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Recollections of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh

On 6 March 1965 the last passenger services ran over the route from Malton to Whitby. The line closed completely north of Pickering (today this section is the North Yorkshire Moors Railway), but remained open from Rillington Jcn (Malton) to Pickering for freight until 1 July 1966. During this period, on the night of 2 June 1965, the Royal Train conveying the Duke of Edinburgh was stabled overnight on the line at Marishes Road from whence on the morning of the 3rd the Duke made a visit to the then new Early Warning Station at RAF Fylingdales. The train was worked by York based Gresley V2 2-6-2 No 60886 which after the Duke’s departure proceeded to Pickering to run-round. Thus the Duke and his party were the last ‘passengers’ to use this stretch of railway.

It was the job of the Area Manager to welcome Royalty whenever they used a station on the patch - a role that at one time would have been carried out by the Station Master. When the Royal Train was being used for journeys from London, it was common practice to have a late evening departure from the relevant main line terminus. As Area Manager, first at York and then especially at King’s Cross, I came to meet most members of the Royal Family.

My first encounter with the Duke of Edinburgh took place when he arrived by Royal Train at the rural North Yorkshire station of Church Fenton for a visit to the RAF station of the same name. I had been warned that he could be quite challenging, but my recollection is that all went smoothly. However, there were two other occasions where the experience was more memorable.

For the Royal Train’s late evening departures from King’s Cross, it was the practice to use platform 1 on the east side of the station adjacent to what was then the ‘cab road’ to give ease of road vehicle access (today this area is occupied by the extra platform ‘0’). Standing instructions to the royal chauffeurs were to approach the station along the adjoining York Way from the north to facilitate a relatively straight forward right turn onto the access ramp down to the station. Unfortunately, one night when both the Queen and the Duke were travelling the car approached along York Way from the opposite direction alongside the station, thus necessitating a U-turn onto the access ramp. Such a manoeuvre would have been challenging enough for many vehicles, but HMQ’s large Rolls-Royce limousine had a particularly poor turning circle. The result was a multi-point turn with several reversals before the car could descend to the station. The Duke was clearly not amused and made known to me most clearly his views on the design failings of my station!

On Friday 20 May 1988 the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were to pay a civic visit to Peterborough to commemorate the 750th anniversary of Peterborough Cathedral. Through the kindness of Charles Swift, one of our drivers and also Peterborough City Council Leader, Lesley and I were not only to be presented in the line-up at Peterborough station, but also to attend the civic luncheon that followed. Having married only a couple of months earlier, to be able to invite my new bride to lunch with the Queen was rather special! As the distance from London was relatively short, the Royal couple would travel from King’s Cross to Peterborough in a reserved coach on a scheduled InterCity HST - all within the King’s Cross area.

Philip Benham

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