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Memories of last Chelmsford visit still fresh as royal baby set for arrival

By Essex Chronicle  |  Posted: July 20, 2013

  • ROYAL OPENING: The Queen, escorted by Chelmsford Mayor Cllr Phillip Firth, opened the new County Hall atrium in 1988

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THOUSANDS of people in Chelmsford will remember the day The Queen visited County Hall in July 1988.

But maybe none quite as distinctly as Chelmsford's town crier, Tony Appleton, who was guarded by a policewoman during the entire visit.

Tony, 76, who was renowned for gatecrashing events to get his picture taken with famous people, was on the force's radar as being a potential threat to The Queen's safety.

He said: "I remember the day all too well, crowds of people everywhere, and yes, I did get to see The Queen. The thing is, it is quite interesting, because she came whilst I was in my heyday.

"The police came round my house the day before, it was right over the top.

"They were worried I was going to jump out in front of The Queen to get her picture, but I would never have done a thing like that," added Tony, who has amassed pictures of himself with thousands of celebrities over the years.

"I remember when I got into town a policewoman was following me the whole day.

"I was standing next to The Wine Cellar on Duke Street when she came by, but the police hired a private detective to follow me the whole day.

"They even had a special police briefing and gave me the code name of "Alpha Man" so that people could be on the lookout for me. The Queen went by so quickly and left quickly but I still saw her walk past me."

It is 25 years since the Queen's visit to Chelmsford when she opened the extension of Essex County Council's main County Hall building on July 27, 1988.

Thousands lined the streets as she paraded through the city with the former Chelmsford Mayor Phillip Firth and the county council's chairman at the time, Councillor Bill Dixon Smith, before Her Majesty unveiled a plaque which is now on view on a wall in the County Hall atrium.

"It was very special – I will never forget it," said Mr Firth, 77, of Lucas Avenue, Chelmsford. "The Queen decided on the lunch menu and special wines for the menu, and I even sat next to the Duke for lunch. As we were about to go the Duke said 'where's my pint of ale'? – and he took it in with him.

"The Queen was very relaxed and I enjoyed her company. After lunch we went for a walk and there were lots of people, a lot of children with roses.

"She didn't miss a single one, she went to absolutely every child.

"I remember one little boy called out 'ere, you are Queenie'. He was so young he didn't know who he was speaking to.

"It was probably the best year one could possibly ever have – magic."

At the time of The Queen's visit, County Hall housed the Register Office as well as Chelmsford Library.

Her Majesty's visit that day also included a service in Chelmsford Cathedral to mark the centenary of the grant of Chelmsford Borough's Charter and lunch at Shire Hall.

The Queen, alluding to cricket, announced: "This year Chelmsford is celebrating the centenary of the granting of its borough charter and next year the county council, at present 99 not out, will enjoy its own centenary.

"Jointly you will have achieved a rare feat, a double-century partnership.

"What a happy coincidence that the completion of this elegant new extension should fall at such a time."

In the same week as the County Hall visit, Her Majesty also attended the wedding of her godson, and son of her cousin Princess Alexandra, James Ogilvy, to Julia Rawlinson, in Saffron Walden. They married at the Church of St Mary the Virgin on Saturday, July 30.

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