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Notes From the Archives: The Coronation and a Royal Visit

Today marks the Coronation of King Charles III. As part of the same ceremony his wife Camilla, the Queen Consort will be crowned Queen Camilla. This special occasion is of great historical importance and will take place at Westminster Abby. We wish everyone a wonderful weekend, whatever your plans may be!  

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s passing last year marked the end of a truly outstanding reign, filled with incredible achievements and events. Mill Hill School was fortunate enough to host one such occasion in 1957 when the Queen kindly attended our 150th-anniversary celebrations.  

Monday, July 1, 1957, was a memorable day for all. There had been thunderstorms throughout the night and concerns about whether the visit could proceed, due to the weather, were raised. Many months of communication and preparation had built up to this and it would have been devastating to call off the event. Thankfully, despite the threat of more rain, the weather held for the duration of the Queen’s visit. Although it stayed cloudy for the remainder of the day, the spirits of all those involved couldn’t be dampened! Staff, pupils, parents, friends, and Old Millhillians gathered at the School, giddy with anticipation. The visit was planned down to the minute, to ensure a flawless day.  

The visit began at 2.45 pm when the Queen pulled up to the Main Entrance and entered the School. Having been received by the Lord Lieutenant of the Middlesex County, Sir Frederick Handley, she made her way through the building to the Portico. Her Majesty inspected the Guard of Honour and CCF Parade on display with Major C.S. Baker, chatting merrily as they went.  

After the inspection, the Queen was then invited to plant a new cedar tree along Top Terrace, to mark the legacy of botanist Peter Collinson, the site of whose home we occupy. This cedar tree still stands today along Top Terrace, albeit far more mammoth than the little sapling she planted all those years ago! 

At 3 pm, the Queen was escorted across the Quad to the Chapel by Headmaster Roy Moore and the Chairman of the Court of Governors. Outside the Chapel, they were met by Reverend Patrick Figgis. Her Majesty was then given a tour around the Chapel, where she would have been able to admire the beautiful ceiling stucco reliefs and the delicate stained-glass windows that we all still enjoy today. The only difference was that the Queen had the pleasure of seeing the Chapel’s original organ. Sadly, the organ we listen to now is a replacement that was installed in 1986, due to the eventual structural instability of the original.  

After her tour, at 3.10 pm, the Queen was guided across the Quad to the Science Block – what we now call the Francis Crick Science Building. Outside, she was greeted by Director of Science, Donald Hall, and introduced to the team of Monitors, led by Senior Monitor Frederick Higgs (Ridgeway, 1952-1957), dressed in their finest tailcoats.  

Before she entered, Her Majesty was presented with Robin Watt’s (School House, 1953-1957) finished print of her arrival, taken around 20 minutes ago. The Queen, apparently, commented delightedly, “It is nearly as fast as a photo finish!”. Her Majesty was then escorted inside, where she toured the different Science laboratories, watching ‘experimental work’ being carried out by the pupils. At 3.25 pm, the Queen was led by Senior Monitor Higgs and his team down to the ‘Fishing Net’ – a playing field roughly the Sports centre now stands. It was referred to as the ‘Fishing Net’, due to being behind the ‘Carp Shop’ (short for carpentry, not the fish!). Once there, she witnessed a programme of Athletics training and spoke to some of the athletes about their sport. At 3.35 pm, Her Majesty was led down from the Athletics to the Buckland Swimming Pool – named after the late Governor and Treasurer Richard Buckland. The pool was open-air at this time. As she arrived, Her Majesty entered through the Buckland Gardens, and she greeted the swimmers before observing them diving. The pupils took turns diving individually and in teams before a select few had the honour of speaking to the Queen. 

Once the displays finished, at 3.45 pm, Her Majesty was walked back up to the ‘Fishing Net’ and was then driven down the Tennis Courts to watch several sports matches. Thankfully the weather continued to hold, otherwise, the Queen’s visit would have been cut far shorter than planned! Whilst Her Majesty was enthralled by the pupils’ sporting prowess, the other guests and visitors were invited to take tea at either Top Field or on St Bee’s lawn from 3.45 pm onwards. Those opting for the Terrace were able to watch the Band of the Scots Guard play whilst they ate.  

Back down at the Courts, the Queen witnessed the younger pupils training and competing in matches. Further along, on Gears Field, she watched the Seniors Cricket nets and on Memorial Field, a Colts Cricket match. After, at 4 pm, Her Majesty was driven to the Park to watch several other cricket matches down by the Cricket Pavilion.

Having watched several more matches, at 4.15 pm, Her Majesty was then driven up Wills Grove, past Ridgeway and Collinson, and along the Ridgeway to the Headmaster’s house, the Grove. Special guests of the Headmaster, that were also invited to take tea at the Grove, were expected at 4.10 pm sharp, to precede the Queen’s arrival. When Her Majesty’s car pulled up, she was greeted by Mrs Moore and the rest of the special guest party.  They all took tea in the garden with the Headmaster and his family. Stuart Hewson, OM and Old Millhillians Club president were amongst these special few. Hewson and his family apparently had the honour of being the Queen’s ‘table companions’! This was her longest allotted appointment, lasting around 30 minutes. At 4.45 pm, Her Majesty was escorted back across the Ridgeway and was guided out to the Portico and Top Terrace to bid farewell to everyone. The visit ended with everyone giving ‘three cheers’ to show their appreciation for the Queen having taken the time out of her busy schedule to visit the School. 

The Queen’s visit left a lasting impact on Mill Hill after her departure. Pupils, staff, and visitors still walk past the cedar tree she planted all those years ago and a plaque commemorating her visit is proudly displayed on the side of Portico, which pupils pass every day on their way to the Dining Hall.  

Even though Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s reign has now come to an end and a new one begins, much like the impact of her visit all those years ago and the work she undertook, her incredible legacy shall continue to live on. And who knows, perhaps we could have another royal visit to look forward to for our 250th anniversary in 2057. 

Miss Forte