my mother and sisters returned from work they were full of the royal visit.
They worked on Halifax Road and had been able to come out of their workplace to watch the royal car pass by on its way to Batley
They had caught a glimpse of her through the car window but I knew that none of them had seen her as close up as I had, and that made me feel very special.
It still does.
Were you among the crowds that day? If so, contact us with your recollections. Email: [email protected]