The day Princess Diana visited Stratford, Alcester and Shipston
THIRTY years ago this month residents in Stratford, Alcester and Shipston took to the streets to welcome a princess.
Enthusiastic crowds clapped and cheered, eager to catch a glimpse or shake the hand of Diana, Princess of Wales.
On that chilly day, Diana, dressed in a royal blue coat and black skirt, even brought the sunshine with her when she arrived in Stratford on 4th February 1992.
As was customary with the princess, Diana often broke with royal protocol to walk over to meet the cheering well-wishers in the crowds lining the streets of all three towns.
She was in Stratford to officially open the new £225,000 Tourist Information Centre after a morning in Warwick, which included visits to Myton School and Myton Hospice.
On arrival at the Tourist Information Centre, Diana was greeted by nine-year-old birthday girl Charlotte Davies, a pupil at The Willows School who presented the princess with a posy.
Diana was introduced to district council chairman, Ian Milligan, and Ian Prosser, the then chief executive of the district council and his wife, Marjorie, before being shown around the building and meeting staff.
Recalling that special day, Mr Prosser told the Herald: “Princess Diana was happy. There’s no question about it – she was a superstar and it’s as simple as that. She had so much charisma, she could walk into a room and the place stopped.
“It was a great coup for Stratford at the time. I was presented to her – I’ll never forget that because she was looking pretty tremendous. We were particularly thrilled to have her in Stratford – it was a very, very happy day.”
Young pupils from schools around Stratford, dressed in Elizabethan costume, also got to meet the princess – the children were chosen as they all had birthdays either on the Tuesday (the day of the visit) or a few days before. The youngsters were driven to the Tourist Information Centre on a horse and dray – there was even a bird of prey display on show for the visit.
It was a day that Amy Rogers remembers as she got to meet Princess Diana and shake her hand.
At the time Amy, now 39, was a pupil at Thomas Jolyffe Primary School and had celebrated her ninth birthday two days before. She was as part of a welcoming party.
“A photographer took a picture of me looking at a bird of prey and this photograph was later posted in the front window display of the Herald’s office,” Amy recalled.
Amy’s big moment arrived when Princess Diana approached her and extended a royal hand of friendship.
“Princes Diana said ‘how are you? And I replied, ‘I’m fine thank you’. I was absolutely star struck.”
Having opened the Tourist Information Centre, Diana stopped in Stratford for a brief walkabout, including Henley Street where she met Caroline Bond, aged ten, of Stratford Preparatory School, to accept a posy of flowers. The entourage then moved onto The Shakespeare Centre.
Former director of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Roger Pringle, was there with colleagues to greet the princess.
“We got off to a particularly good start after I had been introduced to her outside the Shakespeare Centre,” Mr Pringle said. “Her first words were ones of admiration for the tie I was wearing! Its bold and colourful design had caught her eye. Of course, I’ve kept it and though I don’t often wear ties these days I do still flaunt this one on special occasions!”
He added: “She was charming throughout the visit and took a real interest in hearing what the trust did to care for Shakespeare’s heritage and to promote appreciation, at all levels, for the man and his works. She genuinely enjoyed meeting members of staff and shared a sense of fun with us.
“Just before she left I presented gifts to her, on behalf of the trust, to hand on to the young Prince William and Prince Harry. I can’t remember exactly what they were but they had an obvious Shakespeare relevance, and they made her give us one of the many winning smiles that characterised her visit.”
Sir Stanley Wells, honorary president of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, remembers that Diana’s visit was above all, friendly.
“I remember Princess Diana’s visit clearly,” he said. “On the morning of that day she was driven up to what was then the main entrance to the centre where I was standing along with the then director, Roger Pringle, the Lord Lieutenant, and some of the trustees, waiting to welcome her.
“I greeted her and led her up the steps and through to the Reading Room, where some of our treasures had been laid out for her inspection. I explained some of the objects on display, which along with Shakespearian treasures included a book with signatures of other members of the royal family who had visited us. She took a keen interest in it all, and we had a friendly chat.
“At the time both she and I had young children. I told her that one of mine was teething and she said that in her experience the going rate for visits from the Tooth Fairy was a pound.
“I led her into the Marble Hall, explained some of its features, and introduced her to members of staff before she left. I guess the whole visit lasted about half an hour. It was all very good humoured, unpompous and friendly.”
Over in Alcester the flags were out and people lined the streets ready for the royal visit. Diane Moss, who has lived in Alcester for 50 years and is secretary of the Alcester Civic Society, remembers there was a real sense of excitement.
“The High Street was lined with people on her arrival,” she said. “The cars stopped in Church Street and Princess Diana got out, wearing a blue three-quarter length coat with beautiful buttons and a black skirt. She immediately went over to the crowd and shook hands with everyone, much to the concern of her security team.
“She was then introduced to the town mayor and the high bailiff and other dignitaries before being escorted down Malt Mill Lane to the community centre where she met residents. Princess Diana re-joined the royal cars to return up Malt Mill Lane and waved farewell to the townspeople who lined the street.”
Sue Fisher is secretary of the Alcester and District Local History Society and also has fond memories of Diana in Alcester.
She watched the visit from the grass outside the church and said: “I, amongst many others, stood on the church green and had a marvellous view of the whole event. A memorable part of her visit is that Princess Diana visited Malt Mill Lane and several of the residents in their homes. As you can imagine it left wonderful memories to those involved. Apparently Princess Diana entered the home in question, kicked off her shoes and chatted for some time to the householder.”
There is a large flower display in Church Street at the top end of Malt Mill Lane in honour of Princess Diana – it bears a small plaque commemorating her visit.
Diana’s visit to south Warwickshire had one more stop – the Day Unit at the Ellen Badger Hospital in Shipston to unveil a plaque.
Ginny Hands was 27 at the time and proud to be born and bred in the town. She got to shake Diana by the hand on her arrival at the hospital where she was also greeted by well-wishers.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Ginny said. “I’ve kept cuttings and photos in a scrapbook which holds special significance for me because I was born at the Ellen Badger. I remember Diana saying to the crowd, ‘what are you doing here?’ and we said, ‘we’ve come to see you!’
“I absolutely hero-worshipped Diana and sat and cried for days when she died.”
Brother and sister Carly and Christopher Balhatchet were so young in 1992 that they can’t remember much about the special occasion. However, their brief brush with royalty was captured on camera by a photographer and shows Diana in adoration of the children, as she reaches out and rests her hand on the arm of one of them as they are being held up to her by their mum.
Carly was two and Christopher three and they were with their proud mother, Shirley, who in the photograph is beaming back at the princess outside the Ellen Badger Hospital.
Carly, who is now Carly Clarke, said: “We were two and three at the time so don’t remember the visit sadly. My mum said how lovely Diana was and remembered the visit fondly. Sadly, my mum is no longer with us, she would have loved the idea of being in a newspaper article again.”
With the day of visits complete, it was time for Diana to depart. A helicopter waiting in the grounds of Shipston Primary School made ready to fly the Princess back home to her own family.
It was 30 years ago this month that Princess Diana thrilled people with her presence in the district and for many of those who did meet her on that day their memories will stay in their lives forever.