Ealing and Royalty
In Charles Jones’ book, Ealing: From Village to Corporate Town, published in 1902, he referred to Ealing as ‘Queen of Suburbs’ and this phrase became ‘Queen of the Suburbs’ shortly afterwards. It was not an original turn of phrase, having already being used of Surbiton and Richmond in previous decades. It has retained a remarkable longevity as a phrase and is still used today, though often as a mark that things are not what they were or should be. The royal connotation, though not stressed in Jones’ book, was not totally unwarranted. Ealing has a number of connections with members of the royal family and these pages will illustrate them.
Unlike nearby Richmond, Ealing does not have a long tradition of royal connections. All this changed when one of the younger daughters of George II and Queen Caroline, the unmarried Princess took Gunnersbury House in 1761-1786 as a her summer retreat. Although technically in Brentford or Lower Ealing, Brentford and Ealing were part of the same parish until 1863. It was conveniently located near to London, Richmond and Kew, and Windsor was not far away. The princess had been a figure of great political controversy in both Richmond, where she had been an unpopular for trying to block traditional rights of way at the Park, and in London where she had supported politicians hostile to her father’s government.
Above: Portrait of Princess Amelia (1712-1786).
However, at Gunnersbury she was able to relax with her friends, playing cards and gossiping. Unlike her experiences with the people of Richmond, she acted in a more traditional fashion, by giving money to charitable causes in Ealing, but contrary to popular belief did not found the almshouses on the Uxbridge Road (as noted below). She received many visitors. One was Horace Walpole, a leading man of letters, who composed verses in her honour. She also did much to improve the estate and various buildings there are attributed to her direction. Her chaplain, though, was once held up by highwaymen on Gunnersbury Lane.
Above: Gunnersbury House.
Mrs Fitzherbert and the Duke of Kent
Castle Hill Lodge, alias Kent Lodge, is on the top of Castlebar Hill, on the north side and the estate was of about 30 to 40 acres. It was either rebuilt or enlarged in about 1773, when it was owned by Francis Burdett. From 1791 it was owned by Henry Beaufoy who had given money for Ealing Almshouses to be built on the Uxbridge Road in 1783. On his death the property was owned by Mrs Maria Fitzherbert in 1795, who also resided at Marble Hill House in Twickenham. She had married George, Prince of Wales, and later George IV, in the previous decade, but because she was Catholic the marriage was illegal. By this time the two had separated, but were briefly reunited in 1799.
Their most famous owner was Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, from 1801-1812. It seems likely that he became the owner because his brother’s mistress had no further need for it and in choosing a buyer she selected her lover’s brother. He did not, of course, live there for all this period. In 1803-1804 he was an unsuccessful governor of Gibraltar. For much of the time it was lived in by his mistress, the French Canadian Madame de Saint-Laurent, with whom he lived from 1790-1818, though there were no known children.
Above: HRH Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent
During his time there he had the estate improved by Wyatt. A visitor in 1811 wrote, ‘The exterior of the house has an elegant and princely air’. According to Thomas Faulkner, writing in 1845:
‘Considerable improvements were effected by the Duke of Kent, and the house,
though not of the first class of noble mansions, was sufficiently capacious for the
accommodation of a large establishment. The building was of rather low, but
pleasing proportions. The chief front stood towards the north, and had in its
centre a portico, with four Ionic columns, surmounted by a triangular pediment,
the tympanum being vacant. The hill on which the structure was placed descends
from the front with a gentle sweep, and a prospect of some extent is obtained over
a tract of country which is of an agreeable, though not of an eminently picturesque
The estate was a substantial one, with the house fairly central, and the land going northwards as Pitshanger Lane and eastwards to the junction with Queen’s Walk.
Above: Castlehill Lodge.
The Duke kept up his association with Ealing for he attended a charity sermon at the parish church in 1815 but although he promised to attend a function at the nearby Great Ealing School on another occasion, had to send his apologies. He was conscientious and hard working, but like most of his brothers was spendthrift and had to leave his Ealing home to go to Brussels in 1816 to evade his creditors.
There were attempts to sell the property to meet the Duke’s many debts. One method was to put the property up for lottery, but Parliamentary permission was needed. Supporters of the Duke and opponents entered the fray. However the Chancellor decided that if permission was granted it would set a precedent and so this did not occur. When the Duke died in 1820 an auction sold moveable goods for £14,000 which dealt with some of his debts, but the house and grounds did not reach the reserve prices. Another auction in 1827 also proved a flop.
The Duke’s historical importance is that in 1818 he married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg Saalfeld and in 1819 a baby girl was born and named after her mother. Although her father was never to know it, she became Britain’s then longest reigning monarch and gave her name to an era in history. In the 1930s a pub in north Ealing was opened and named after him.
Queen Victoria and Ealing?
Queen Victoria never lived in Ealing, but according to Edith Jackson, Ealing’s first historian, she visited the place twice. The first time was to visit her godfather, General Wetherall, who lived in Kent Lodge after her father vacated it. She also visited Ealing Park, an estate in Little Ealing (which later became a school) owned by Sir William and Lady Lawrence, which had been cultivated as a magnificent garden by the latter. This was on the occasion of a flower show, where the King of Hanover and the Duke of Cambridge were also present. Inside the house was a chair, known as the Queen’s chair, because that is where she had sat on part of her visit.
These stories has been repeated by later writers. The first does not seem to be true, but the latter is mostly so, though the royal visit was more of a private one rather than to a garden party and did not involve foreign royalty (though the King of Saxony visited it in 1844). In her diary on Thursday 3 July 1845 the young Queen wrote:
‘After our luncheon we set off with Uncle [probably the Duke of Cambridge, Prince
Adolphus], Louise our two ladies and gentlemen, for Ealing Park, seven miles from
London, belonging to Mr Lawrence. Only he, his wife and children were there. He is
an eminent surgeon, & both he & his wife were very civil. The place is extremely
pretty & full of beautiful plants. The flower gardens and hot houses are in excellent
order & full of rareties. Near the house, there are innumerable birds, parrots, &c. The
house itself, is very prettily furnished. We were given beautiful strawberries & ice to
eat. Came home at 6’.
Above: Ealing Park.
One myth about the Queen is that it is often stated that she had the royal train to Windsor stopped when it reached the Wharncliffe Viaduct in Hanwell. This is so that she could admire the enormous county asylum that was visible from there. The story seems to date from the early twentieth century and does not appear to be backed up by any fact (it is not mentioned in her voluminous diaries for example). However, there is an Ealing railway incident which featured the Queen. That happened on 16 November 1867 when the royal train was travelling out of London and the Queen later wrote ‘at Ealing our engine went wrong and we had to wait nearly 40 minutes to get another’.
It is often stated that Louis-Phillippe, later France’s Citizen King from 1830-1848, taught mathematics at the Great Ealing School. Whilst it is true that he lived in Twickenham during his exile in Britain from 1800-1815, knew the Duke of Kent and had taught in schools on the Continent, there is no contemporary evidence that he ever taught in Ealing. This story that he did was first mentioned by Edith Jackson in her history of Ealing in 1898 but an early history of Ealing, published in 1845, does not refer to this story and so this is probably another urban myth which has had a long shelf life.
God bless the Prince of Wales – and Ealing Town Hall
We are on firmer ground on royal visits later in the century because there is contemporary evidence for them. The Queen’s eldest son, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) arrived in 1888 to open the new Ealing Town Hall and Victoria Hall. Unlike his mother’s visit to Ealing in 1845 this was not a private call, but a major ceremonial occasion, one of the biggest in Ealing’s history. He came by train with his wife, Princess Alexandra and two of their sons; Prince Albert Victor and Prince George (later George V). Charles Jones welcomed them on arrival and introduced them to the council’s chairman, Edward Montagu-Nelson. The Prince said, ‘I congratulate you very much on the success of your efforts’. He later made a short speech, talking about how the town hall and the library would be of great benefit to the local population. The local newspaper made much of the visit, producing a special supplement to mark the occasion, with pictures and a great deal of text devoted to the subject. It stated that the visit would leave a long lasting memory on all who were there. A signed copy of one of the Queen’s books about her holidays in Scotland was donated to the library.
Above: Cartoon of opening of Town Hall.
Princess Helena College
Royal patronage was bestowed on this boarding school for girls, often of army and naval officers, which relocated from London to Ealing in 1882 and was located on Montpelier Road (where the park is now). It was named after its president, Queen Victoria’s third daughter and was opened by the Princess of Wales. The school moved to Hertfordshire in 1936. The only surviving part of the school is one of the gates on which the school’s name can still be seen.
Above: Princess Helena College.
Twentieth century royal visitors
Members of the royal family have made visits to Ealing as they have done to other parts of Britain and the Commonwealth in the twentieth century and beyond. George V and Queen Mary visited Gunnersbury Park in 1912 for a League of Mercy garden party hosted by its president, Lionel Rothschild. There were many others present, including diplomats and members of the nobility. The King and Queen were shown around the flower gardens, met old friends and had tea in the house, before chatting to other guests outside. Ninety years later, as part of the celebrations for the Golden Jubilee, George V’s favourite grand-daughter visited Gunnersbury as Queen.
On 16 November 1916 there was an impromptu royal visit to Southall. This was to the Military Hospital in the Maypole Institute. Staff only had three hours notice for this informal visit. George V and Queen Mary talked to staff and patients, the latter being wounded servicemen. They also visited the adjacent margarine factory.
Above: Southall Military Hospital, c.1916.
Edward, Prince of Wales
The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) visited Acton in 1924. This was to lay the foundation stone for St. Saviour’s Institute on behalf of the Foundation for the Deaf and Dumb. It was located on the junction of Old Oak Road and Antrobus Road, East Acton, and so was just within Acton’s boundaries. There was a large crowd waiting to see him as well as the mayors of Acton and Hammersmith. The Prince talked about the difficulties that those unable to speak or hear laboured under and told of his own experiences with people so afflicted.
Above: Prince Edward at Acton, 1924.
Elizabeth Duchess of York
His sister in law, the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth) was present at a similar activity in Acton just five years later. This was to lay the foundation stone for the YWCA centre on Acton Lane. This was the first such building in outer London. She was greeted by the mayor of Acton and a musical welcome from the band of the Cuckoo school of Hanwell. The building was officially opened in 1931 by the Lord Mayoress of London.
Above: Duchess of York lays foundation stone to Acton YWCA, 1929.
George VI and Queen Elizabeth
During World War Two, after a night in September 1940 when the Medway estate in Perivale had been bombed, George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited. An ambulance driver told the Queen ‘we are going to stick it’ and she replied, ‘That’s the right spirit’. ARP workers told the King how they had made rescue attempts. He asked them about how they had handled their jobs and eager to learn about the effectiveness of the Anderson shelters. One of the crowd who came to see them observed ‘they’ve been bombed themselves’, a reference to a bomb which fell on Buckingham Palace.
Above: George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Perivale, 1940.
Most of the visit was taken up by people telling the royal couple about their experiences under aerial bombardment. Even those who had lost their homes were cheerful as neighbours and others had been helping them out. When Mrs Pearce told of the recent loss of her husband and eldest son they were ‘visibly moved’. The Queen admired a new baby and said that she was glad that he and his mother were in hospital when their house was bombed. This visit made the front page of the Ealing newspaper but did not mention the location, only that it was ‘a bombed west London suburb’.
Above: Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother visits Acton.
Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles & Others
There have been far more royal visits in the last half century than previously. These tend to have been to either open a new building or to visit an existing factory, health centre or charity and the following is not meant to be a comprehensive list. The new Ealing YMCA was opened by Princess Anne in 1986, whilst Prince Philip opened the new wing of Cecil Court in 1979 and O’Grady Court in 1984.
Above: Prince Philip visits Southall Opportunities Centre.
Prince Charles opened the Enterprise Agency in Ealing in 1986 and three years later his then wife opened the Drugs Advisory service in Alexandra Road and Southall’s Alcoholics’ clinic in 1990. The Queen opened Remploy’s new premises in Wales Farm Road in 2004.
Perhaps the best known official royal opening was that of the Ealing Broadway Centre on 7 March 1985 by the Queen. The Queen unveiled the plaque and walked around the new shopping centre. She visited a bookshop but the proprietor lacked the courage to ask her what her grandchildren’s favourite books were.
Above Top: Queen Elizabeth visits Remploy, 1990.
Above: Queen Elizabeth opens Ealing Broadway Centre, 1985.
Prince Charles’ visits often relate to the multicultural nature of the borough. In 1996 he visited the Northolt Mosque and in 2003 was shown around the new Sikh temple in Southall. His trips to Acton in 1998 and 2004 were to witness a school mentoring scheme for Afro-Caribbean children and a Muslim College in Creffield Road.
One of Princess Diana’s favourite charities was the Chain of Hope charity in Ealing and in the summer of 1997 she accepted an invitation to speak at their Chain of Hope dinner but unfortunately her death in Paris prevented that.
Above Top: Prince Charles visits Havelock Road gurdwara, 2003.
Above: Princess Diana at Southall Day Centre, 1991.
More recently it has been discovered that the grandparents of the Duchess of Cambridge lived in Southall in the mid twentieth century. Dorothy Hamilton and Ronald Goldsmith (of 57 Clarence Street, Southall) were married at Holy Trinity church and had their wedding reception at Hamborough Tavern in 1953. They moved to 73a Dudley Road and resided there from 1955-1962. Their daughter, Carole was born at Perivale Maternity Hospital in 1955 and lived in Kingsbridge Road, Norwood Green from 1966. In 1982 Carole gave birth to Katherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge from 2011.
Above: Holy Trinity church, Southall.
In summary, two members of the royal family have lived in this district. The grandparents and mother of another also resided here. From the late nineteenth century there have been numerous visits by royalty, but especially in the last half century. These visits have helped raise the profile of the places and organisations they have been to. They also have given great pleasure to both their hosts and to many more people who have been happy to meet or at least see, members of the royal family.