THE LATE Queen Elizabeth II’s historical imprint on Stratford is as bound up in its character as the sight of a swan gliding down the River Avon.
The Queen had a close relationship with the town during her 70 year reign.
Not only did she visit Stratford on a number of occasions, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, but she was the recipient and giver of a number of gifts to key organisations around the town over the decades.
Her son Prince Charles, now King Charles III, also enjoys frequenting the town in both an official and un-official capacity, driven by his love of Shakespeare and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre of which he is President.
On the Queen’s 18th birthday she was gifted a set of Shakespeare volumes by the people of Stratford. Not known as a Shakespeare lover herself, despite being an RSC patron, locals like to believe it is through these books that King Charles may have garnered his first love of the Bard.
To mark the wedding of the Queen to Prince Philip, the town presented her with a walnut bureau and the Queen wrote to the town mayor of the time to express her thanks. In her Coronation year, Queen Elizabeth gave the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) a new variety of rose tree called Ena Harkness, which was planted in the garden at Shakespeare’s Birthplace.
While the Queen visited Stratford in almost every decade of her reign.
In June 1957 the Queen and Prince Philip visited the town for nearly six hours. The royal couple visited the town hall and Shakespeare’s Birthplace where Elizabeth and Patricia, the five-year-old twins of SBT Director Lexi Fox presented her with baskets of flowers and herbs grown in the Trust gardens.
The Queen was invited to open the new Shakespeare Centre in April 1964 but was prevented from doing so by the birth of Prince Edward in March of that year. Prince Philip instead attended the opening.
In June 1975 the Queen visited Stratford to officially open the theatre’s Centenary Garden and to visit Hall’s Croft in the 400th anniversary year of John Hall’s birth. She talked to staff, admired the exhibitions and signed the visitor’s book. She was also presented with a water colour painting of Hall’s Croft.
In November 1986, the Queen returned to the town to open the RSC’s Swan Theatre. The theatre had been converted from the shell remaining ever since the 1926 fire when it had been known as the Conference Hall and used mostly for rehearsals.
In 1996 the Queen visited Stratford in honour of the town marking its 800th anniversary of being granted borough status in 1196. The Queen turned on the commemorative Swan Fountain on the Bancroft Gardens and lay a wreath at the altar in the Guild Chapel for past citizens of the town. She also waved to the crowds from the balcony of the town hall.
The town’s archives record a humorous moment when the Queen and Prince Philip were unable to cut the two foot wide, eight-sided cake with a 16th century sword from the town’s collection.
The Queen, accompanied by ever stalwart Prince Philip, opened the RSC’s revamped Royal Shakespeare Theatre following a major three-and-a-half year transformation project in March 2011.
She was greeted by cheers and applauded as people lined the streets to welcome her. The Queen accepted flowers from school children and people from the local area before entering the theatre.
They had arrived in the town by car at lunchtime after spending the morning in Leamington opening the new Warwickshire Justice Centre.
At the theatre, the Queen and Prince Philip were met by local dignitaries. This was her last official visit to the town.