Prince Charles visits Chester (1971)

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On the 5th Feb 1971, the Apollo 14 mission achieved the third manned lunar landing, George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord was number 1 in the charts, Love Story won Best Picture at the Golden Globes, and Prince Charles, aged 23 brought “happy smiles” and “high elation” on a visit to Chester , his first appearance as Earl of Chester. The occasion was marked in a special souvenir edition of the Cheshire Observer. This 50 year old eBay treasure illustrates the historic day which is said to have left police and civic leaders “gasping”.

In Town Hall square

On his visit the young Prince immersed himself in many varying aspects of City life including a traditional civic reception, meeting staff at the Cathedral, a tour of the then new fire station , the Grosvenor shopping centre and a meet and greet in the Lache. The Observer reports that “the mood set when a rousing cheer from crowds of school children heralded the sight of the Royal Red helicopter over the Roodee. At almost every point the nearest glimpse of the approaching Prince appeared to be the signal for the sort of jubilation once reserved for the victory parade but now generally taken as the sole prerogative of the pop idol”.

Mayhem on Eastgate Street. Prince Charles (circled) plus an early appearance by one of the Chester sign holders telling the public to REPENT AND BE READY TO MEET YOUR GOD
Cleaning staff at the Town Hall

At the Town Hall, the Major reminded guests that the building itself had been opened by a different Prince of Wales in 1869 and also that the City Fire service had been originally named the “Earl of Chester’s Volunteer Fire Brigade” from its formation in 1863. The Prince was awarded a set of gold cufflinks marked with the Arms of Chester, which possibly sit at the back of some royal cupboard these days. “I shall flash these around a good deal” Charles said. The Prince also raved about a meal prepared by local caterer John Williamson describing it as the “finest beef” he had ever tasted. The souvenir notes that “One middle aged woman standing outside the Cathedral was so excited that she grabbed the nearest police officer by the arm and said “I’ve got a lad just the same age as the Prince of Wales and he’s so like him”

At Fire HQ the Prince slid down the pole and was then took part in a fire drill pressing the red alarm button as firefighters ran to their 3 engines. Speaking to assembled families, the Prince asked “Are you the long suffering wives?” to Mrs Frances Colebourn, wife of Station Officer Henry Colebourn. Officers worked a 6pm to 9am shift on 3 consecutive nights every 9 days. Outside the Prince spoke to more waiting schoolchildren with Mark Holding (age unknown) remarking “He’s a very nice man. If he’s King he’ll be a good one. My mum was born in Caernarvon, but I didn’t have time to tell him that.”

Where at they now ?

The hysteria continued in the Grosvenor Centre, described as “one of the wildest walkabouts of all.. A smiling young Prince moved through a positive averment of adulation, while Police uniformed and plain clothed, and the remnants of an official party struggled helplessly in the ensuing melee” Joan Butterworth of Boughton was disappointed the Prince wasn’t wearing a Crown.

Roman gardens
Looking back at an historic Royal Visit
Passing the iconic Salmon Leap

The Royal parade continued onto the city walls. The Prince waved to children watching from the Convent School (now the dreaded Dee House), and then headed to County Hall. The Prince “paused for a moment to assure himself that the staff were paid sufficiently. One of the shorthand typists, Jacqueline Welborn was thrilled by the Royal visitor’s interest”. Meanwhile two telephonists, Mrs S Travers and Mrs I Jenkins were impressed by the brief encounter saying that “Its just by chance he’s been born into Royalty, but theres something different about him.”

At the Lache Youth Centre HRH played snooker with locals- well one shot, due to being behind on his schedule having been delayed by crowds at County Hall. “I think he will make a marvellous King” commented 17 year old Lache resident Dawn Lewis. 15 year old David Lavender said that he thought Charles was “very interesting- the sort of person I would like for a friend.”

Lache Youth Centre

In an age of a vastly declining print media, future royal visits will be marked by online photo albums with pop up ads , instagram stories and facebook posts but theres something special about holding a part of the past in your hands. No photographer /writer is credited in the newspaper.

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