Launceston is steeped in history and tradition, so it is no surprise that many historical figures and royalty have passed through the gates of this medieval town.
Arthur Wills, a local historian who is passionate about Lanson’s past, spoke to Launceston Life about recent events in the town, as well as the community’s unwavering link to the monarchy throughout the centuries.
On Sunday, 11th September, Arthur was present at the Launceston Town Council Proclamation of Accession, announcing the new King Charles III on the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Thursday, 8th September. He advised the town council on the tradition of the Proclamation, including how the maces are reversed to honour mention of the Queen, the King and Launceston. Maces are an emblem of authority, representing the monarch and local area.
Arthur explained that the traditions surrounding the Proclamation in Launceston go back a long way into history. It must first be called at the Town Hall, then at the Southgate Arch, the North Gate, the Roundhouse at Newport and finally at St Stephen’s.
“This is because at one time, there was Lanson, Newport and St Stephen’s, so the Proclamation would have to be read in each area so it could be proclaimed to everyone,” Arthur said.
But it isn’t only on the death of a monarch that a Proclamation is called. Arthur remembers the Proclamation of Her Majesty the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee, so they are also called at times of great celebration for the monarchy. He remembers standing at the Southgate Arch as Mayor at the time, Alan Buckingham, read the Proclamation.
As well as Launceston’s traditions in delivering Proclamations, the town is also the location for the Duke or Duchess of Cornwall to receive their ‘feudal dues’. With His Majesty the King passing this title onto his son, Prince William, this means he and Princess Catherine will likely attend a ceremony at Launceston Castle to receive their feudal dues as the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, as previous royalty have done before them. The eldest son of the monarch is given the title of Duke of Cornwall. However, the first born daughter can now also take this title.
Previous Dukes of Cornwall to visit Launceston include George V with Princess Mary in 1909. Of course, upon his accession to the throne, the title was passed on to Edward VIII, who visited in 1921. When he famously abdicated in 1936, the new monarch was George VI and this broke the tradition of feudal dues, with two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.
On 1st September, 1937, George VI visited Launceston as the new King. Arthur was just a little boy at the time, and remembers the visit very well. He said: “I was around five or six years old, and was there with Egloskerry School. I remember our teacher telling us, ‘You’re going to meet the King today!’ and I stood on the corner, waving my flag.
“I was expecting a king with a long robe and crown to come through, but then a car came past and my teacher said, ‘There he is, there’s the king!’ and we all waved our flags as he passed.
“It’s brilliant, to be able to remember that. I have so many happy memories of royal visits, and of course I remember when Princess Elizabeth visited in 1949. She walked up the castle and wore a lovely powder blue outfit, she looked wonderful. Then of course she got in the car and I believe she signed the Launceston Guestbook out at Stoke Climsland.”
As Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952, a very young Prince Charles received the title of Duke of Cornwall.
It was in 1956 when Her Majesty visited Launceston again, this time as Queen. After meeting with Mayor Colin Robins and other local dignitaries at the Guildhall, Her Majesty, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, were driven to Launceston Railway to catch the royal train back to London.
Arthur was there, waiting in the station office as his father was a signalman, and once again saw the Queen: “I saw the royal car come down, then she said goodbye to Mr Robins and off they went in the train.”
Arthur remembers more recently King Charles III’s visits to Launceston over the years, as Duke of Cornwall. He visited in 1973 to receive his feudal dues at Launceston Castle during a special ceremony, and then returned in 2006. Arthur put on a display of the feudal dues and spoke to His Majesty, who mentioned the two greyhounds that had been in attendance at his last visit and remembered their names - Whiskey and Soda! George VI had also been presented with two greyhounds, Spot and Nimble, during his visit in 1937.
Arthur has been lucky enough to be present for multiple royal visits, and his granddaughter even reminded him that he has been alive in the time of five different monarchs - George V, Edward VIII, George VI, Elizabeth II and, now, King Charles III.
Such royal visits have been happening in Launceston for centuries. Arthur explained that they go back as far as the reign of Henry I in the 1100s. At the time, Devon and Cornwall was one big parish and he gave permission for a monastery to be built at the Priory.
In 1353, Edward the Black Prince visited, most likely on a tour of inspection, and refused to stay in the drafty Castle, instead opting for the more comfortable Priory.
Other kings who have walked through the gateways of Launceston include Charles I during the civil war. The Southgate Arch served as his headquarters. His son, who would become King Charles II, also visited as a child, before Oliver Cromwell took over - he, too, visited Lanson.
Arthur said: “I feel very lucky to be the town archivist - I love history. All those precious charters eventually had to go to Truro, but we are lucky to have copies which can be looked at in the archive room of the museum (Lawrence House Museum).
“People leave their manuscripts over the years, which is just so important to preserve the history of the town. Whenever someone tells me a memory or story from history, I tell them, ‘Please, write it down!’”
Royalty have been walking through the gates of Launceston for centuries, and there is no doubt that future Kings and Queens will walk through the ancient streets of Lanson for years to come.
Do you have a memory of meeting royalty in Launceston? Email firstname.lastname@example.org