The Queen’s visit to Hitchin - aged six

THE Queen is to make her first royal visit to Hitchin in just one week.

But, although she has never made an official royal visit to the town as Queen before, these pictures taken nearly 80 years ago show a young Princess Elizabeth had visited the town as a child.

The photograph of the then-future Queen leaving 15 Bancroft, now occupied by Prezzo’s, was sent to the Comet by writer and broadcaster Richard Whitmore, who published it in his book Hertfordshire’s Queen in 1997.

The picture was taken by Herts Pictorial photographer Frank Howard in August 1932, when the young Princess Elizabeth was just six.

Mr Whitmore said: “1932 was a time when this royal family were as close as they would ever be to living an ordinary life, when they were able to drive into town with their children and browse round their favourite shops. Four years later it would all end when the abdication of the Duke’s elder brother Edward VIII shouldered him and the Duchess and ultimately their elder daughter with the awesome burdens of monarchy.

“When researching my book it soon became clear that the Queen Mother had a very special affection for ‘dear Hitchin’ as she always referred to the town. In the early 1900s, as the young Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, she had frequently travelled the five miles from her home at St Paul’s Walden Bury by pony and trap for lessons at Miss Wilkie’s private school in Dacre Road, or to attend dancing classes at the Sun Hotel.”

On a visit to the town in 1955 to open what was then Hitchin Girls’ High School - now The Priory School - the Queen Mother said that it was always a “great happiness” to visit the county, especially to Hitchin, “whose lovely old streets and market square hold many happy memories”.

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One of those happy memories she described was from Upchurch’s Antiques gallery. Mr Upchurch supplied a number of wedding gifts for the Duke and Duchess when they married in 1923, and was the only Hitchin trader to be invited to Buckingham Palace for a private viewing of the wedding gifts on display.

Mr Whitmore said: “Another favourite Hitchin shop was Paternoster and Hales, a newsagents and stationers in Sun Street just across the road from the Sun Hotel.

“In Edwardian times the Bowes Lyon children were taken there to stock up with pencils, crayons and books for their lessons but by the 1930s, the staff found they were welcoming a new generation of royal customers. Mrs Valerie Dougherty told me how, as a small girl, she stopped to watch Princesses ‘Lilibet’ and Margaret Rose go into the shop with their grandmother Queen Mary.

“Valerie remembered being consumed with schoolgirl envy when the future Queen Elizabeth II (aged nine) emerged carrying a copy of the latest Mickey Mouse Annual.”

He added: “The two young princesses continued to visit St Paul’s Walden Bury throughout the 1930s, staying there in 1939 when the King and Queen were on a tour of Canada and the USA.

“The late Lady (Rachel) Bowes Lyon, sister-in-law of the Queen Mother, once recalled the girls’ delight when their parents made a transatlantic telephone call one evening to find out how they were.

“She said Princess Elizabeth as a child enjoyed life to the full. She was quick-witted and great fun, because it was a fun family. She liked the general running about here and the feeling that it was her mother’s home.”

The Queen will make her royal visit to Hitchin next Thursday, and will also visit Lister Hospital in Stevenage.

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