Prince Philip dies: The Duke of Edinburgh's visits to Leeds through the years remembered

Prince Philip has died aged 99, Buckingham Palace has announced in a statement on Friday - and here we remember the Duke of Edinburgh's visits to Leeds through the years

Friday, 9th April 2021, 12:19 pm
Updated Friday, 9th April 2021, 12:29 pm

Over 50,000 people gathered at Roundhay Park in 1949 when Prince Philip visited the city with the then Princess Elizabeth, just two years after their marriage.

Crowds also reportedly thronged outside Leeds Civic Hall as residents across the city flocked to catch a glimpse of the future Queen and husband as they stopped in Leeds during a tour of the West Riding.

The welcome shown by the people of Leeds that day set the tone for the dozens of visits the Duke was to make to the city over the next seven decades - in both his own capacity as well as accompanying the Queen.

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Prince Philip has died aged 99

After returning to Leeds in 1954, when the couple visited Morley, the Duke was back two years later to open the Man-Made Fibres division of Leeds University, where he took the opportunity to call on Leeds businesses to help boost the nation’s economy, saying: “I don’t need to remind you, we are not making ends meet and it depends on people like you, in places like this, to give industry the know-how to pull the country out of the red.”

On October 17, 1958, he and the Queen spent two days in the city to mark Leeds Centenary Music Festival, during which they also visited engineers R W Crabtree and Sons, Burton’s factory on Hudson Road and the Grand and stayed at Harewood House.

Three years later, the Duke was back to open the Leeds Infirmary’s Martin Wing on November 3, 1961. It was during a tour of the hospital’s wards that news came through Princess Margaret had given birth. Reports at the time said receptionist Alice Bell dashed from her office to run to the Duke and tell him: “A boy!” to which the Duke responded: “Oh good, it’s a great relief all round.”

There was further drama to come for the Duke during the visit when, after leaving Leeds Civic Hall, a superfan ran straight up to him and handed him an envelope, taking police by surprise.

The Duke swiftly handed the envelope to the Earl of Scarborough before getting into his car but the fan, Stanley Rosenthall, 19, of Moortown, later revealed it had contained four Health and Strength magazines.

He said: “The Duke said ‘oh yes, very good’. It has been my lifelong ambition to meet the Duke, he is one of the greatest all-round sportsmen I know. The only way I could get to meet him was to run up to him.”

On October 22, the Queen and the Duke opened the £1.5m Seacroft Centre and the following day greeted crowds in Leeds city centre, with a guard of honour by Leeds Rifles (TA).

The question in the paper the next morning was whether people should applaud the couple during a formal lunch - after an incident where it became apparent protocol had been unclear.

The couple were reported to have entered Leeds Civic Hall to find crowds waiting in silence, then ate their meal to a gentle hum of conversation before making to leave - all without so much as a clap, until at the last moment, one lady could not help herself and following her lead, the entire crowd then erupted in rapturous applause.

The Duke was back in Leeds on March 26, 1968 to open the Industries Association (Yorkshire region) exhibition, where he met 71-year-old Frank Towler, a First World War veteran who was wearing a Flying Corps tie, which the Duke recognised, commenting: “You’re a museum piece”.

On February 7, 1969, the Duke returned to officially open the Leeds playing fields named after him - the Prince Philip Playing Fields off Scott Hall Road - along with the Prince Philip Centre.

Ann Hart, secretary of the PHAB Club, a group for people with and without disabilities which is based at the centre, previously told the YEP her husband Peter was there on the opening day.

“My husband was an education officer with Leeds City Council and had to make sure that the building was completed and check on final arrangements for the Duke’s visit.

“He was very anxious as it was a foggy day and the Duke was supposed to be landing on the Prince Philip Playing Fields in a helicopter. But he couldn’t and they had to bring him in by road.”

The Duke kept in contact with the centre and visited next in 1976 when it was handed over to the City of Leeds, and again in 2011, shortly before his 90th birthday when he enjoyed afternoon tea with the PHAB club.

Mrs Hart recalled: “He was remarkable that afternoon how he was on his feet for about a couple of hours talking to everyone.”

In 1977, he and the Queen were back in Leeds as part of the Silver Jubilee celebrations, when they dined with 240 guests at Leeds Civic Hall and toured Elland Road, where 40,000 school children had gathered for a youth festival.

The YEP reported that the couple were “visibly moved by the deafening reception and colourful spectacle” and a ban on flag-waving was ignored as the whole ground became a sea of Union Jacks.

More visits followed over the next few years including in October 1978, when the Duke waved to crowds from Leeds Lock; in June 1981 he attended the Great Yorkshire Show; in February 1984 he visited Holbeck Hospital during a Yorkshire tour and in 1993 he opened a new Leeds Permanent Building Society site on Lovell Park Road.

He and the Queen then returned to Leeds in July 2002 for the Golden Jubilee celebrations which swept the city.

Crowds gathered for a party at Temple Newsam where archive photos show the Queen and Duke on stage with the late Jane Tomlinson, the marathon runner from Leeds who had terminal cancer, and Leeds-born former Spice Girl Mel B.

During the tour, the couple enjoyed a lunch at Harewood House where guests included the new Leeds boss Terry Venables, followed by a stunning pageant outside featuring a display by the Leeds West Indian Carnival and a presentation from the Chapeltown Laundry Co-operative.

That tour also saw the Duke visit the National Coal Mining Museum near Wakefield to mark the completion of a £6.5m project, featuring new galleries and displays, and he was taken 500ft underground - but revealed it wasn’t his first time down a mine.

Speaking to those assembled, the Duke said: “I remember going down into the working pits in the early days and I remember what it was like. It is fascinating to see it all here again today.

“It’s difficult to remember what an enormous part the coal industry played in the economy 30 or 40 years ago. To be honest, I find it a little unnerving for it to become a museum piece.”

When it was time to go, the Duke joked: “The only thing about museums is you want to get out in case you become part of the scenery.”

Thousands of eager royal watchers turned out in Leeds when the couple were back in the city for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. Spectators packed Briggate - even climbing on phone boxes and street furniture for a better view - as the Queen and Duke arrived to greet everyone.

An eight-year-old Junior Frood, of Meanwood, was among the lucky ones to be hoisted out of the crowd and was so overwhelmed he was moved to tears.

His mum Kerry told the YEP afterwards: “He asked Prince Philip to give the flowers to the Queen but he said ‘Wouldn’t you rather give them to her yourself?’ Junior was absolutely gobsmacked.”

The couple enjoyed a performance on Briggate and unveiled a plaque at the newly-restored and reopened City Varieties Music Hall.

That was the Duke’s last visit to Leeds. Three years later he was in Wakefield to open West Yorkshire Police’s new £38m training centre at Carr Gate, which he described as “quite an establishment”, adding: “I am sure that everyone who’s going to work here will enjoy it. They better had because there is not going to be another one like it for some time.”

And the same could perhaps be said for the Duke himself.