Hoots from the Archive - The Visit of the Queen - Two Experiences

Posted by Rachel Kneale on 15 Sep 2022

Modified by Rachel Kneale on 12 Jan 2023

The Queen

In light of the death of Elizabeth II this week, after seventy years on the throne, we thought we would take a look back to 1965 when the Queen visited MGS. The reason for the visit was as part of the School's 450th anniversary celebrations and the laying of a foundation stone for the Sixth Form block (now known as the Mason building). The visit rightly induced many pages of description and reflection in Ulula. Sixty-two years on it is interesting to compare the different experiences of those who were there. The "official" account read as follows:

"In the next seventeen pages we give an account of the Royal Visit. It is not a balanced account; some things lend themselves to verbal or pictorial records, others do not. Nor can it deal comprehensively with the reactions of everyone. The occasion was magnificent and stirred even cynical republicans to admissions of enthusiasm, while at the other end of the scale ardent royalists luxuriated in happy sentimentality. Between these extremes most of us put aside any reservations we may have had about pomp and protocol or the time taken from ordinary activities and enjoyed wholeheartedly the mixture of informality and ceremonial, the excellence of all that had been prepared for the Queen to see, and, above all, the grace, charm and interest which Her Majesty bestowed on the whole occasion. For though everything, even the weather, was perfectly prepared, it was her personality, her outgoing and radiant sympathy, which lifted the visit to such an inspiring level.

Her interest, so well shown in many of the photographs, must suffice as an indication of the excellence of what she saw. Whether it was painting in the Art Hall, climbing activities in the Gym, canoeing in the Swimming Bath or lute-making in the Workshop the standard was the same and the reaction of Her Majesty just as enthusiastic and interested. It is this wonderful display of sympathy and enthusiasm to which we have attempted to pay tribute in the few pages concerned with the displays.

After the photographs of the tour of the School we turn to a more formal narrative of the laying of the foundation stone, the lunch in the refectory and the final departure. Much has been omitted: the Queen’s entry down the Main Drive, the presentations, the part of the tour where prefects took over from the High Master and showed Her Majesty the Gym and the Swimming Bath. Some of these are mentioned in the unofficial accounts at the end of this section but comprehensiveness is not our aim. During the tour of the School Her Majesty was accompanied by the Chairman of Governors and the High Master and for part of the time by the School Captain and prefects. Now, on leaving the Workshop, she was rejoined by the whole official party. This consisted of Lord and Lady Derby, the Countess of Euston, Lady in Waiting to the Queen, other members of the Royal entourage and a civic party (including Alderman Chadwick, an Old Mancunian, then Lord Mayor of Manchester).

Thus accompanied Her Majesty went on to the major ceremony of the day. This was the laying of the Foundation Stone for the new Sixth Form Block which is now being erected in the space between the Gymnasium and the Library. This, though performed most gracefully before a large audience of guests and forms chosen by ballot, was perhaps something of an anti-climax. The loudspeakers did not do their job as they should have done and perhaps too the inevitable formality of such a glaringly symbolic operation accorded poorly with the lively personal interest which Her Majesty was able to show during the rest of the visit. Doubtless these things have to be done; nonetheless telling a man in the cab of a motor crane to lower a large stone on to a temporary wall will never have the glamour and drama of smashing a bottle of champagne on the bows of a ship. But still the symbolism was there and that is the essential part of the affair—the building will always be the one for which the Queen laid the foundation stone.

The ceremony completed, the Queen departed via an exhibition in the Library to take sherry with the High Master and the Governors. Then everyone went their several ways to dine, lunch or eat disconsolate sandwiches; which depending on their status or fortune in the ballot. The Governors and some of the official guests were nobly accommodated in the Meals Room. The other guests and the Royal Party joined members of the School for lunch in the Refectory. The menu for this meal was a source of some amusement to the School. It was described as a normal School Dinner; but it did not escape anyone’s notice that there were three courses instead of two and that the efforts of the Kitchen Staff had been very much more extensive than would normally be possible. Nonetheless it was no fancy banquet, merely a very good meal well cooked and well served. Of course it was not a normal School Dinner but it was sufficiently like one for it to have been true to claim that Her Majesty came and shared a meal with the School; as also she shared coffee with a party of masters in the Common Room after the meal. And so to the departure; a presentation of flowers by a temporarily cherubic first-former; a stately procession of noble cars down the drive past the assembled school and a final glimpse of a smiling sovereign prepared to give a special wave to two little girls standing away from the crowd in Old Hall Lane.

That special wave to the little girls was so typical of the immense warmth, interest and skill Her Majesty brought to the occasion. Even to someone as experienced as she a visit of this sort must be taxing but throughout she was no passive spectator but a keen and interested observer. One expects her to be able to cope with the small boy who says “Yes Miss” when asked if he is enjoying his work, but we were not ready for a memory which recognised Christopher Whittaker, who was to explain the gym display, as one of the horn players in the fanfare an hour earlier; or which remembered that Mr Corbett, introduced after lunch, had pulled the cord which unveiled the coat of arms. This is the expertise that comes of devotion. We can only say humbly how grateful we are that she honoured our School with three hours of this noble service of graciousness."

The following description came from a First former:

"My first impressions of the Historic Day were as I first sighted the school from the pavement of Old Hall Lane. For instead of a mass of builders’ tools, a bright white marquee could be seen. As I approached the marquee I could see a platform covered with a red carpet and a brick covered with a small green tarpaulin on top of two wooden blocks. As I approached still nearer, a brand new motor crane was exposed to view. Entering my form room I was greeted by a deadly hush. Judging from my own form it seemed as though everyone had had his hair cut. Then came the hour of waiting. At last at 10-20 I, with the others in the choir, went into the Memorial Hall. There everyone from governors to cleaners came in, all in their best outfits. As time dragged on Mr Cawthra wandered round the orchestra in nervous fashion waiting for the arrival of the Royal Party. At last the muffled noise of clapping reached our ears, the quiet organ music ceased and the entrance grew nearer. As the first of the procession entered, the people in the hall stood up. There was a touch of tenseness in the air. Then it happened, Her Majesty entered, wearing a gorgeous hat and coat in deep turquoise. The programme continued with a masque specially written for the occasion. Then I hurried back to my form room where we had a “ normal” Latin lesson as the Queen’s party passed. This was followed by another waiting period until the foundation stone was to be laid. On arrival under the marquee we were ushered into our places by some prefects. There we were filmed by the BBC while the ceremony took place. This wasn’t very thrilling and the Queen didn’t even lay the cement. When she blessed the stone there was nothing to be heard as the microphones were badly placed. On our return to Room 12 we had a sandwich lunch while six of our form had a “very” ordinary three course meal in the Refectory. After lunch we were told to play in Birchfields Park. Then at 2 p.m., just three hours after she arrived on her lightning tour of the school, she left in brilliant sunshine."

To see more photographs of the Queen's Visit follow this link: https://www.mgs-life.co.uk/article/the-visit-of-the-queen-march-1965?ref=

To read more, follow this link and select Ulula Summer 1965: https://www.mgs-life.co.uk/article/ulula-library?ref=60

 

Comments

Michael Antrobus

1 Like Posted one year ago

Very timely and interesting article especially the fine detail of the Masque performed before Her Majesty and written and directed by Bert Parnaby who once taught me History including the period of the English Civil War. Many years later I saw him playing Mr Fletcher in the BBC TV series By the Sword Divided. I left School in 1964 some eight months before Her Majesty's visit but, looking at the Summer and Autumn 1965 editions of Ulula, I was somewhat surprised to see so many of my former masters and indeed two former form-masters saying farewell to the school. There was Bert Parnaby himself, George Mason who taught me English, Harry Plant who taught me History, musician David Cawthra, Neil Critchley who also taught me History and Derek Hockridge and Harry Raistrick (Form Masters and French/English and German respectively). In fact, Mr John, who wrote the tribute to Mr Raistrick, bemoans that so many long-serving colleagues are leaving the school at this time. These memories emphasize the importance now of the MGS Archives Department set up by the late Ian Bailey and now maintained by a team of experts.

Mark Goldman

2 Likes Posted one year ago

I was fortunate to draw a lottery place for the refectory lunch the day the Queen visited. Although I have no strong memories of the day I do recall that there was great curiosity when in advance a new rest-room facility was built in anticipation of her visit. It was situated  just behind the hall. I wonder what it comprised and what happened to it?

Rachel Kneale

1 Like Posted one year ago

Thanks Mark - the “Queen's toilet” was converted into a small office, and is now used to store camping and trips equipment. The entrance is still known in School as “the Queen's door” or “the Queen's entrance”

David Broadhurst

2 Likes Posted one year ago

After my Oxford entrance exam in late 1964, I left MGS to teach for 9 months in newly independent Zambia.

My good friend Stephen Schaefer stayed on, as school captain, with the duty of accompanying the Queen throughout her extensive visit.

When Stephen and I next met, in the summer of 1965, I was curious to hear about his impressions of the Queen.

He genuinely admired her ability to engage with the occasion, showing no sign of tiring or tedium.

I recall saying to him that a constitutional monarch is mainly a ceremonial figurehead and that we seemed to have a rather good one.

And so it continued for another 57 years: a strictly limited duty well performed.
 

 

 

 

 

Colin Williams

2 Likes Posted one year ago

I remember it well - lined up on the main driveway to greet the Queen as a second former. BTW never excelled at maths but think that 2022 minus 1965 is 57 not 62!

Rachel Kneale

1 Like Posted one year ago

Well spotted, thank you!

David Wharton-Street

1 Like Posted one year ago

On leaving University, I had a career with British Rail. At the age of 30, in 1974, I was promoted to Manager of the Royal Train for over 5 years to mid 1979. The Train was mainly used by the Queen, Prince Philip and the Queen Mother; and to a lesser extent by Prince Charles and Princess Anne. With the IRA active on the British mainland, for medium to long journeys, it was considered that the train was a safer means of travel than by road. It's use was therefore quite frequent.

Besides the ‘State Visits’ to a variety of locations, the train was used to convey the Royal family to Aberdeen for the summer stay at Balmoral and to Dundee for the Queen Mother's stay at Glamys Castle.

During the 1977 Silver Jubilee year, the Queen and Duke made an eight and a half day tour of Scotland; the longest that any monarch in the World had been on a train. The logistics of organising this trip was quite horrendous. To maintain the ‘affairs of state’ the Queen's secretariat was present on the train; as was a protective detachment of a well-known regiment.

The ‘state boxes’ were flown in by helicopter around 7am each morning, and irrespective of the visits being made by the Queen each day, she ploughed through the paperwork in time for the boxes to be flown out in the evening.

Queen Elizabeth was a truly dedicated and hardworking person; but with a sense of humour. She treated people as equals and I thoroughly enjoyed her company. May she rest in eternal peace.

Rachel Kneale

1 Like Posted one year ago

Thank you for sharing your memories, David. What an interesting job that must have been!

Andrew Revans

1 Like Posted one year ago

This wasn’t very thrilling and the Queen didn’t even lay the cement.”

Classic MGS!

Rachel Kneale

0 Likes Posted one year ago

Yes, very much so!

Jo Glass

1 Like Posted one year ago

I'm sure those who were there will have their own memories of the day, I distinctly remember standing on the drive, clapping on Her Majesty's arrival and cheering on her departure (strictly in accordance with instructions).

However, from all the photographs I've ever seen over the years, the late Queen must have thought that all we did at MGS was drama, arts, and crafts!  

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