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Remembering the Royal Visit to Holy Island

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Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Northumberland followed by Prince Philip and the Duchess of Northumberland arrive at St Mary's Church, Holy Island on 29 June 1958.

In 1958, the royal yacht ‘Britannia’ anchored off the north Northumberland coast so that the Queen and Prince Phillip could visit Holy Island.

This weekend will see the climax of months of events to celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday, as we celebrate her official birthday on Saturday. In all up to 10 million people in the UK are expected to join in official celebrations, along with millions more across the Commonwealth.  

The Queen has been to Northumberland on several occasions but perhaps her most famous visit to the Northumberland Coast AONB was 29 June 1958, when the royal yacht ‘Britannia’ anchored off the north Northumberland coast so that the Queen and Prince Phillip could visit Holy Island. It was the first time that a reigning monarch had been to the Island since Anglo Saxon days.     

The royal visitors were brought onto the Island by the queen’s barge.  As it was Sunday, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attended morning prayers at the Parish Church before inspecting the guard of honour in Sanctuary Close.  The Royal party were shown around the Priory and admired the newly completed statue of St Aidan by Kathleen Parbury. The Queen planted two sycamore trees using the same spade that her grandparents had used. She also visited the Castle before returning to the pier, to take the barge back to the royal yacht. 

In her book, The Story of Holy Island, an Illustrated History by Kate Tristram, she describes the gifts given by the Islanders to the Queen:

“Margaret Drysdale on behalf of the children gave a piece of pottery; Mr John Tough, a disabled Islander, gave a willow basket he had made; the fishermen gave 28 live lobsters in a large box specially made by Mr Ralph Dawson of Seahouses.  It was felt to have been a very happy visit”.

This visit marked the first time Holy Island had a police force, with 100 Northumberland Police and Special Constables set up in a temporary station.  Locals were disappointed though at being unable to admire the Royal yacht because of some heavy fog.

Later in the day, The Queen visited the Farne Islands.  Mr Jack Sheil took her on a tour of the Islands, including following the route of Grace Darling and her father during their memorable rescue. She gave Mr Sheil a photograph of the Royal family and Sir John Craster gave her half-box of the famous Craster kippers.

There is a wonderful British Pathe video of the Royal visit to Holy Island too which you can watch – I love the fact that the Royal Party toured round the Island in the back of a Landrover!