In May 1918 King George V and Queen Mary made a ‘flying’ visit to the West Riding of Yorkshire. Historian Alan Roberts researched their visit.

The royals were given a right hearty Yorkshire welcome and the spontaneous response they received was doubtless one of the highlights. Indeed the hour spent in Keighley was the first ever royal visit to the town.

While The Times provided the overview of the visit, it fell to The Craven Herald to describe the details of the domestic arrangements.

The royal train had left St Pancras Station in London at five o’clock and pulled by two steam locomotives from the Midland Railway had arrived at Bolton Abbey Station over five hours later. The locomotives ‘ran round’ the train and propelled the carriages and their royal guests into position for the night.

The royal party left for Bradford the next morning. The visit was to boost the morale of the local textile industry. The army would need 16 million blankets that year and millions of yards of cloth. Instead of the usual cheering the factory girls at Isaac Holden and Sons broke into song with ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’. The Times noted that ‘the Yorkshire girls are [such] sweet singers’.

Passing Morton Banks Hospital the cars carrying the King and Queen slowed down to acknowledge the soldiers and nurses who had gathered at the side of the road. Over 6000 wounded soldiers had already been treated there. The following year there numbers would be joined by 91 German prisoners from Skipton who were suffering from influenza.

There had been a strong community of German businessmen in Bradford. Commercially it made sense for them to change their German surnames to English ones. The royal family was no exception. In 1917 the family name was changed from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the much shorter Windsor. King George was in fact Kaiser Wilhelm’s first cousin: Queen Victoria had been both monarchs’ grandmother. Queen Mary was often known as Mary of Teck after the small town in Germany where her father had been duke. She was however born and raised in Britain.

In the evening the Queen was driven to Bolton Priory accompanied by Superintendent Vaughan of the Skipton police. Clearly Vaughan was enjoying a change from a case of the ‘improper use of motor spirit’ and discouraging guards from Raikeswood Camp from enjoying the night-time attractions of Skipton and overstaying their leave.

The Queen was shown round the remains of the priory, and admired the ‘double west front’ of the building. She admitted to the Rector that she was rather tired after her strenuous day. The Duke of Devonshire was acting as the Governor General of Canada so it fell to the wife of the head gardener to receive her at the Hall. After a short visit to the Strid the Queen returned to the train at the station.

The Times reported on the next day’s trip to Dewsbury.

‘The King and Queen have learned among other things today the Yorkshire, and therefore the true, meaning of shoddy. Shoddy, in the common use of the word, has become a term of contempt. In the West Riding shoddy stands for a quite honest material, on which drab but thriving towns have built up prosperity. Wool of poor quality… may be worth far less than good shoddy.’

The King and Queen were greatly interested in seeing the process by which weaving waste and rag cuttings were torn to fibre and made up again into cloth.

In the weaving sheds the women and girls had done their utmost to brighten the places up with streamers and banners. The Queen was almost overwhelmed by the reception she received. Said one girl, ‘Eh, but she looks grand, doesn’t she?’ and from another, as the Queen passed, ‘Yon’s a pretty grey dress.’

After another eventful day their majesties returned to Bolton Abbey in the early evening and only left the train for a brief stroll along the platform.

Friday morning found the King was preparing to read and the Queen standing at the window bowing as the train pulled out destination Leeds. Another busy day finished with an open-air investiture at the City of Leeds Training College at Beckett Park which had been transformed into 2nd Northern General Hospital for the treatment of wounded British servicemen. A small number of British officers from Raikeswood Camp also attended there for medical appointments.

The royal couple were surrounded by a throng of immaculately dressed nurses and wounded soldiers in their blue flannel hospital uniforms. The highlight of the proceedings was the award of three Victoria Crosses, the nation’s highest military award for gallantry. Sadly two recipients had to be represented by their widows.

The hastily-arranged visit had been a huge success. Much remains to remind us of the occasion. The railway line from Skipton to Ilkley closed in 1965 and the station fell into disrepair. A new station was built and reopened as the terminus of a heritage railway which runs to Embsay. And Queen Mary was of course our present queen’s grandmother, and some charming photographs show Mary and a very young Princess Elisabeth.