Princess Elizabeth Visit

From Historical Hastings

On the 18th of May 1951, Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth, escorted by the Duke of Norfolk[1] visited the town on an official visit to both lay the foundation stone for the rebuilding of St Johns Church and present the town with the deeds to Hastings Castle and the East Hill.


Arrival at St Johns Church

Arriving under the Harrow Bridge which was reportedly thronged with children waving the Union Jack, she was driven down Sedlescombe Road North then through Silverhill towards The Green and her first destination of St Johns Church in Pevensey Road to lay the foundation stone of the reconstructed church, the whole route being lined by spectators, the crowds reportedly assembling in Pevensey Road up to one and a half hours before the Princess' scheduled arrival time of 11am and waving flags at almost every vehicle that passed by. Admission to the ruins of the church were by ticket only, and an assembled congregation waited for the Right Reverend G. K. A. Bell, Bishop of Chichester, to greet Her Majesty. The church bells were rung when the Royal car came into view to cheers from the assembled crowd[2].

St. John's Church

After introductions had been made to the assembled dignitaries and clergymen, the congregation celebrated a short service, at the culmination of which, the foundation stone was placed. The Bishop said a prayer of consecration, placing his hand upon the stone, then, speaking to the Princess Elizabeth said "May it please your Royal Highness to lay this stone, as the foundation stone of the new Church of St. John the Evangelist." The architect, Mr. B. Goodhart-Rendel, presented a silver trowel to the Princess, who laid the stone, saying, in a clear pleasant voice "In the Faith of Jesus Christ we place this foundation stone, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen." A hymn was then sung, following by the Bishop pronouncing the blessing. Following a presentation to the local Girl Guide movement, the Princess was presented with a posy of flowers by the rector's grand-daughter. Entering her car with the Mayor to another peal of the church bells, the vehicle headed down Pevensey Road, through Warrior Square and onto the seafront. Two rows of deck chairs had been placed along the route between Warrior Square and the White Rock Baths, which rapidly filled with spectators as the time for the Princess to pass approached[2].

Town Hall and Lunch

Leaving the seafront at Robertson Street and through an estimated 1,500 people around the Memorial stretching up past the Central Cricket Ground, the Princess' cavalcade then went to the Town Hall, the crowd clearing rapidly after the Royal party had entered leaving an assortment of banners and flags to move in the breeze. Signing her name 'Elizabeth' in the Town Hall's visitor's book, the Princess ascended the stairs to the Mayor's parlour where she was introduced to many local dignitaries, the varied persons entering the parlour in single file, greeting the Princess, then returning to the Council chamber. Following these presentations, the Royal and Mayoral party re-entered their vehicles to go to the Queens Hotel where a light lunch was served after further presentations[2]

Hastings Castle & Priory Meadow

Illustrated London News image at Cricket Ground

After lunch, the party then visited the Castle where after a short tour and meeting twelve representatives of the fishing community, she was presented with a gold winkle brooch by members of the Winkle Club, the Princess then continuing her tour during which she remarked to Alderman Rymill that she would have liked to visit the dungeons, but time would not permit. Finally she drove to the Central Cricket Ground, where, after a welcome fanfare from the trumpets of the Royal Artillery Band, entering on a path of rose petals strewn by young girls all dressed in pink, blue and white and carrying posies, proceeded to the dais which had been erected especially for the event. Following the National Anthem[2], in a series of presentations she received the deeds to the Castle from Mr. A. G. Pelham, a descendent of Sir Thomas Pelham (the owner of the castle in 1591), and that of the glens from Major A. Carlisle Sayer DSO MC (the then owner of the land), and ceremonially handed them over to the Mayor for safe-keeping in the possession of the town for perpetuity.[3]. Princess Elizabeth was presented with a silver replica of the town seal, both sides being replicated and mounted on a panel of Sussex oak. Below the seal, engraved on a silver plate was the inscription

Presented to H.R.H. the Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh by the Right Worshipful the Mayor (Alderman J. D. Cooper) on behalf of the Hastings Corporation on the occasion of the Royal Visit on May 18, 1951

The replica seal and silver plate were constructed by Mr. L. J. Medhurst, F.R.S.A, an instructor in silver-smithing at the Municipal School of Art

The Royal party then left Hastings by the coastal road towards Brighton via Lewes.



Following the visit, the Mayor subsequently received a letter which read[4]:-

Dear Mr. Mayor,
I am desired by Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth to write to thank you most sincerely for the splendid reception accorded to her in Hastings. It gave the Princess great pleasure to take part in the Ceremony of the Handing over of the Deeds of the Castle and the Cliffs and Glens, and to have had the opportunity of visiting the Castle itself and seeing so much of Hastings and its People.

The Princess was particularly moved by the Guard of Honour of children as she came on to the Cricket Ground. They set the tune for what was really a most delightful Ceremony.

The Princess has also asked me to say how much she enjoyed lunching with you at the Queen's Hotel. Her Royal Highness would also be very grateful if you would convey her thanks to the Fishermen who presented her with the badge of the Winkle Club at the Castle. Her Royal Highness will treasure this badge and will long remember its presentation with happiness.

Finally, Mr. Mayor, Her Royal Highness has asked me to thank you for the beautiful copy of the 13th Century Seals of Hastings which was presented to her, for the Address of Welcome read to her by the Recorder on the Cricket Ground, and for the charming bouquet presented to her by Miss Ella Pelham.

May I also send the thanks of the Lady-in-Waiting and myself for the hospitality which was given to us.

— Yours sincerely,


Private Secretary to The Princess Elizabeth

References & Notes