THE flags and the bunting had been put up several days beforehand but had grown soggy with rain under heavy skies. But then, almost as if by royal command, on Monday, June 22, 1953, the weather brightened, and the sun shone.
And as the weathermen predicted that the sunshine was expected to continue for at least a few days, workmen toiled to freshen up faded decorations and stocked windowbox after windowbox with geraniums, hydrangeas, marguerites and lobelia.
In all, an estimated one million flowers and plants ensured that Edinburgh would look its best the following day for the State visit of the Queen.
Cosmopolitan chatter was heard on the city centre streets. Groups of American visitors went up to hotel porters and policemen and asked just one question: “Where can I see the Queen?”
Edinburgh got up early on the Tuesday morning to greet the new monarch and the Duke of Edinburgh. Some enthusiasts had camped overnight on Princes Street’s pavement. One man arrived by bus from Liverpool, armed with two blankets and a rug, and settled down for the night opposite Waverley station.
HeraldScotland: crowds gather as the Queen and Prince Philip arrive in Cumbernauld In June 1965 to view the progress of the New Towncrowds gather as the Queen and Prince Philip arrive in Cumbernauld In June 1965 to view the progress of the New Town
At length the night-watch was joined by people armed with camp-stools, then by waves of other well-wishers and tourists. The Navy arrived, to guard the route, and, in the words of the Glasgow Herald’s Christopher Small, “bands came thumping and blaring out of the grey obscurity” – the traditional Edinburgh haar that had settled over the city.
At 10am, guns fired from the Castle ramparts to announce the Queen’s arrival. She was presented with the keys to the city by the Lord Provost, James Miller, before she and the Duke drove in State to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
The royal carriage made its way down Princes Street, flanked by the Household Cavalry and the Life Guards.
The lion-rampant flags went up, wrote Small, in thousands of hands, and the cheers rose with them; “the Queen’s slim blue-clothed figure, with the Duke of Edinburgh on her left hand, passed with gentle bows and gestures of a white-gloved hand, between the street’s single-minded gaze.”
The couple made an unexpected 10-minute-long-detour to St Giles’ Cathedral to see its recently-installed royal chairs. In the Throne Room at Holyroodhouse, more than 500 debutantes and their sponsors were presented to the Queen.
The State visit also took in Glasgow, and Lanarkshire.
Before she was crowned Queen, on February 6, 1952, Princess Elizabeth had made many trips to Scotland.
HeraldScotland: NQNQ
In May 1946 she sailed across the sunny waters of the Firth of Clyde from Greenock to take part in the ceremony of blessing of HMS Vanguard, described in these pages as the world’s greatest battleship; in late September she was welcomed by thousands of enthusiastic Dundonians as she opened the city’s newly-acquired Camperdown Park; a couple of weeks beforehand, she addressed 1,000 Rangers, Girl Guides and Brownies in Aberdeen, telling them: “It is often said that the future is in the hands of youth, and this is particularly true after the terrible war we have just gone through…”
By the time she was 21 the Princess had visited Greenock no fewer than five times. In May 1947 Hector McNeil, Minister of State and local MP, told a May Day rally that the Princess had attended a lunch given by the King, at which the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, had good-naturedly mocked McNeil for representing a town where it always rained. Before the MP could respond, the Princess told Attlee that the sun had shone whenever she visited Greenock.
(Somewhere in the Herald archives for that year there is a story about the princess shooting a royal stag.) Indeed, the archives contain a remarkable number of stories about her many visits north of the border. The year 1947 was particularly hectic: her engagement to Lt Philip Mountbatten was announced on July 9, and the couple were married just four months later, at Westminster Abbey on November 20. She received the freedom of Stirling, and of Edinburgh; she launched the Cunard White Star liner, Caronia, at Clydebank in late October, watched by some 30,000 people.
“The Princess and her husband-to-be,” the Glasgow Herald wrote, “were given a wonderful welcome from cheering crowds, an outstanding feature being the enthusiasm of the younger women.”
Once she had become Queen, in 1952, her workload naturally increased: her responsibilities were great, as was the number of overseas tours that had to be made. Nevertheless, Scotland cropped up on her schedule a respectable number of times: Holyrood garden parties in summer, regular holidays at Balmoral, numerous visits to towns and cities, addresses to the Kirk assembly.
Her first public appearance in the Highlands since her accession was on September 4, 1952, when she attended the Braemar gathering. More than 30,000 people were there to see her, including visitors from Australia, Canada, the United States and Shanghai. One young girl, from Canada, presented her with 24 white Canadian roses. Later that month, when she attended a forenoon service at Crathie Church, the congregation included six chiefs from Uganda, resplendent in native white robes and blue suits, who were on a British Council study tour of the north-east.
Just over two years later, in October 1954, she interrupted a journey from Balmoral to London to attend the Balaclava centenary celebrations of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at Stirling Castle; the Queen was the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief. Her engagements in 1955 included visits to Glasgow and Dundee, and tours of East Stirlingshire and West Lothian, when she was shown around not just historic Linlithgow Palace but also the ICI dyeworks at Grangemouth.At Whitburn and Queensferry, local gala queens had just been crowned when the Queen and Duke arrived and, with a smile, said they would be more than happy to receive them.
She opened the National Library of Scotland’s new building in Edinburgh in July 1956. The following month she became the first British monarch to set foot on the island of Iona for nearly nine centuries, as she began a royal tour of the Western Isles. “It was fitting,” this newspaper remarked, “that the journey to the isles should begin in this way, with solemnity and in the atmosphere of peace that Columba and his followers left behind them on Iona.”
In 1960, the year in which the Queen gave birth to her third child, Andrew (Charles had been born in 1948 and Anne in 1950), she visited the Royal Highland and Agricultural Show in Edinburgh in June, visited Orkney and Shetland in August, and in October took part in the celebrations of the fourth centenary of the Reformation at St Giles’ Cathedral, and opened the new Queen’s Bridge in Perth and Kincardine power station. The Herald noted that the Queen and Duke “arrived in Edinburgh … to be met by a more elaborate scheme of ceremonial than any since the State visit of 1953.” Of the vast coal-burning power station, she said she understood that its output would provide almost a third of the electricity generated in Scotland.
On the 11th of October, incidentally, the front-page news in the Herald concerned the government’s decision to give financial aid towards the building of a 75,000-ton Cunarder to replace the Clydebuilt Queen Mary. ‘John Brown Are Expected to Win the Contract’, read a secondary headline.
The Queen’s itinerary throughout the 1960s, as traced by our archives, are studded with overseas tours – Italy, Ghana, Sierre Leone, Australia and New Zealand, Canada, Ethiopia, Brazil and Chile among them – but she continued to return to Scotland: touring Banff, Moray and Nairn in August 1961; visiting the Borders and unveiling, in St Giles’ Cathedral, a memorial to King George VI, the following July; visiting Clackmannanshire, Glasgow and Paisley in the space of a few days in June/July in 1963.
Now and again, she showed a willingness, when meeting people for the first time, to venture beyond the polite, routine enquiries. There was a good example of this on June 29, 1961, when she and the Duke found themselves, in the course of a sun-drenched visit to Midlothian, at Danderhall School. In its health clinic she chatted with Mr R.P. Neilson, the dental officer, and grabbed his interest by asking if he had come across many instances of supernumerary teeth in the dental arch. Mr Neilson responded by producing casts of a school pupil’s dentures.
The following day, she and the Duke saw for themselves the new and the old Gorbals, in Glasgow. It was, the Glasgow Herald reported, “a day of sweating tarmac, hoarse cheering, vast, dusty crowds and a million flags”, and it was to be hoped that the couple would be “the last of our royal family to see the cramped intensity of a slum home. It was a day that crystallised the end of an era for Glasgow – the end of the Razor King, the Billy Boys, and the Norman Conks ….”
In a single-end at 71 Sandyfaulds Street, the Queen was shown around seven houses, taking an interest in everything from a water heater to a seven-year-old’s folding bed. In one house she asked a woman, “Is this all?”. The woman later told reporters: “I think she was amazed at the smallness of the house.”
On September 4, 1964 the Queen was called upon to open the new Forth Road Bridge. The weather could have been better, at least at first. “Mist had cancelled the fly-past, stopped the ferries, made the new Forth Bridge invisible,” began the report in that day’s ‘souvenir edition’ of our sister paper, the Evening Times. ‘But as the Queen delivered her opening speech the mist lifted, the sun broke through … And the ‘invisible’ bridge, which Her Majesty said spanned the centuries as well as the Forth, suddenly became visible.”
A few weeks earlier, in late June, the monarch had spoken of a personal preference when she visited the headquarters of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes, in Edinburgh. Pointing to a clutch of brown-shelled eggs she commented, “I always think they look so much nicer than the ones with white shells. I suppose they taste the same, though.”
On September 20, 1967, the Queen returned to the John Brown yard in Clydebank to launch the Cunard liner, Q4. On the eve of her visit, thousands of Clydesiders rushed to back ‘Princess Margaret’ in the Q4 naming stakes, while others put money on ‘Winston Churchill’, Britannia, John F Kennedy (who had been assassinated four years earlier) and Aquitania.
In the event, of course, the liner was named Queen Elizabeth II. Read the Herald’s front-page report: “The Q4 became the Queen Elizabeth II yesterday, paused while thousands held their breaths, and slipped gracefully into the Clyde with a deep curtsy to the Queen after whom she had just been named. The launch of John Brown’s No.736 was a perfect one.”
Local authorities spared little expense in making sure everything was perfect for a visit by the Queen, but sometimes real life intruded. A few days before she made her first official visit to Dundee in 14 years, on Thursday, May 29, 1969, the council in Dundee was faced with the problem of what to do with 1,200 uncollected tons of rubbish – the result of deadlock in negotiations with 400 striking cleansing department workers. The strike was settled on the Wednesday night and the workers spent the following day cleaning up. The Queen’s itinerary included an eight-minute call on a local couple who lived in an eighth-floor apartment. Before leaving, she waved to the waiting crowd from the balcony.
One of the most notorious incidents surrounding a visit by the Queen to Scotland occurred on October 13, 1972. At Stirling University she was, in the words of the Evening Times, “barracked by drunken, obscenity-shouting students.” She had to be protected by Special Branch detectives and police during what The Guardian described as “probably the most hostile and rowdy reception she has ever experienced in Britain.”
There was, however, the newspaper added, “a substantial counter-demonstration by other students who loudly cheered the royal party and waved ‘welcome’ placards. Sir Derek Lang, university secretary, said he understood the Queen was not unduly distressed, and left the university ‘laughing and having enjoyed herself immensely’.”
One student outraged the tabloids by swigging from a bottle of wine in front of the Queen.
A Stirling police spokesman was quoted in the Guardian as describing the demonstrators’ conduct as “disgusting,” and he said he was appalled at the “lack of control” shown by the University authorities. Many students, he added, were drunk – their language in front of the Queen was objectionable and they were allowed far too much liberty. The whole affair was “nasty” and the police had tremendous difficulty in getting the Queen’s car away at the end of the visit, he added.
West Stirlingshire’s Labour MP William Baxter wrote to the Scottish Secretary, Gordon Campbell, to press for an inquiry into the running of all universities. The 15-member students’ council at Stirling apologised for the scenes.
In November 1975 the Queen inaugurated the flow of oil from the Forties Field to the Grangemouth refinery by pressing a button in BP’s control centre at Dyce, near Aberdeen. It was, she said, “a day of outstanding significance in the history of the United Kingdom.” The Prime Minister Harold Wilson told the distinguished gathering that North Sea oil would lead to a new industrial revolution in Britain and Scotland would be one of the areas to benefit most.
Two years later, the high esteem in which the Queen continued to be held was brought home with vivid force on the occasion of her Silver Jubilee. “The band of respect and loyalty between the Queen and her people,” said a Glasgow Herald leader on May 17, 1977, the morning of her visit to the city, “is the factor which ensures that the monarchy remains a central institution in our system of democratic government. Standing above the conflicts of politics the Queen is a symbol of our national unity.”
Hours later, around 200,000 Glaswegians showed the Queen the city’s “acceptable smiling face and warm heart.” It was a long day, crowded with public events and endless meetings. At the celebrations the Queen met more than 1,000 uniformed and liveried dignitaries, but none of them summed up the informal spirit of Glasgow’s welcome better than the bonnet-wearing housewife who greeted her in a filled-to-overflowing George Square with the words, ‘Guid oan ye, missus!’ Two friends, one from Newton Mearns and the other from Giffnock, told the Queen they had been waiting since 9am – and that the wait had been worth it.
That night, the Queen and the Duke attended a Royal Variety Show at the King’s Theatre, where they applauded most of the acts, notably the diminutive Edinburgh-born comedian, Ronnie Corbett. (A London Labour MP stirred anger when he claimed that the Queen had had to ‘to endure second-rate, stage-managed torture’ at the show).
The Silber Jubilee programme also included visits to Cumbernauld, Stirling, Aberdeen, and Perth; in the latter, a 12-year-old girl gave the Duke a gift of a bar of soap to which was attached a message reading ‘God Bless You’. In Dundee the couple were jostled as eager crowds trampled down single-rope barriers and surrounded them.
At one point, the Queen found herself in the midst of a crowd 15 people thick; police cleared a path for her to the royal car, but she had to wait for a few moments before the Duke could join her. The couple were unhurt, but the matter was raised in the Commons and the Herald reported that when the Queen went walkabout in London on June 7, steel barriers would separate her from the crowd.
On Sunday the 22nd, the Queen and Duke, taking a short break in their Jubilee tour, attended morning service at Crathie Kirk. The following day, the couple and the Queen Mother mingled with 200 guests from 33 countries at a reception at the Palace of Holyroodhouse for the British Commonwealth Ex-Services League. On the Tuesday, the Queen and Duke received a standing ovation at the opening of the General Assembly. “We honour you. We love you,” the Right Rev Prof Thomas Torrance, retiring Moderator, told the Queen. “We welcome you. We acclaim you.” Later that day, the royals went walkabout in Craigmillar, where local residents drowned out the catcalls from a 30-strong group of demonstrators from the Scottish Socialist League.
We have, since that time in 1977, witnessed two further Jubilees: the Golden one in 2002, and Diamond in 2012.
The Queen, at 76 in 2002, became the oldest monarch to celebrate a Golden Jubilee. Neverthless, as she did all of her working life, she kept up a punishing schedule, visiting no fewer than 70 cities and towns in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 50 counties over 38 days between May and August.
The jubilee also saw an old debate being revisited when Winnie Ewing, president of the SNP, wrote to the Queen, asking her to mark the occasion by formally changing her title from Elizabeth II to ”Elizabeth I, Queen of Scots’’, thus “righting a wrong” that, Ewing added, had existed since the 1953 Coronation.
That May, the Queen began a 1,000-mile tour of Scotland with a high-profile event in Glasgow. Crowds began forming in George Square at 7am on May 23rd, though this newspaper observed that the total number of attendees was much smaller than it had been in 1977. Tracey Jenkins, 33, a housewife from Springburn, in the north of Glasgow, said: ”The Queen still has a strong part to play for the people of Scotland.” In a thanksgiving service at Glasgow Cathedral, the Right Rev Dr John Miller, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, gave thanks to the long reign of the Queen, describing her as a ”beacon of stability, a unifying influence” in a world of change.
Further Golden Jubilee events took place in Edinburgh, the Isle of Skye, Stornoway and at Wick, Caithness.
The Queen, of course. went on to make regular trips north of the border in her later years, spending summer holidays here, and visiting Balmoral – a place that held a special place in her affections. “I think Granny is the most happy there. I think she really, really loves the Highlands,” her grand-daughter, Eugenie, said during the TV documentary, Our Queen At Ninety.
As the official royal website has it, the Queen was long accustomed to spending a week of each year visiting various parts of Scotland, “meeting Scots from all walks of life and hosting thousands at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in recognition of their good work”. This ‘Royal Week’, or ‘Holyrood Week’ as some knew it, these visits “celebrate Scottish culture, achievement and community.”
Certainly, there was no shortage of high-profile public events.
The Queen opened the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and the new Parliament Building in 2004 (Holyrood, she said in her speech, was a “landmark for 21st century democracy”). She opened the renovated Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow in 2006, and the Queensferry Crossing in 2017, 53 years to the day after she opened its predecessor bridge.
In September 2010 she welcomed Pope Benedict XVI on his state visit to the UK, greeting him at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh at the start of his four-day visit to Scotland and England.
In 2015, on the day she became Britain’s longest-serving monarch, the Queen officially opened the £294 million Borders-to-Edinburgh railway line. Accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh and by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, she went on a steam train journey. She said she had never aspired to be on the throne for such a long time, and added: “Inevitably a long life can pass by many milestones. My own is no exception. But I thank you all and the many others at home and overseas for your touching messages of great kindness.”
It was in 2014 that the Queen made an exceptionally rare intervention in politics. Speaking as she left Crathie Kirk near Balmoral, just a few days before the landmark independence referendum, she told a well-wisher: “Well, I hope people will think very carefully about the future.” It was a brief remark, but one that was seized on by those who were campaigning for a No Vote.
The Queen’s connection with Scotland was a long. varied and colourful one, with an unshakeable sense of mutual affection. One who out it best was Jack McConnell, who as First Minister accompanied the Queen during her visit to Glasgow on the occasion of her Diamond |Jubilee, in May 2012. “Throughout her reign,” he declared, “the Queen has devoted her life to serving her country, giving us a sense of purpose and stability. Her tremendous commitment to the values of public service, coupled with her compassion for others, are an example to us all.’’
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