By Haydon Luke to be published in Fairlight News in June 2021
When this item appears in the Fairlight News, detailed memories of the Duke’s life and funeral will be fading – though the recollection of a moving ceremony on a perfect spring day in Windsor will undoubtedly endure in many minds. No nation can do ceremony, even in a scaled down version, half so well as Britain, and the image of the widowed Queen, solitary, in black, will have moved many hearts.
When news of the Duke’s death broke, several people were prompted to ask whether Fairlight had any associations with him. The FHG was asked to get to work to find the answer; one actual visit, two nearby and several people with direct personal recollections of encounters with him.
So far as we can be certain, though Hastings has enjoyed several Royal visits in the second Elizabethan era, Fairlight has only figured once – almost exactly 50 years ago. It was on 25th June, 1971, that the Duke paid a (literally) flying visit to the Coastguard Station at the end of Coastguard Lane. At the time the Fairlight Station was important and in the course of modernisation. It had nine volunteer watchmen and 15 in the rescue section and was then the principal station in the area.
.Piloting the helicopter himself, the Duke landed in the field adjacent to the Coastguard Cottages at 3.00 p.m. in front of a crowd of several hundred people. He inspected the lookout and communications room and met Station Officer B Beard and Coastguards F Davis and R Gibbons. He heard about the cliff rescue service operated from Fairlight then went into the married quarters and met the wives of coastguards, including Mrs Beard and Mrs Gibbons. The local paper reported that “he asked the wives about their accommodation. He looked round Mr Beard’s house and asked the children where they went to school and Mrs Beard about how she got them to school and how she did her shopping.”
After his inspection Prince Philip set off for Newhaven to visit another clifftop Coastguard unit there.
Later the same year, in July, the Duke came close to Fairlight when fulfilling another Coastguard-related duty when he visited Lade, near Lydd, where he formally opened Coastguard houses. This visit was in his capacity as Master of the Corporation of Trinity House. As in the Fairlight visit the Duke’s mode of transport was helicopter, which was apparently re-scheduled to make an additional landing for him to perform this duty at Lade.
The most significant Royal Visit locally included both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. It took place in the autumn of 1966 and was part of an ambitious East Sussex tour which started at Battle, went on to Rye and Winchelsea, continued to Hastings and ended at Eastbourne.
Pett resident Tim Rothwell remembers the royal visit by the Queen and the Duke to Rye on that wet October day in 1966. He was a school prefect at Rye Grammar School and had to supervise a class at the end of Rope Walk. He and his charges had a brief view of the Royal motorcade as it drove along Cinque Ports Street from the Udimore Road before turning right through the Landgate to access Market Street and the Town Hall. Tim said:” I still remember shivering at the end of Rope Walk by what was the Runcible Spoon (it was an off licence in those days) making sure that the pupils in the form I was looking after didn’t run into the road!”
Rye’s Own magazine reported the visit very much in the style of the time.
“As Her Majesty alighted from the Royal Car the cheering crowd could see she was dressed in a pink tweed coat flecked with white, over a pink dress. She wore a close fitting hat in matching pink, with black accessories. Prince Philip waved his hat to the crowd as the Royal Party walked into the Town Hall.”
Visitors’ book signed, the Queen and Prince Philip made a quick visit to the Church and performed a short walkabout on their way to the Rye War Memorial. Rye’s Own takes up the story again.
“At the War Memorial, Mr. John Button, a fisherman who has lived in Rye all his life, waited to greet Her Majesty with a gift of Rye Bloaters. Prince Philip asked Mr. Button what should be eaten with Bloaters? John replied that the best way of eating them was with bread and butter, anything else might spoil the flavour….as the Royal couple stood talking with Mr. Button and with the Mayor and Mayoress, Prince Philip suddenly took a nautical interest in his surroundings and pointed out Rye Harbour. No doubt he remembered it from his sea going days.
As the Church clock struck twelve, the time had come for departure via a flag-bedecked (and bumpy) Mermaid Street and on to Winchelsea and Hastings. Rye’s brief moment in the royal sight was over. For the Royal party that day Rye was only a small part of their East Sussex itinerary.
It was the Hastings part of that tour, on Friday, 28th October, 1966, which had a strong Fairlight dimension. That was the occasion when the Queen and the Duke came to visit the famous 1966 Hastings Embroidery when it was displayed in the Triodome on Hastings Pier.
In the photograph from that occasion we can see Group Captain Ralph Bagshaw Ward of Stonelynk Farm, Fairlight, discussing the panels with Her Majesty. Characteristically doing his own thing, the Duke appears perhaps even more interested in the details of the construction of the Triodome than of the embroidery itself. The Group Captain was a prominent Fairlight resident and the mastermind behind the highly successful Hastings Embroidery project.
Our final recollection of the Duke is supplied by local resident Nick Jury. His encounter took place in Newhaven where he met the Duke when he was commencing his Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme hike as an ATC member. Nick told us “I was in my last year at school, 1970. The actual location of my meeting was Piddinghoe just outside Newhaven.” Here is the photograph he has to prove it! Nick is opposite the Duke, leaning in.
It is fitting to end with Nick’s reference to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme which many local youngsters have benefited from over the years and which may well prove to be one of the most enduring parts of Prince Philip’s legacy to the country and people he served so faithfully.
By Haydon Luke