Monday, 19 October 2009

By Royal Appointment

The images of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visiting bomb sites and munitions factories during the Second World War are now iconic. Due to their many morale-boosting visits they became strong symbols of national resistance as they travelled the country spreading the word that they were there for their people. In April 1940, shortly before the first bombs were to fall on the area, the King and Queen visited Birmingham and the Black Country. They visited various places during their two-day stay guessed it....the Chance glass works!

I have found various references to this visit in the collection, the first being a commemorative brochure detailing the itinerary. The flavour of the visit seems to be munitions and air services including visits to B.S.A. Guns Ltd., the Air Raid Precaution Services, The Balloon Centre, Boulton Paul Aircraft Ltd. and the School of Technical Training for mechanics, flight riggers and aeronautical engineers. Slotted in near the end of the itinerary on 19 April at precisely '1500 hours' is a tour of Chances glass works. The tour covered the Lighthouse Works, the Optical Department and the Pressed Glass Department.

Before leaving the factory, the King and Queen signed the visitors book (and their extremely legible, yet surprisingly humble signatures can be seen in the picture above). I also came across a film reel titled 'Visit of T. M. King & Queen to C. B. & Co. Ltd. April 19th 1940'. It would be lovely to see some images of the event to accompany all of the textual traces found but unfortunately, we do not have the correct equipment for projecting this film reel so we have contacted MACE (Media Archive of Central England) to give us a hand.

In the meantime, I did find an article on our microfilm here at CHAS from the West Bromwich Midland Chronicle and Free Press, 26 April 1940. The article states that at Chance, 'the King and Queen saw processes of manufacture, which despite the many factories of all kinds they must have inspected, were entirely new to them'. The writer then goes on to describe the following anecdote (and ladies, you may wish to stop reading at this point):

'The Queen took a most intelligent interest in the processes seen at the works...Mr Hugh Chance told me afterwards that when she was shown some brightly coloured glass articles she was immediately attracted, but he found that her interest in the colours was not merely a woman's interest. She realised at once that the colours had a definite purpose which was not ornamental'

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