I WAS THERE WHEN . . - Part Three

Few occasions give rise to more local excitement than a visit by Royalty; and there can be no surer way of tidying up forgotten corners or getting a fresh coat of paint everywhere than the promise of a Royal visit. The sudden installation of a long awaited new public loo ensures that the visitor could spend the Royal penny if needs be; and last, but by no means least, the local press descends in dozens on the hallowed ground to capture the occasion forever in words and pictures.

No doubt the occasional Royal visits to our district have shunted all other news off the front page of the newspaper that week. But even if every moment was accounted for, no name spelt incorrectly and every handshake faithfully recorded the day the Prince of Wales came to Ambleside around the year 1927 - would the reporter have dared to mention the tiny gesture one eager young witness noticed, and remembered some sixty years later? He knew it really happened - he saw it and he was there...

"With the Royal Family in those days, now I come to think of it, we had to flock to see them because we didn't know much about them, only in our books at school. And they were rather distant and aloft because they didn't come up here. The Kaiser came here once or twice, Kaiser Bill of the First World War; and there was the Queen of Holland, Wilhelmina, she stayed at Rydal Hall...but I can picture the day the Prince of Wales came through.

"We were all gathered in the Market Square in Ambleside, and we were sitting on the steps up at The Mechanics Institute, sitting on window sills, looking out of windows, every shop was crowded, but the shops weren't serving anybody. It was like a Rushbearing day...but down the middle, all the ex-servicemen were on one side, and Prince had to go down the middle.

"I would suppose the Prince had been stopping at Lowther Castle with Lord Lonsdale...but what capped me about the Prince of Wales, I had really read about him in the newspaper and that, because he'd done very good work, he was a working mans' Prince - and there was once a time in Wales when he made a bloomer, he went into the wrong house. They'd put a house ready for him to inspect and he went into the wrong house and the person that was there said, 'Come in, Your Majesty', and he gave him a cup of tea. And he made himself at home. Well then, there's no doubt that he was very much in demand at that time, being the Prince of Wales.And he went all round England, and so, when he came through Ambleside he looked that bleary-eyed, and I always remember him go like this - with his sleeve, to wipe his nose! And I thought, Heavens, surely you've got a handkerchief! We'd been taught at school to use a handkerchief. And then he shook hands with all the ex-servicemen.

"He didn't quite come up to expectations. But that was a vivid memory of him, and I was rather disappointed. And what followed afterwards in his life, I was saddened to read about him...there's no doubt he had a lot of work to do and he wasn't really a man to be in the public eye...he'd cock his hat on one side when he was in uniform, as much as to say, I'll be glad when this is over. And that's the appearance he gave. There's no doubt he did very good work, and when he abdicated I was very disappointed."

It would indeed have been an intrepid reporter who dared mention the fact that the Prince of Wales wiped his nose on his sleeve, or looked bleary-eyed, no doubt after a hard session the night before with friends at Lowther. A newspaper report of that day would concentrate on the pride and honour of the visit, and few people, including that same reporter, would even notice if anything went slightly wrong with the local welcome, and the organisers would scarcely be likely to draw attention to a few little slip-ups in the day's proceedings. So its just as well that there are still plenty of people alive today who can say, 'I know, because I was there...' to recall the real events of an important day rather than the edited newspaper version.

For example, there was the day in Coronation Year when the Queen was due to drive from Ullswater over Kirkstone and down to Ambleside and Windermere on her way to board a yacht at Barrow. The plan was that she should hear the sound of church bells ringing to welcome her right through the course of her drive; but when the idea of continual peals was suggested, nobody dreamed that the Queen might actually arrive late!

"The Queen was coming over the top of Kirkstone, down Kirkstone, getting to Ambleside, and she was supposed to be getting here at a certain time. I was in charge then, and I managed to organise eight ringers so that we could ring a quarter peal, that was 53 minutes, so that she'd hear it coming down Kirkstone, right through Ambleside, and on to Windermere Lake. And then by the time she got half way down the Lake, Bowness would start ringing and she'd hear the Bowness bells ringing.

"Well, of course, she was late coming down Kirkstone. By the time she'd come into Ambleside we were just about finished, and we'd no idea that she was late. we said, 'Well, that was a good ring, I hope she's enjoyed that.' Well then, as soon as she'd gone through Ambleside two or three of us got in my car and we went down to Barrow to ring for her there. This was because she was going down to Barrow to get on to the yacht in the shipyard there, and we'd ring for that. Well, she was late getting down there, and the ringing didn't go as we wanted it to."

But its unlikely she ever even noticed - and if she did, it was probably relief and not disappointment that she felt to find some unexpected silence between the marathon sessions of hand-shaking. Or, as the Prince of Wales was almost heard to say in Ambleside as he wiped his nose on his sleeve..."I'll be glad when this is over!"