When the Queen Came Up North
by Laura Storey
IN THE QUEEN’S 70TH YEAR OF SERVICE, LOCAL HISTORIAN GEOFF CRAMBIE REMEMBERS THE DAY THE YOUNG QUEEN CAME TO COLNE.
In 1955, the royal tour arrived at Colne train station to the delight of the locals who lined the streets hoping to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Geoff still remembers the moment Elizabeth became Queen. It was 1952 and Geoff was a nine-year-old school boy at Lord Street Primary School. He remembers his teacher coming into the room, looking very sombre. Geoff was immediately convinced that he was in trouble.
“Our teacher was very strict; he got the stick if you did anything wrong.” Geoff says. “If you were really bad, which I was, because I used to wear a badge and it said, ‘Guinness is good for you,’ and they didn’t like it. I would never take it off.” This time, however, Geoff’s teacher didn’t even glance at his Guinness badge. He said in a low grave voice – ‘the King is dead’ – then ‘Long Live the Queen!’ “There was a hush over the classroom, then a roar just erupted with everyone chanting Long Live the Queen!” The Coronation was fantastic, there were 280 street parties in Colne. This was our street party. That’s me!” Geoff points to a boy with glasses and a big pullover, celebrating the day the Queen was crowned. Two years after the Queen’s Coronation, Colne locals had another event to celebrate – the Queen herself would be coming to Colne. “It was 1955, we had to wait two years after the Queen had been crowned,” Geoff laughs. “But she got round to us eventually.”
Colne station was all decked out for the Queen coming. She was driven in on a double header train with two engines, they’re called Jubilees this class of steam engines and they’re all named after the Commonwealth. So, whenever the Queen had a double header, she always used to have the Commonwealth ones. On her visit to Colne, these engines were the India and the South Africa.”
From Colne Train Station, the Queen was driven to Hyde Park where she was greeted by Colners lining the streets. “We were all there waiting for the Queen and this is what I remember vividly most about that day.” Geoff says. “There was 8,000 of us, and we were all chattering away, we had all our flags and everything, and then this big, enormous Bentley came in – there was no number plate – the Queen’s cars don’t have number plates – and it drew up in front of the dais. As she stepped out, I’ve never known anything like it in my life. There was a deathly hush, because, for the first time, people were seeing the Queen of England. And then a roar went up and a farmer two miles away heard it. He thought it was some jet planes going over. Everyone erupted and it was fantastic.”
The dais the Queen stepped onto, that was made by Pressed Felt.” Geoff explains. Pressed Felt made accessories for the car industry and was later known as John Cotton, but the firm closed down in 2009. “I’ve been trying to get that for 40 years. It was hanging up on the wall in the factory and when they closed it and pulled it down, it had gone. I bet it was thrown away, they won’t have realised that the Queen had stepped on it.”
“That’s the Colne Orpheus Choir,” Geoff points out the group of men stood to the left of the bandstand. It was a wonderful day; it was absolutely marvellous. Me and a pal of mine wanted to see this double header train, so we ran down to Colne station. The Queen had been taken away from the park by that big Bentley. We pegged it down and there were too many people at the station to watch the Queen go, so my pal Mel says ‘We’ll go to the corner,’ there’s a wall there that you can sit on, and you can see the viaduct.” So, we sat there, and we saw the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh coming like this, and we both had caps on. I failed the 11+ so I had a navy-blue cap on, Mel, he were a grammar grub so he went to Nelson Tech, and he had a maroon cap on.
The Queen and Prince Phillip came past and we saw the Queen in the royal carriage, and we both threw our hats into the air. Mel’s went into a tree; it was stuck there and he couldn’t get it back. His mum had to buy him a new one! Mine flew down and went in the water below, Colne Water. It just floated away, so my mum had to pay 12 and 6 to get another cap as well. But in our mind, it was worth it because we’d seen the Queen!” Geoff grins. “It was such a big thing then because the Queen was so young.”
Despite our beautiful countryside and friendly northern hospitality, the royals have only visited Colne three times. “No royalty has been since the Queen’s visit!” Geoff says. Since the Queen didn’t come back to Colne, Geoff was especially lucky to see the Queen for a second time when he was selected for the Diamond Jubilee lunch in 2012 at Accrington Town Hall.
“One person was chosen from every town in East Lancashire. There were 242 people, the mayor of each town and then the person who’d been selected. I was chosen as a Colne historian who had done a lot for the town, so they said, I was really proud!” Asked if he said anything to her Majesty, Geoff shakes his head, “We weren’t allowed. They said if the Queen speaks to one person she’ll feel obligated to speak to everyone. So instead, I held up this.” Geoff shows me a badge commemorating the Queen’s Coronation. “I bought this for threepence from Woolworths in 1953 and I had it all them years, so when the Queen came past, I just smiled and held up the badge and she beamed a smile at me, a beautiful smile with beautiful sapphire blue eyes… and then she moved onto the next.
NorthernLife May/June 2022