Today marks forty years to the day since Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II honoured the borough of Walsall with a very special Royal Visit to mark twenty-five years of her reign – her Silver Jubilee. Many of our readers may well remember that day. We certainly do – and we have exclusive pictures to prove it!
The day of the visit, Wednesday 27th July 1977, had dawned grey and chilly, but there was to be nothing chilly about the reception which the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would receive; indeed their route into town was lined with people up to twelve deep, despite hours of waiting.
The Royal motorcade arrived some twenty-five minutes behind schedule, and the crowds, made up of all ages from throughout the borough, had been there for up to seven hours. Despite this, there was an air of excited anticipation; even the local police on duty in Lichfield Street seemed to be enjoying the sense of occasion.
Press photographers had not been wasting the waiting time, and both they and reporters from local newspapers had been doing the rounds of the crowds, taking likely pictures for publication and gathering quotes and comments to take back to their editors. Many members of the public had their own cameras at the ready, unsurprisingly. Notably one Stuart Williams, then aged 16, now editor of The Bloxwich Telegraph. Stuart had placed himself carefully on the Council House side of Lichfield Street, hoping to get some interesting pictures with his new Russian Zenith E camera. The professional pressmen had the best gear and the best access, but Stuart and his rather slower and clunkier camera were ready for action nonetheless. He took a few pictures of the crowds and police, and even targeted one of the pros who was busy snapping away at an excited group of young royalists nearby. Then waited patiently.
And when the Royal party arrived via Bradford Street, the heaving throng erupted into a sea of red, white and blue. By the Cenotaph, disabled people from all over the borough had been given a special vantage point to view the Queen’s arrival. Among the organisations represented there were Willenhall Fellowship for the Disabled, Walsall Physically Handicapped Association and the Megan du Boisson complex for the handicapped, from Brownhills.
An atmosphere of intense excitement had built up at the Council House, due to Her Majesty’s delayed arrival, but as soon as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip arrived, an immense cheer and the cries of excited children rang out, with the famous royal limousine, a Rolls-Royce Phantom Landaulette, sweeping up Lichfield Street. Shutters clicked and clacked, including Stuart Williams’ Zenith, with just time for one grab shot of the rapidly approaching custom Rolls-Royce. “Gotcha!” Alighting at the Council House, which was surrounded by Walsall Police and thousands of flag-waving members of the public, the Royal couple acknowledged the crowds with smiles and waves, and immediately went about the business of the visit.
The Queen was dressed in a vibrant apple green, thick silk coat and matching organza hat spotted with small, white flowers, and her consort the Duke of Edinburgh wore a suit. They looked surprisingly fresh, considering Walsall was the mid-point of a whistle-stop tour of the West Midlands.
Her Majesty and Prince Philip were welcomed by the Mayor of Walsall, Councillor Jim Leadbeater (accompanied by the Mayoress, his wife Edith), presenting the Town Clerk and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. J.A. Galloway. Entering the Council House, the Royal couple went up to the Council Chamber, where the borough councillors and officers waited, to sign the distinguished visitors book and portrait photographs of themselves. After this, the Queen unveiled a plaque commemorating her visit during the 600th year of Walsall’s Mayoralty (the town having elected Mayors since 1377).
Together with other guests including Bruce George MP, Her Majesty and Prince Philip then went on to attend a prestigious luncheon in the Town Hall, amongst hundreds of the great and good of Walsall and Staffordshire (though only 80 places were allocated to Walsall out of 344, and the whole cost was met from county funds). Amazingly, the Queen having asked that as little expense as possible be gone to, the Royal lunch cost just £1.70 a head, including wine. That would be the princely sum of £7.38 today!
A rickety Roller
Not everything went quite so smoothly as the luncheon, however. While all this was going on, a second Rolls-Royce car, a Phantom Four, which had brought the Queen’s ladies in waiting and private secretary to Walsall, now decided to ‘play the prima donna’ and broke down, having to be unceremoniously pushed into Tower Street by police and men from the Council’s public works depot to await repairs. The Queen’s chauffeur said it was the first time he could remember one of Her Majesty’s cars breaking down. A replacement, a new 1977 Rolls, was swiftly rushed to Walsall from a Birmingham showroom.
Meanwhile, mechanics Fred Budd and Chris Tate, from the former P.J. Evans Rolls-Royce garage in Sedgley, were called to the rescue of the stricken Phantom. Fred diagnosed a blown fuse in the fuel pump and, according to the Black Country Bugle, got the car going again to cheers from the onlooking crowd. Apparently Fred later received a letter from Buckingham Palace thanking him for his efforts.
Police presence and a sinister letter
There may have been a little more to the largely cheerful police presence than these pictures show, however. It seems that Special Branch detectives had been called in just before the Queen and Prince Philip arrived in the town, due to the Walsall Observer newspaper having received a letter threatening Her Majesty. The letter said that it was from the ‘October Group’, and warned that the Queen would have a “hot reception” if she came to Walsall. But in the end, there was no sign of any trouble during the visit.
Finally, following the grand occasion, Her Majesty’s limousine, plus the borrowed Rolls-Royce from Birmingham and the repaired, if slightly embarrassed, Phantom Four, were then able to depart safely and smoothly, taking the Royal couple on their way to the next leg of their tour with many happy memories of their reception in Walsall, and leaving many local people, young and old, with equally happy memories of their Royal visit.
A timely photo exclusive
A remarkable and an historic event, then. What is also remarkable is that the exclusive photographs of the occasion shown here have been lurking in the loft of the Bloxwich Telegraph’s editor, Stuart Williams, for forty years, and were only rediscovered by accident a few days ago! That eventful July day in 1977 inspired Stuart, who was using his first good (albeit primitive by modern standards) camera, to take up a career as a professional photographer, which has led him into all sorts of interesting roles and places over the decades since, as well as to publishing this feature. But that is another story.
For now, let these previously unpublished pictures shown here tell their own tale – and if you would like to tell us about your own experiences of that day in Walsall, especially if you or a relative, friend or colleague appear in these pictures, please comment below!
Please note: All pictures shown on this page are copyright 1977 by Stuart Williams, apart from the picture showing the Queen and the Mayor of Walsall inside the Town Hall, which is reproduced courtesy of Walsall Local History Centre. Prints of these rediscovered images will be deposited at the Centre for posterity. Also, if you would like to read much more about the Queen’s Silver Jubilee visit, you can view the Walsall Observer on microfilm at Walsall Local History Centre. Telephone 01922 652212 to book.