Queen of Herts: 'One has a soft spot for the county'

Queen inspecting the new maternity unit at Lister Hospital 

Inspecting the new maternity unit at Lister Hospital - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

With strong family links to Hertfordshire and a role in much of its recent history, the Queen, celebrating her platinum jubilee this year, has long been a big fan of the county, says the Herts man who knows her best, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, Robert Voss.

In February the Queen became the longest serving monarch in British history and the longest serving female monarch anywhere in world history. In that time, and even before, she has had a close relationship with our county. 

During her amazing 70 year reign Her Majesty has visited Hertfordshire many times in an official capacity, as well as spending time before and during her reign at St Paul’s Walden Bury near Hitchin - the home of the Bowes-Lyon family, and where the Queen Mother spent her childhood. 

Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret playing in the sandpit at St Paul's Walden Bury, near Hitchin

Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret playing in the sandpit at St Paul's Walden Bury, near Hitchin, the home of their grandparents Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and Cecilia Cave - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

It is now the home of the Queen’s cousin Sir Simon Bowes-Lyon, my predecessor as Lord-Lieutenant between 1952-1961, and his father David Bowes-Lyon, the Queen’s uncle, who was Lord-Lieutenant of Hertfordshire between 1986-2007.

The Queen has also made private visits to Hatfield House, the stately home with long royal links going back to the Queen's namesake in the 16th century. 

Her Majesty’s first visit as monarch was soon after her accession and before her coronation in July 1952 when she visited St Albans Cathedral and then toured parts of the county on her way to the Bowes-Lyon estate. This was followed two years later when she returned to St Albans to open an aircraft hanger at what is now the de Havilland Aircraft Museum.

One of the most significant visits was in 1957 when she distributed Royal Maundy money at St Albans Cathedral, the first time these silver coins given by the monarch during Holy Week had been distributed outside London. 

Other significant visits include the opening of Stevenage town centre in 1959 when she toured the first post war new town including visiting a particularly excited young family in their new home. This was followed four years later by a visit to Welwyn Garden City to officially open the hospital named in her honour.

Families press close to the Queen after her visit to a new home during a three-hour tour of Stevenage New Town in April 1959

Families press close to the Queen after her visit to a new home during a three-hour tour of Stevenage New Town in April 1959 - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Over the ensuing years other visits to the county included Parmiter's School in Watford, St Albans, and celebrating the 150th anniversary of Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, as well as visits to Letchworth and Hawkshead Campus of The Royal Veterinary College at Brookmans Park, which she opened in 1959 and returned to in 2003 when she was shown its work with one of her passions, horses. 

A horse gets VIP treatment when the Queen opened The Royal Veterinary College campus at Brookmans Park in 1959

A horse gets VIP treatment when the Queen opened The Royal Veterinary College campus at Brookmans Park in 1959 - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

In June 2012 the county was honoured to welcome her on Diamond Jubilee Day when she arrived by train in Hitchin and was greeted by my predecessor Lady Verulam and crowds of schoolchildren in Market Place. She also visited Stevenage to open the new maternity wing at Lister Hospital, and Hatfield.

Queen Elizabeth II visits Hitchin Market Place during her Diamond Jubilee tour of Great Brita

The Queen meets schoolchildren in Hitchin's Market Place during her diamond jubilee tour of Britain in 2012 - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

The Queen's last visit to the county was in 2016 to Berkhamsted, landing by helicopter on a hill in the town to celebrate the 475th anniversary of Berkhamsted School of which she is patron. I vividly recall the huge crowds welcoming and cheering the country’s longest serving monarch. 

The Queen's charities 

Since the 18th century an important role of the monarch is to support and encourage public and voluntary service, and the Queen - like other members of the royal family - has given her patronage to more than 600 charities many of which have a presence in Hertfordshire, like The British Red Cross, YMCA and The Scout Association and Girlguiding.

Over her long reign Her Majesty has taken a keen interest in each and every one of the enormous number of organisations to which she has put her name with visits around the country and keeping abreast of their activities.

Some of these patronages were inherited form her father and some have been inherited down the royal line from Queen Victoria. And as the Queen is now 96, some are being passed to younger members of the royal family to continue showing that keen interest. The patronage of some local organisations is taken up by Lord-Lieutenants across the country as Her Majesty’s personal representatives. 

The Queen meeting students at official opening of North Herts College, Stevenage

The Queen meeting students Jenna Currell, 21 (left), and Sasha Archer, 19, both wearing red noses for Comic Relief Day at the official opening of North Hertfordshire College in Stevenage in 2003 - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

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Having had the honour to have met the Queen on several occasions, like my predecessors I know that she has a soft spot for Hertfordshire. I am told by Sir Simon Bowes-Lyon that the Queen has often visited St Paul's Walden Bury and spent time at her mother’s old home, especially during her own childhood. 

Jubilee celebrations 

So how will we here in Hertfordshire celebrate this amazing jubilee? There will be street parties and 'Big Lunches' held in towns and villages across the county over the long bank holiday weekend from June 2-5 - the county council has already had more than 500 applications for street closures, more than for the diamond jubilee.

There will be beacons lit on Thursday June 2 at 9.45pm to mark the celebrations. I am aware of about 30 such beacons at significant locations, tying in with town parties, right across Hertfordshire and my deputy lieutenants and I will attend as many of these as possible to join in the celebrations.  

Find out more Herts jubilee celebration highlights here

The jubilee week will kick off with the Hertfordshire County Show on May 28-29, bigger and better than ever this year with special events celebrating the platinum jubilee and including my own Lord-Lieutenant's Entrepreneurs' Challenge.

Want to go to the county show?

On July 6 the lieutenancy together with The International Organ Festival are putting on a spectacular Jubilee Concert in St Albans Cathedral with the London Southbank Sinfonia and over 200 singers hosted by Gareth Malone in the presence of two members of the royal family.  

The lieutenancy office has already been notified of a huge number of other events taking place around the county on what will, I am sure, be a most memorable weekend in celebration of our amazing monarch who has dedicated her life to her people in Hertfordshire, the UK and around the world.