A Royal Visit to Teesside – 1917

In 1917 thousands of people in Stockton turned out to catch a glimpse of King George and Queen Mary. The party took the route via Calvert Lane, Thistle Green and Hunters Lane to reach Messrs. Ropners shipyards. Her Majesty stopped to talk to the line of munitions girls and asked them how many hours they worked each day. On being told that they worked nine and a half hours each day, she said it must be a very long day for them. The King and Queen stopped on their tour of the shipyards to inspect some hydraulic and pneumatic riveting machines. Thom Spark, a veteran shipyard worker, who had spent 48 years in the yard, was introduced to them, the King said he hoped he would be spared to do his bit for many years longer.

10 thoughts on “A Royal Visit to Teesside – 1917

  1. Small correction – it was John Robert Garthwaite who escorted the Queen (not G.R Garthwaite). He was my great grandfather.

  2. On Sunday 17 June 1917 in front of a crowd of 40,000 at Newcastle Saint James’ Park football ground the King and Queen presented medals and decorations to soldiers, and the families of deceased soldiers. This was probably the biggest single crowd that gathered during the 1917 North-East royal tour, and one of the few non-industrial events. The un-interpreted photo number 43 of the Conquest Collection, referred to on this thread, actually shows the King presenting the DSO at Newcastle football ground to Helen Walker Dunford, the widow of Captain Roy Craig Dunford of the Northumberland Fusiliers, with the Queen about to greet his fatherless toddler son. This touching and remarkable photo, or one very similar, first appeared in the Daily Mirror on 19 June 1917, page 7, with two photos of the event described. On 1 July 2010, the BBC Tyne website under the title ‘In pictures: more than 100 years of Newcastle History’ unearthed another photo of a presentation taken from the same spot, but it failed to identify the location, the photographer, and most of the royal party. The King presented the VC medal to Lance Corporal Thomas Bryan, Northumberland Fusiliers, at Saint James’ Park on the 17 June 1917. It is likely all the football ground photos in the Conquest Collection were took at Newcastle and not at the Hull City ground where the King attended on the 18 June 1917 for another medal event. In contrast an estimated crowd of 10, 000 watched the King and Queen pass through Stockton, and walk into Thistle Green ‘the same as you and me’ as some locals reported. The Telegraph described the exploits of a Stockton child with long red gold hair that fell across her face who was determined to break through the wall of people to touch the royal visitors as they passed from the Quayside into Thistle Green. ‘Suddenly with a swift indignant gesture she tossed her hair back from her face and followed with her eyes the movement of the royal party. She would keep them in her view until they had disappeared. They turned and walked straight past her as she stood. She might, as she will tell her children someday, touched them as they passed.’ Chocolate carriages followed empty behind the King and Queen in the brilliant weather, and can be seen in the background of Conquest photo number 11 of the royal procession in the Square opposite Stockton Cattle Market approaching Smithfield. Since the photographer of the Conquest material is clearly talented and had close access to the royal visitors it would be interesting to know his identity. I note the Conquest surname is not unknown to Stockton and this site.

  3. My grandad Robert Casey born 1895 Housewife lane, as a young lad worked for Ropners & Sons
    as a Heaters lad (Rivets). He was working for them when he joined the K.O.S.B 1912, never saw grandad as he died 1939 from wounds he recieved on the Somme 1916. He was at Gallipoli before re-entering France for the Somme offensive. Anyone out there know the Caseys at all and whether any photos of my grandad, Robert Casey, are still in existence?

  4. Compare this series of photos of the royal party inside the Stockton Ropner shipyard on 14 June 1917 with the photo of their arrival at Stockton Quay and walk through Thistle Green recently placed on the site. All photos from 14 June 1917 can be identified from photos taken on later dates of the 1917 north- east tour (mainly in the Conquest Collection) by Queen Mary’s dress sense. Her blue dress and white feather hat seem to have been exclusive to the Teesside visit of 14 June 1917. I accept the older Picture Stockton photos of this visit are not very easy to locate on the Picture Stockton site as they are currently filed under the ‘people’ section rather than the ‘royal’ section.

  5. Even before it left its birthplace on the Tees in 1917 the SS David Lloyd George had an eventful history. Named after a prime minister by his daughter; viewed by royal visitors, local and national dignitaries; and threatened with destruction by fire; large crowds watched each event. This single deck steamer was constructed at the Thornaby shipyard of Messes Craig Taylor and Co. Ltd for Mr Thomas Mordey of Williams and Mordey, Dominion Buildings, Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff. This vessel, official number 139605, about 7500 tons deadweight, net tonnage 2480, gross tonnage 4107 (gross register tonnage 4764), length just over 370 feet, breath just over 51 feet, engine horse power 361 hp, depth of hold 24 feet, was built under the guidance of Mr John David of Cardiff, a representative of the ships owners. As the vessel left the slipway on Thursday 22 March 1917 it was named after the serving prime minister, David Lloyd George, by his daughter Miss Olwen Elizabeth Lloyd George (born 3 Apr 1892). In gratitude for a successful and graceful christening the shipbuilders presented Miss Lloyd George with a silver chain bag. Just before 12-30pm on Thursday 14 June 1917, King George V and Queen Mary, the rest of the royal party, admirals and generals, local civic and industrial dignitaries admired the SS Lloyd George (almost complete) from their tug as it slowed down to dock at Stockton Corporation Quay. Amongst the Craig Taylor staff there was great disappointment that the royal party was not visiting their shipyard, but touring their Ropner rivals. The regal viewing of the SS David Lloyd George was the only royal recognition of Thornaby(South Stockton) engineering establishments that day. This vessel ‘Stockton’s newest ship’ was also seen by thousands awaiting the arrival of the royal visitors at the quayside. The King and Queen were photographed alighting at Stockton Quay with the SS David Lloyd George in the background (Conquest photo 7, Neukol web-site, 23 Jan 2005). In the early hours of Saturday 23 June 1917, one of the biggest and most serious fires seen in a Tees shipyard up to that time broke out at the Craig Taylor yard. Just before midnight a watchman discovered the outbreak in the old joiners shop and a south-west wind spread the fire through much dry wood with alarming speed. The fire brigades of Stockton and Thornaby were rapidly at the scene, but they could not prevent the fire spreading to a sawmill and the new joiners shop (130 yards long and 20 yards wide), both were doomed by 1am, their destruction illuminating the district for miles around as a great amount of seasoned timber burnt. Thousands witnessed the fire from Stockton Corporation Quay, and the Thistle Green district, where many shipyard workers lived. Great effort was then put in to protecting wooden blocks, supports and ribbons around ships being erected, the timber wharf and ships themselves. Mr George Craig, a member of the firm, was soon at the scene directing operations. The SS David Lloyd George was lying in the river near a flaming 50 yard section of wharf. Saving the nearly complete vessel became the primary concern. Mr John David arrived at the yard and secured a number of eager helpers. The ship was cast adrift into the river and then safely secured on the opposite riverbank at Stockton Corporation Quay. The fire brigades managed to extinguish the flaming section of wharf and the fire that had spread to the timber supports of a ship under construction. The exact cause of the fire was not established. The yard was back at full work the following week. Just before the fire, on 19 June 1917, Miss Olwen Lloyd George married Captain T.J. Carey Evans at the Welsh Baptist Chapel, Castle Street, off Oxford Street, London, followed by a reception at 10 Downing Street and a honeymoon in Scotland. The Daily Mirror published photos of this society wedding on 20 June 1917, but the national wartime papers generally failed to report the naming of a locally built ship after the prime minister. On 17 Nov 1917 the SS David Lloyd George had a narrow eacape when it was damaged by U-boat UC-51 (commanded by Hans Galster) on the Havre-New York route.

  6. Two series of photographs exist of the royal visit to north-east shipyards between 14-18 June 1917, the uninterpreted Conquest photos on the Neukol web-site and at Newcastle Central Library, and the above poor quality photos on Picture Stockton, the latter took at Stockton’s Ropner Shipyard on 14 June 1917. The two series are connected because on Saturday 16 June 1917 a small number of photos from both series were published in the Daily Mirror. The remaining photos seem to be unpublished as local and national newspapers rarely used photos to illustrate the news in 1917. The royal train departed Kings Cross (platform one) at 5pm and arrived in the district shortly before 11 pm on the night of 13 June. The King and Queen visited three shipyards on the morning of 14 June 1917, beginning with Smith’s Dock at South Bank at 10am, followed by William Harkess and Son Ltd, and finally Sir Raylton Dixon Company, both of Middlesbrough. The most important visit was to the Harkess shipyard, where the Mayor and Mayoress of Middlesbrough and seven shipyard veterans with 350 years of total service were presented to the royal visitors. Here the royal party saw patrol boats under construction, and a beautiful model of these P-class patrol boats about four foot long and complete to the minutest detail was presented to the King. Honorary Vice Admiral Sir Eric Geddes (Navy Controller), Rear Admiral Laurence Power (Director of Dockyards), King George V (the Sailor King), Queen Mary, and Rear Admiral Alfred Ernest Albert Grant (Navy Superintendent of Contract Built Ships) can be seen at the presentation (Conquest photo 34). These powerful navy officers were to visit Stockton later in the day. The cheering crew of a patrol boat, likely P.46, completed at the Harkess yard at the time of the royal visit was close by (photo 37). Conquest photos, 1, 3, 6, 10, 26, show William Harkess (1860-1937), a former pupil of Stockton Grammar School and Mayor of Middlesbrough in 1907, in his shipyard with the royal party. The royal party and the elite of Teesside society left Middlesbrough Dock around noon in the TCC tug William Fallows for a journey up the River Tees to Stockton Corporation Quay/Wharf. Some sources claim a luncheon was given on the tug for local dignitaries whilst they waited to be introduced to the royal visitors. The royal party landed at Stockton at 12-30pm to be met by Stockton’s civic elite and many councillors. The average time the royals spent at a smaller shipyard during the north-east tour was 45 mins with some larger establishments taking one hour and ten mins. It is likely the royals spent around 45 mins each at Stockton’s Ropner Shipyard and the nearby Malleable Works. However their unscheduled walk with the public from Corporation Wharf through Thistle Green and Smithfield to the Ropner Shipyard would have cost them at least ten mins, which contributed to their late departure from the Malleable Works. I walked the old route from the Wharf to the Ropner site last month and it took me 6.5 mins without interruption. At the Malleable, the largest ship plate rolling mill in the UK in 1917, the royal visitors saw pig iron bars being made to fly by collection onto a magnetic crane, and hot metal parts being rolled and moulded like pastry assisted by Mr Benjamin Talbot and Mr C.J. Bailey. The royal party had to be protected from the heat,light and debris from the latter process. Mr Arthur Sladden, company secretary of the South Durham Steel and Iron Co., who had organised the royal visit to the Malleable Works, was presented to the King and Queen. It was noticed that the Queen’s white gloves regularly needed changing as they became grimy due to the number of people that shook hands with her during the Teesside tour. At least 10, 000 people saw the royal party pass through Stockton. Thursday 14 June 1917 was a glorious sunny day in Teesside, but the Queen held on to her umbrella. The royal party departed Stockton Station sometime between 2-15pm and 2-30pm for West Hartlepool.

  7. With regard to the royal visit to the North East from 14-18 June 1917, there are two series of photographs that I am aware of that show the royal party in Stockton. The first series are the poor quality photos on Picture Stockton(PS) above, the second series are the superb quality images donated by Mike Conquest from Australia to songwriter Steve Thompson, who thankfully placed them on the North East UK community web-site (Neukol), and also donated them to Newcastle Central Library, a total of 39 images. Both series are without interpretation, but by using the National Portrait Gallery(NPG) image database it is possible to identify many of the dignitaries in these photos. Their names, initially obtained from old newspapers that described the royal visit, were searched on the NPG web-site to secure their images. The Times and its index provided a chronology of the tour, ie establishments visited by date, order and location. On the Neukol site the photos are titled King George V and Queen Mary visiting Tyne and Tees Shipyards in 1917, but some images actually show the King at Hull City football ground presenting medals to officers and NCO’s or their next- of-kin on the last day of the royal tour. In fact many of the Conquest images were taken on the first day of the royal visit 14/6/1917 at Teesside, as indicated by Queen Mary’s attire. It looks like different photographers captured the same Stockton events, hence the two series of photos. The Conquest images clearly taken at Stockton are image numbers 7-royal party disembarking from the TCC tug at Stockton Corporation Quay, 41-an astonishing photo of the royal party in Thistle Green( note the street sign, top left corner) showing buildings from the entrance to the Square down to Burton House (this section not available on PS as a photo), 11-the royal party passing the Quayside Mission Mens Home in the Square approaching Smithfield, and 5, 12, 22, 23, 38, 40- inside the Ropner Shipyard with Robert Ropner on the extreme right of 23 and in the centre of 38. Both series of photos show the King and Queen meeting the same munition girls and shipyard veterans at Ropners. The PS photo denoting yard number 520, just to the left of Queen Mary’s impressive hat, probably refers to the building berth of SS Sedgepool, launched on 14/12/1917, the ship at an early stage of construction during the royal visit. The PS photo of the Queen (with works manager Mr Garthwaite by her side) shaking hands with a shipyard veteran, also shows two senior navy officers facing the camera, standing side- by-side. On the right is Honorary Vice Admiral Sir Eric Campbell Geddes, Controller of the Navy, and to his left with the white naval beard possibly Rear Admiral Alfred Ernest Albert Grant, born 1861 in Barbados, the NPG hold a photo of him, but not online. He was Navy Superintendent for Contract Built Ships, North East, Liverpool and Belfast in 1917, a past President of the Admiralty Organisation for Building Merchant Vessels 1914-16, a former Captain of the battleship HMS Lord Nelson, and an ADC to the King in WW1. He is close to the King in most of the Conquest photos. Sir Eric Geddes, born 1875 in India, became First Lord of the Admiralty on 18 July 1917 and a cabinet member. He was elected Unionist MP for Cambridge in late July 1917 and remained Deputy General Manager of the North Eastern Railway. He pioneered the use of the police dog in railway service. As an expert on transportation he was one of the ‘get up and go’ men brought in by David Lloyd George to improve wartime supply to the army, particularly munitions, and then moved to the Admiralty to develop shipbuilding capacity and ‘sort out the admirals’. He famously dismissed Lord Jellicoe as First Sea Lord on Xmas Eve 1917. The Conquest photos are some of the best images of Geddes and likely Grant online. The veteran meeting the royal visitors in both sets of photos may be Thomas Spark, but it is certainly not Ralph Nicholson of 8 Hunters Lane, aged about 70 in 1917, whose photo appeared in the Stockton Herald soon after the royal visit describing his long years of service in the shipyard. Mr Spark of 23 Hill Steet West was described as a house joiner in the 1911 census aged 70, so it is likely he returned to the shipyard for the duration of the war, as did many skilled veterans. Other military officers attached to the royal party for the Tees visit, and visible in the Conquest Stockton or PS photos (some seen better at other locations) include; Rear Admiral Laurence Eliot Power, Director of Dockyards and Repairs in 1917, (born 1864, the NPG database holds many photos of him and he is clean shaven, hence bearded Grant can be identified by difference as the only other Rear Admiral present on 14/6/1917). Power was a former ADC to the King in 1917; Rowland Thomas Baring (of the banking family), ie the 2nd Earl of Cromer, Grenadier Guards, and Lt-Col Clive Wigram, both were Equerries and Assistant Private Secretaries to the King in 1917; Brig-General Arthur John Mullins, Commander of the Tees Garrison mainly various Yorkshire Regt units; and Major Reginald Henry Seymour, Equerry to the King in 1917. Finally, Lady Bertha Mabel Dawkins, lady- in- waiting to Queen Mary can be seen close by the Queen in some photos often holding her flowers or bouquets.

  8. After leaving the Ropner Shipyard the royal party motored up Maritime Street into Brown Street and along Portrack Lane to the Malleable Works of the South Durham Steel and Iron Companies, Rolling Mills Department, where Lord Furness, head of the company, received the royal guests. Mr Arthur Sladden of 88 High Street, Norton, was company secretary of the South Durham Steel and Iron Co and was presented to the King and Queen. Mr C.J. Bailey and Mr Benjamin Talbot assisted in explaining the process of making steel plates, most destined for wartime shipbuilding. A slab weighing 3.5 tons and 8 inches thick was taken from a furnace and put through the new plate mill, the largest in the UK, where the slab was rolled to ten feet in length and 3.5 inches thick. Mr Tom Pugh (of Victoria Avenue, Norton, later a JP) a well- known trade unionist and member of the wages board was presented to the King and Queen. They readily shook Mr Pugh’s grimy work laden hands. After completing their inspection of the Malleable Works the royal party was fifteen minutes behind schedule, and they briskly departed for the railway station. They motored along Portrack Lane, through Garbutt Street, down Norton Road, across the end of the High Street and into Bishopton Lane, all packed with hundreds (some reported thousands) of cheering people. Although shops in the High Street were encouraged not to close, many did until after the royal visit. At the station a nine coach royal train was waiting to take the royal party to West Hartlepool, where it was due to arrive at 2.55 pm for further visits to shipyards and marine engineering establishments. The royal train was also scheduled to stop at Billingham where in a siding luncheon was taken. This gave Lord Furness time to travel to the Hartlepools so he could receive the royal party again at Irvine’s Middleton Shipyard in his capacity as chairman of the company. Lord Durham was also on hand at West Hartlepool to greet the royal visitors with the Mayor and Mayoress of that town. From the time the royal visitors arrived at Stockton Corporation Quay, likely about 12.30 pm, to the time they left Stockton Station, likely soon after 2 pm, the weather was dry and sunny, but Queen Mary held on to her wrapped umbrella during the visit, with her lady -in -waiting, Lady Bertha Dawkins, carrying the Queens recently presented bouquet. A number of presumably military aeroplanes flew over Teesside during the royal visit to ensure the protection of the royal party from the air.

    Mr Arthur Sladden of 88 High Street, Norton, was company secretary of the South Durham Steel and Iron Co., who met the royal visitors in 1917.

  9. This was a hastily arranged five day tour of mainly North East shipbuilding establishments, the first day being devoted to the Tees. Being wartime this was arguably one of the most important royal visits to Teesside, since it was accompanied by senior military officers and government officials charged with improving and simplifying the war effort, especially shipbuilding (more later). Arriving at South Bank at 10am on Thursday 14 June 1917 for a visit to Smiths Dock, and then other Middlesbrough shipyards, King George V and Queen Mary concluded at Middlesbrough Dock, where they were received by Sir Hugh Bell, Chairman of the Tees Conservancy Commission(TCC) and Lord Lieutenant of the North Riding. They boarded a steam tug of the TCC for a river trip to Stockton with the rest of the royal party and local industrial dignitaries, including the Ropners, Dormans, Whitwells and Pickerings, and high council officials, such as the Mayor and Mayoress of Thornaby. Boats lying downstream of Stockton gave a loud signal when the royal party was seen approaching. As the tug drew near to Stockton, groups of workers standing by the river became bigger and more numerous, and the cheering grew louder. Hundreds of munition girls dressed in blue trousers and overall jackets waved hankerchiefs and added higher shouts to the deep hurrahs of workmen. Right on time, probably soon after mid-day, the tug turned the river bend at Blue House Point and the royal party admired the SS David Lloyd George(more later), Stockton’s newest merchant ship nearing completion in the Craig Taylor shipyard. The tug slowed to dock at Stockton Corporation Quay where the loudest cheer of the visit rose up. Lord Durham, John George Lambton, in the uniform of Lord Lieutenant of the County was first to greet the royal visitors, followed by Alderman J. Harrison and his wife, the Mayor and Mayoress of Stockton; Alderman Edward Stephenson, Deputy Mayor; and Mr Thomas Downey, Town Clerk. The King and Queen were photographed alighting from the tug with the SS David Lloyd George likely in the background. The King was dressed in a uniform of Admiral of the Fleet. The Queen wore a pale blue dress along with a black and white hat trimmed with a large white feather. The King had visited Stockton 24 years earlier as Duke of York to open Ropner Park on 4 Oct 1893. The Mayor reminded the King of this, and ensured him he would see something of interest on this visit. Officials had deliberately leaked the route the King and Queen would take through Stockton before their arrival to ensure a large crowd. Because of wartime security the route was not disclosed in newspapers until after their visit. The route became densely lined with a well-behaved crowd numbering thousands, all controlled by regular police and special constables. The civil guard was called up. Superintendent James was responsible for policing the visit at Stockton. Mr Morant, the Chief Constable of Durham, joined the royal party at Stockton. Although motor-cars were waiting the tugs arrival, the royal party decided to walk half a mile through the oldest, most populated, and least attractive part of the town to Messes Ropners Shipyard. This was the biggest royal success of the day and delighted the huge crowd, allowing hundreds to closely see and follow the royal visitors without interrupting their progress, many exchanging verbal greetings and some handshakes with them. The royal party moved from the quay, up steeply sided Calverts Lane into Thistle Green and then turned into the Square. The whole area was packed with cheering men and women, some with small children on their shoulders. Small children in bright clean pinafores waved tiny flags and strained their excited voices in welcome. From windows of shops and houses, pavements and doorways, women cheered. Surviving photographs show the royal party passing through these streets and past the Quayside Mission Mens Home. As the King and Queen passed into Smithfield and turned into Hunters Lane the residents of these narrow old fashioned throughfares gave them a rousing reception. My grandmother claimed the royal party passed by her parents pub, the Shakespeare Arms run by Henry and Annie Groskop, close to the junction of Smithfield and the Square. She remembered pupils massed outside St. Thomas’s School eager to watch the procession. At the end of Hunters Lane, by the shipyard entrance, the royal visitors were met by William and Leonard Ropner, and the founder of the company Robert Ropner, they accompanied the King, while Mr G.R. Garthwaite, the general works manager, escorted the Queen. The Queen conversed with a line of munition girls and later asked about their working conditions. On being told they worked a nine and a half hour day, she replied it was a long day for them. After inspecting some hydraulic and pneumatic riveting machines, the King met shipyard veterans with long service records. The King went over to Mr Thomas Spark with 48 years service in the yard and shook his hand and said he hoped he would do his bit for many years longer. The King and Queen met Ralph Nicholson, a blacksmith, aged 70, with 60 years service in the yard, having started as a boy, but still able to hold his own against younger men. Mr Nicholson lived in Hunters Lane right next to the shipyard. Mr Spark lived in nearby Hill Street West. The royal party saw the bending of stern frames hot from the furnance and the actual construction of ships. Mr S. Stamp, the overall works manager, and all departmental foremen were presented to the King and Queen. After passing through the companies offices the royal party left by motor-cars up Maritime Street for a visit to the Malleable Works of the South Durham Steel and Iron Company.

  10. I”m sure Mr Spark appreciated the monarch”s comments after 48 hard years grinding labour with probably very low pay and a pittance of a pension to look forward to. At least Queen Mary appreciated that the working class worked very hard to help prop up the social order of the day.

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