Above: Britain's Railway Queen, Miss Irene Topham from Shildon, Co. Durham, visiting Grantham Hospital on Sunday morning, 3rd October 1937.
Back row: The Mayor of Grantham, Arthur Eatch; the Assistant Matron, Miss Isabel Mitchell; the Mayoress, Mrs Ellen Eatch; and the Matron, Miss Beatrice M. Langford.
Front row: The Railway Queen with her six maids of honour (not listed in order): Violet Crow, Jean Watson, Marjorie Speed, May Dickinson, Sheila Coppard and Joan Small. The maids of honour, who were daughters of local railway families, were attired in ankle-length dresses of ivory petal satin with puffed sleeves and frills, and headdresses of blue forget-me-nots.
When Britain's Railway Queen arrived in Grantham on Saturday 2nd October 1937 the town was in carnival mood.
The role of the Railway Queen was to represent the railway industry, to foster goodwill nationally and internationally and to encourage support for charities associated with the railways.
The Railway Queen tradition began in 1925. Tensions between the railway companies and the trade unions had grown in the wake of a number of contentious campaigns and strikes. Because it was 100 years since the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, to mark the centenary the railway companies and the trade unions collaborated in organising the first of a series of annual Railway Employees' Carnivals held at Belle Vue Gardens, Manchester. The carnivals continued until the 1970s.
Each year at the carnival a new Railway Queen was 'crowned'. She was selected from applicants who were aged between 14 and 16 years and were the daughters of railway families. During her year of office each Railway Queen took part in visits to railway centres across the country and also made a trip abroad. Understandably during the mid-1930s, as concern about the prospect of another war grew deeper, there seemed to be a growing emphasis on the international visit and on the promotion of world peace. In 1936 Railway Queen Audrey Mosson visited the USSR. She spoke from the platform during an International Women's Day rally held at the Bolshoi Opera House in Moscow, and attended by Josef Stalin.
Irene Topham, crowned on 11th September 1937 at Belle Vue, was Britain's 12th Railway Queen, and she was the first to make a visit to Grantham. It was a weekend when the well-established railway community became the focus of attention and the town took its mind off present difficulties and worries for the future. The Grantham Journal carried a very full and interesting report which you can read below.
From The Grantham Journal, Saturday 9th October 1937, page 13:
BRITAIN'S RAILWAY QUEEN
15 Years Old Monarch's First Task
Since Her Election
SPREADING A MESSAGE OF PEACE
AMID CARNIVAL SURROUNDINGS
BRITAIN'S RAILWAY QUEEN, MISS IRENE TOPHAM, THE 15-YEARS-OLD DAUGHTER OF A SHILDON, Co. DURHAM, SIGNALMAN, WAS ACCORDED A ROYAL WELCOME WHEN SHE FULFILLED HER FIRST OFFICIAL ENGAGEMENT OUTSIDE HER OWN DISTRICT BY VISITING GRANTHAM ON SATURDAY.
A street parade, in which the civic and official party, Grantham Town band, Grantham Carnival band, the newly-formed Gingerbreads' Carnival band, decorated trade vehicles and persons in fancy dress took a prominent part, was the feature of Saturday's festivities, whilst the main points of Sunday's proceedings were visits by the Queen and officials to Grantham Hospital, the County Institution and Infirmary, and the evening harvest festival service at the Bridge End-road Wesley church.
Miss Topham, who was chosen for her position from her photograph out of a large number of applicants, created a very favourable impression among the townspeople by her quiet charm and refreshing, unaffected personality, and, with her six pretty little maids of honour, the daughters of local railwaymen, she made a delightful picture as "a messenger peace and goodwill."
The proceeds accruing from the various festivities are to be equally divided between the National Union of Railwaymen's Orphan Fund and Grantham Hospital. and although the exact financial result is not yet known it can be stated that about £50 was raised through street collections, £5 by the concert in the Westgate-hall on Saturday evening, and £20 by the carnival dance which made a grand finale to that day's programme.
It is interesting to note the manner in which the choice of Railway Queen is made. Any girl, between the ages 14 and 16, who is a daughter of a railwayman is eligible, and the choice is made at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, under the auspices the Liverpool Arts committee.
HOW THE QUEEN WAS CHOSEN
When the first Railway Queen was chosen in 1925, the railway centenary year, the members of the Arts committee, all well known in their particular sphere, believed that they could judge a girl's character from her photograph alone. The idea was given a trial, and for 13 successive years it has proved entirely successful, until now the Arts committee, proud of the fact that they have not yet failed in their experiment, take a tremendous interest in the Queen for whose election they are responsible.
Anything from 90 to 700 photographs are submitted each year, according to the amount of publicity given to the event, and each picture is mounted so that the selectors know nothing at all about the applicant except what the actual photograph tells them.
The selection committee looks for a girl with intelligence, good looks, fine carriage and deportment, and as a representative of ordinary people suitable to carry out her arduous duties.
The Railway Queen, who, in visiting Grantham was leaving her parents for the first time in her life, was crowned before thousands people in Manchester some three weeks ago.
When she arrived at Grantham station at about 1.30 p.m. on Saturday, being the first Railway Queen ever to visit the town, she was presented by Mr. H. H. Neilson, who each year acts as private secretary to the Queen and accompanies her on her travels, to Mr. C. J. Cooke, the stationmaster, and by Mr. Cooke to railway and Union representatives and others who had gathered to meet her.
The Queen was then presented to her six maids honour by Mrs. C. J. Cooke, assisted by Mrs. R. Healy. and from the hands Miss Jean Royce the Queen received a bouquet.
Miss Topham was attired in a white satin dress, with a train of purple velvet trimmed with gold, her headdress being a silver tiara.
A well-built, rosy-cheeked. light brown-haired girl, carrying no trace of "makeup," she showed very little sign of nervousness.
The maids of honour—Violet Crow, Jean Watson, Marjorie Speed, May Dickinson, Sheila Coppard and Joan Small—were attired in ankle-length dresses of ivory petal satin, with puffed sleeves and frills, and had headdresses of blue forget-me-nots. The dresses were made by Mrs. G. Edinboro, assisted by ladies of the committee.
On arrival at the Guildhall the Queen and the official party were presented to the Mayor and Mayoress, Councillor and Mrs. Arthur Eatch, by Mr. Cooke, and also to aldermen, councillors and borough officials.
Welcoming the Queen, the Mayor remarked that he hoped the public's response to the railwaymen's effort on behalf of their N.U.R. orphan fund and the Grantham Hospital would be all the organisers wished for, adding congratulations to the Queen on being chosen for her position.
After the Mayoress had endorsed the Mayor's remarks, the Queen, replying, thanked everyone for their kind welcome.
She observed that it had been explained to her that the welcome was not extended to her as Miss Irene Topham, but because the office she held as Britain's Railway Queen, which symbolised international goodwill.
The Mayoress was presented with a bouquet by Miss Joyce Timm, on behalf of local railwaymen, and shortly afterwards the party journeyed to the station, where the judging of the decorated tradesmen's vehicles, decorated prams, and fancy dresses took place under the supervision of the Queen, assisted by the Mayor and Mayoress, Mr. J. R. Casburn, O.B.E., Mr. C. J. Cooke, Mr. H. H. Neilson and Mr. Hutchinson, the goods agent at Grantham station.
There was a large entry in most the sections, and the awards were: —
Tableaux—1, entered by Mrs. Loker, of Barkston, "Grantham Hospital"; 2, the Grantham N.U.R. Orphans; 3, Mr. J. S. Kettle's light railway; 4, Mr. Winfield's "Sandboys.''
Tradesmen's turnouts — 1, Charles Coulson, coal merchant; 2, Messrs. Mowbray's, Ltd.: 3, Parson Bros. & Snape, Ltd., coal merchants; 4. Grantham Cooperative Society dairy department.
Decorated pram—Special award, Mrs. Barrett, 135, Uplands-drive. Grantham.
Individuals in fancy dress—1, Miss M. Curry, "Little Red Riding Hood"; 2. —, "The Bat"; 3, Mrs. Asher, Dudley-road, "Crinoline"; 4. Master Ralph Kenny, "The Lincolnshire Poacher."
A special prize was awarded to the best decorated horse in the parade, this being won by Mr. C. Butler's entry.
The awards each section were supplemented by prizes given by the Mayor, the Mayoress, Mr. Cooke and Mr. Hutchinson.
The Grantham Hospital tableau appealed to the people to save silver paper for the hospital. The horse-drawn cart was prettily decorated in a colour scheme of light blue and silver, and on the vehicle were nurses, and small girls dressed in blue and silver trumpeters' outfits, and using imitation trumpets from which hung banners bearing appealing slogans on behalf of the hospital.
The miniature railway, built by two Grantham men, Mr. H. Thorold and Mr. J. S. Kettle, was borne through the parade on L.N.E.R. dray, and proved a big attraction to the onlookers.
There were several coal trade turnouts, these including a smart one, advertising smokeless coal, by Parson Bros. and Snape, Ltd., of Grantham, which gained third prize in its class; a clever portrayal of a man having "forty winks" in his favourite armchair beside a glowing coal fire, entered by Charles Coulson, of Grantham, which won the premier award; and one in which the central figure was "Old King Cole," entered by Messrs. J. H. Parker & Son, of Grantham.
Messrs. Mowbray & Co., Ltd., gained a second prize with their representation a local bar, and there were a number of good railway turnouts, telling people to “Travel by Rail," that "It's Quicker by Rail,' and so forth.
BY WAY OF A CHANGE
A Corporation refuse collecting vehicle was turned out to help collect not rubbish but funds for the hospital, and two of Messrs. Aveling-Barford's rollers also took part in the parade.
On the completion of the judging the procession paraded the main streets of the town, headed by railwaymen bearing large N.U.R. banner, following whom were the Grantham Town band under Bandmaster H. C. Sale, the civic and official party, the borough fire brigade, Grantham Boy Scouts, Grantham Carnival band, the tradesmen's vehicles, and the Gingerbreads Carnival band, with the fancy dress section bringing up the rear.
Thousands of people lined the route, affording the collectors, some of whom were attired in amusing costumes, ample scope to fill their boxes.
Assisting in collecting were members of Nos. 6 and 12 (Grantham) branches of the V.A.D., while members of the No. 11 (Men's) Detachment of the British Red Cross Society patrolled the parade route, together with members of the L.N.E.R. station ambulance classes.
The Gingerbreads band made a good impression in their first street parade, their smart uniforms of black trousers with yellow stripes, yellow and green mess jackets and hats on similar lines adding plenty of colour to the parade. Their music and marching were also quite good, and Miss G. Baxter made a fine drum-major. Behind her, as junior drum-major, marched Master Neil Dexter.
At the conclusion the parade some 250 persons sat down to tea in St. John's-hall. the arrangements being in the hands of the ladies' committee, who were assisted by numerous willing helpers.
The Queen and her retinue, accompanied by the Mayor and Mayoress and the civic and official party, were present, as was also the Mayor and Mayoress Newark, Councillor and Mrs. Staniland, who had been staying in Grantham as the guests of Councillor and Mrs. Eatch.
The Westgate-hall was crowded for the concert in the evening. This part of the proceedings was organised Mr. H. Welbourn and Mr. J. T. Buttery, and the principal artistes were members the two Grantham Carnival bands, the most popular turn being that given by Master Stanley Clarke, the boy drummer, who was repeatedly encored and played a number request items.
A bumper company over 400 attended the carnival dance the Westgate-hall later in the evening, and the dancers gave splendid reception to the Queen and her party.
The Imperial band provided the music, Mr. R. Crunkhorn being M.C., and the company were delighted when the Mayor and Railway Queen danced together. The Mayoress, not to be outdone, danced with Mr. Neilson.
During the dance the Queen was presented with a large box of chocolates by the Mayor and Mayoress, a gold chain and pendant, the gift of the N.U.R. Women's Guild, Grantham branch, and another box of chocolates by her maids of honour.
Balloons, paper hats and all kinds of other novelties were given away, and a spot waltz was won by Mr. Duddan and Miss Templeton.
Visiting Grantham Hospital on Sunday morning, the party arrived at about 10 o'clock, their approach being heralded by appropriate music played by Grantham Town band under Bandmaster H. C. Sale.
The reception committee assembled at the main entrance to the hospital, and after the Queen, her maids of honour and the members of her party had been introduced to the committee, short speeches of welcome were made.
Among those present were Lord and Lady Brownlow, the Mayor and Mayoress, Mr. C. J. Cooke, the matron, Miss B. M. Langford, the assistant-matron, Miss I. Mitchell, Alderman and Mrs. Rothwell Lee, Mr. H. H. Neilson, Dr. C. Frier, Dr. G. A. C. Shipman, the Rev. R. L. McCulloch, B.A., curate of Grantham parish church, Mr. J. E. Ray, secretary of the hospital, Mr. and Mrs. E. S. Dunkerton, Mr. W. T. Phipps, Mr. W. Durance, Mr. L. Bailey, Mr. J. F. Buttery, Mrs. Bird, Miss Irene Bird, of Caythorpe, and a number of nurses.
Lord Brownlow, on behalf of the trustees and officials of the hospital, offered a warm welcome to the Queen.
He spoke of Grantham's importance a railway centre, and referred to the tragic event which occurred in January. 1936,—the Barkston disaster—which, he said, strengthened the link between Grantham Hospital and the railway.
The hospital at that time had just been completed, and he knew it rendered a great service on that sad occasion. The staff worked very hard from about nine o'clock in the morning till late at night, and what would have happened had not the hospital been completed he did not know. He could not say where they would have found 10 or 15 beds for the unfortunate victims of the accident, and he thought that the building of the hospital was justified by that much regretted disaster alone.
Concluding, Lordship said the hospital greatly appreciated the visit the Railway Queen, and also the collection that had taken place during the street parade the previous day, as a result of which, he understood, they would benefit by about £25, a half share.
The Queen, in reply, thanked Lord Brownlow for his kind welcome.
Since she had been crowned, she said, she had been told that it was her duty to speak upon international goodwill and disarmament wherever she went. The office of Railway Queen symbolised industrial and international goodwill.
She could not speak to them about world disarmament excepting to say that she hoped it would come about, and she could not speak them about international goodwill in a way that would interest them as adults. She was only 15 years of age, and her knowledge those things was no greater and, she hoped, no less than that of the ordinary and average girl of her years.
The Queen added that she could promise one thing, and that was that she would, from then on, read and study whatever literature she could get that would improve her knowledge of the subject upon which she was expected to talk, and then perhaps towards the end of her year of office she might be allowed to visit Grantham again, and to tell them of her experiences.
She was sure they would sooner have her say those few words to them than to try to talk above her years, or to make any pretence about having a knowledge which she did not possess.
TO HELP GOOD CAUSES
Miss Topham also remarked that she had learned that much of her time was to be given to helping good causes like the Grantham Hospital. She knew, too, that it was to be part of her activities to visit hospitals, and to bring some colour and pageantry to cheer those who had the misfortune to be bedridden.
This part of her duties she understood, because it was close to her and she could join in the pleasure which it gave.
She thanked them for allowing her that privilege in Grantham, and if her presence had in any small way helped the hospital her visit had been well repaid. (Applause).
The Mayor remarked that he hoped some day Grantham would be able to produce a Railway Queen.
He thanked the local branch of the N.U.R. for getting the Queen to visit Grantham, and in doing putting the town "on the map" more than ever. They had also made a great effort to raise money for the hospital, for which, he added, none of them could do too much.
Miss Irene Bird, a former patient of the hospital, presented a bouquet to the Queen, and a similar gift was handed to Lady Brownlow by a first year probationer nurse.
The Queen and her retinue were conducted on a short tour of the hospital by the matron, the assistant-matron and the reception committee, during which the Town band moved to a position between the wings of the men's and women's wards in order to render suitable musical selections.
The County institution and infirmary, Dysart-road, was later visited, the party being welcomed by the master and matron, Mr. O. B. Warren and Miss L. M. Warren, and Alderman H. Beeden, chairman of the house committee.
The staff of the infirmary were presented to the Queen in the dining-hall, and after passing through cheering lines of the inmates the Queen and her retinue visited the infirmary and spoke gladdening words to several of the inmates.
One of the small boys from the nursery handed a bouquet to the Queen, and in a short speech the Mayor referred to Miss Topham as "a wonderful ambassador for Great Britain, and the railway people in particular." He was sure everyone would appreciate the strain she had to bear in the course of carrying out her duties.
After remarking that the visit to Grantham was the Queen's first experience outside her own district, Mr. Neilson thanked the people of the town for providing her with her first training.
She had lots of similar experiences in front of her, he said, and the help and encouragement they had given her would help the Queen to be a success in her new sphere of activities.
Miss Topham was grateful for this help, Mr. Neilson added, particularly to the Mayor and Mayoress, who had given her quite lot of tuition, the benefits of their own experiences.
Mr. Neilson also paid tribute to the railway officials and the public generally, saying that the Queen would always remember her visit to Grantham, which was really the opening of her year of activities. When she went abroad, as all railway queens did, and conveyed good wishes for international goodwill from the mayors and mayoresses, councillors, &c., of all the towns she had visited in Great Britain, he could assure them that Grantham would essentially be first her mind. (Applause).
Alderman Beeden reciprocated the remarks of Mr. Neilson, and remarked how glad the inmates of the institution and infirmary were to know they had not been forgotten during the Queen's visit.
HER PARENTS' WISH
The Mayor and Mayoress entertained the Queen, Mr. Neilson and one or two other officials and their wives to tea in the afternoon, and in the evening the party attended the evening harvest festival service at the Bridge End-road Wesley chapel.
Miss Topham attended the service at the wish of her parents, who had requested that their daughter stayed in Grantham on Sunday she should visit a place of worship.
The Queen wore a light blue costume in place of her ceremonial robes, but round her neck was the official chain of office.
The chain is composed chiefly of solid gold miniature railway couplings, which have been obtained by former Railway Queens during their visits abroad.
It is the custom each year for the reigning Queen to visit a different foreign country to convey messages of goodwill from the railway management and railway trade union leaders of Great Britain, in the interests of world peace.
Each miniature coupling bears the name the country by whom it was given, the year, and the name of the Queen who visited the country and received the gift.
Already these links of the chain have been given by Great Britain, France, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Palestine, America, Russia, Ireland and Norway, the country visited by the last Queen.
Miss Topham has been crowned only about three weeks, and it not yet known which country she will visit.
THANKS FOR WONDERFUL WELCOME
She returned home to Shildon at about 9.30 a.m. on Monday with pleasant memories of her short stay Grantham, but before she departed the Railway Queen asked to be allowed, through the "Journal," to thank the railway officials and the people of Grantham for the wonderful welcome they had given her, and the kind way in which she was treated.
Miss Topham added that she was very impressed by the efficient, yet courteous manner in which the police carried out their duties in connection with her visit.
The organisation of the event was carried out by the social committee the N.U.R., Grantham branch, of which Mrs. G. Asher is the president and Mrs. J. Sentance the secretary, while Mr. L. Bailey was organiser for the civic side, and Mr. J. F. Buttery carried out similar duties for the parade and carnival section of the programme.
Great credit is due to all who took any part, large small, in the organisation of the extensive programme, and the officials desire to tender their sincere thanks to all who supported their efforts on behalf of two deserving causes.
The attendants on the maids of honour were Mrs. R. Healy and Mrs. G. Edinboro.
While in Grantham the Queen was the guest of Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Buttery, of 64, North-parade.
It was reported later that proceeds after expenses were £40 6s. 8½d., which is equivalent to over £7,000 today. The sum was split 50/50 between the NUR Orphan Fund and Grantham Hospital.
Here's a link to a short (2¼ minute), silent video of a Railway Queen arriving at Barry, South Wales in 1929 and taking part in a parade through the town.
Britain's Railway Queen Visits Grantham Again
There were two further visits to Grantham by Britain's Railway Queen, on 14th/15th March 1945 and 29th/30th August 1952.
The 1945 visit was understandably low-key, being associated with a touring exhibition to raise funds for The Red Cross and The St. John Ambulance Brigade:
By the time of the visit in August 1952 something like the pre-war programme could be arranged.
From The Grantham Journal, Friday 5th October 1952, page 3:
Arriving at the station on Friday afternoon wearing her chain of office and school uniform green blazer, beret and light green dress, Queen Eluned was greeted by the stationmaster, Mr. H. Scampion, and welcomed Mr W. E. Green. M.B.E., District Superintendent, Eastern Region, and Mr. G. W. Brassington. N.U.R organiser, on behalf of the railway trade unions. A sheaf of flowers was presented to her by Mrs. Scampion, and following introductions to railway officials and workers, the "Queen", her private secretary, Mr. H. H, Neilson, Mr. J. Drage, chairman of the organising committee, Mr, A. Bailey, hon. secretary organising committee, and Mr. L. Bailey left for the Guildhall.
Here, a civic welcome on behalf of the town awaited the visitors from the Mayor and Mayoress, Coun. and Mrs. S. Foster, and the latter was given a bouquet by Mrs. W. H. Dale.
Thanks were voiced by Mr. J. Blundell, Motive Power Superintendent, Mr. W. Bevan, organiser, A.S.L.E. & F., and Mr. J. Drage, and following tea the Queen, accompanied by Ald. W. H Dale. Coun. J. Hardaker and Coun. W, A. Ogden, left for a visit to Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth. birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton, and a tour of the Vale of Belvoir.
Grantham's Railway Queens
Towards the end of 1953 the Grantham Branch of the NUR decided to appoint a local Railway Queen. For more on this see the next page.