Meeting Report by Sandra Millsopp
On 13th October we welcomed another visit from Leanne Briggs of the North Down Museum. This time her talk was on royal visits to North Down, especially to Bangor. Leanne used some very interesting photographs from the museum’s collection to illustrate her talk. She also read from contemporary newspaper accounts.
The first visit was by Edward VII and Queen Alexander in 1903. They arrived in Belfast Lough on a navy ship as there was no royal yacht. Then they landed at Bangor’s North Pier where a red carpet had been spread. The photograph showed the scene on Bridge Street as the royal coach passed, surrounded by large crowds in specially erected stands.
The royal party then went on to Newtownards where people gathered in the square to watch. The next stop was Mount Stewart where the royal couple were to stay. A photograph showed them at the house. Percy French was asked to go there and he made two paintings: one showed the front of Mount Stewart and the other the side.
A plaque was put up on the gates at the entrance to the North Pier in order to commemorate the visit to Bangor. Much later, when the pier was refurbished, the plaque was taken down. Today its whereabouts are unknown and Leanne has searched unsuccessfully for it.
A second missing plaque from the pier was the one commemorating the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York in 1924. They were later to become King George VI and his consort Queen Elizabeth. An air photograph showed their arrival at the pier. Boats were allowed to venture close and there was no security. Once more large crowds welcomed the royal visitors. They went on to stay at Clandeboye House for the weekend. The royal couple attended the Sunday service in Clandeboye Chapel and planted a tree to commemorate their visit. They then went on to Mount Stewart.
The next photograph showed the proclamation of the new king in 1936 and the parade through the town. In 1937 the council got a government grant of £90 to decorate the town for the coronation of King George VI. There was a bonfire on the North Pier and children received pastries, sweets and mugs to mark the occasion. Sixteen trees were planted in Abbey Street where they are still growing down the centre of the road. Photographs showed the decorations in Quay Street and Main Street. There was a competition for dressing shops and houses.
In 1958 the Queen Mother paid a visit to Bangor. In the Tonic cinema she made a speech to 2,000 people connected with the Mothers’ Union and various charities. Pictures showed crowds in the town. She then went on to Newtownards where she laid the foundation stone for the Queen’s Hall.
In 1961 Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited North Down, using the Royal Yacht Britannia as a base. Photographs showed them in Holywood at the Queen’s Hall and also the crowds in the town. In Bangor they went to the Royal Ulster Yacht Club. The Queen took afternoon tea there, while Prince Philip sailed his yacht Cowslip in a regatta. They also visited Bangor Castle where they were greeted by local councillors. Prince Charles and Princess Anne were also on the royal yacht. While their parents paid these visits, they were sent off to friends and enjoyed a picnic and a boat trip on Strangford Lough.
The royal couple returned to North Down in 1977 as part of the Silver Jubilee programme. They were greeted by a 21 gun salute in Bangor, but this time there was more security. The present writer can remember getting up early and going with her parents to Kingsland. There we joined the large crowds waiting to watch the royal yacht sail up Belfast Lough. Unfortunately it was very misty out at sea and we did not get the clear view we expected.
In 2005 Prince Charles and Camilla visited the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. The Queen and Prince Philip visited Bangor again in 2009. A photograph showed them with the mayor Leslie Cree and town clerk Trevor Polley.
Leanne concluded by referring to the grant of city status to the town as part of the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations. Bangor’s history and her royal connections played a part in this grant.
Our president thanked Leanne for her very interesting talk. He reminded members about the next talk which will be held at the Fountain Centre, Queen’s Parade, at 8pm on 10th November. The speaker is Billy McCullough and his talk will be on the Ulster Scots who went to America. Visitors will be most welcome to join members. There is a small charge for visitors.