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The Queen, Prince Harry and Princess Diana among the Royals to visit the county

By Chris Britcher

It's hard to visit a town in the county without a claim to fame when it comes to the royal family.

From childhood trips by the princess who would become Queen Victoria, war-time morale boosting jaunts by King George VI to a host of visits by the new generations of royalty, Kent has enjoyed the regal seal of approval on countless occasions.

We take a look at some of the most memorable visits from those with blue blood over the years - and those members who spent their childhood growing up here.

Princess Diana

Princess Diana greets crowds at Tenterden (7504494)
Princess Diana greets crowds at Tenterden (7504494)

It is hard to imagine it is now more than 20 years since Diana, Princess of Wales, died in such tragic circumstances. But during her short life, she spent plenty of time in the county - most notably attending the exclusive West Heath Girls' School near Sevenoaks as a child. It is now a special school - saved from closure in 1997 by Mohamad Al-Fayed - father of Dodi Al-Fayed, who died in the same car crash as Diana.

From 1983 to 1995 she visited the likes of Dover, Aylesford, Cranbrook, Deal and Sevenoaks. She opened Royal Victoria Place in Tunbridge Wells, the Paula Carr diabetic centre at Ashford's William Harvey Hospital, Tenterden Leisure Centre and made several trips to Howe Barracks in Canterbury where the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment was based.

She once told the soldiers: "It has to be said that for a 31-year-old woman to have 2,500 men under her command is some feat."

Prince Harry in Folkestone. Picture: Gary Browne
Prince Harry in Folkestone. Picture: Gary Browne

In 1992, she and her sons, William and Harry, all enjoyed a day at Chatham's Buckmore Park karting circuit - an event pictured at the race track to this day.

Princess Anne

June 1968: The Queen visited Benenden School on its annual hobbies day when she was taken on a high-speed tour of an exhibition of pupils' art, pottery, dressmaking and cookery. Her visit was also to mark the end of Princess Anne's five years at the school. File pic from 'Images of Royal Kent'
June 1968: The Queen visited Benenden School on its annual hobbies day when she was taken on a high-speed tour of an exhibition of pupils' art, pottery, dressmaking and cookery. Her visit was also to mark the end of Princess Anne's five years at the school. File pic from 'Images of Royal Kent'

The only daughter of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne was another to enjoy a childhood in the county.

While perhaps most famous for her attempted kidnapping in 1974 (when asked to get out of her car by her would-be abductor she told him "not bloody likely"), she was enrolled at Benenden School in 1963.

The Queen and her daughter travelled down on the night train from their Scottish residence in Balmoral for Anne's first day.

She would stay at the school until 1968, leaving with six O-Levels and two A-Levels.

She is now known as the Princess Royal.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex

Sophie Countess of Wessex opening the maternity berevement suite, Abigail's Place.Medway Maritime HospitalPicture: Gary Browne FM4746839 (7505080)
Sophie Countess of Wessex opening the maternity berevement suite, Abigail's Place.Medway Maritime HospitalPicture: Gary Browne FM4746839 (7505080)

Sophie Rhys-Jones, as she was once known, was Kentish through and through before she married into the world's most famous family.

The wife of the Queen's youngest son, Prince Edward, grew up in a 17th century farmhouse in the village of Brenchley, near Tunbridge Wells, and attended the public Kent College in Pembury before enrolling for a secretarial course at Tonbridge's West Kent College.

After a career in PR, she met the young prince in 1993 - and married, at Windsor Castle, in 1999. They adopted the titles of the Earl and Countess of Wessex.

They have two children with Sophie known to be particularly close to the Queen.

Countess Mountbatten

Countess Mountbatten, patron of the Demelza House charity.
Countess Mountbatten, patron of the Demelza House charity.

In the quiet village of Mersham, just outside Ashford, the eagle-eyed were often treated to an unheralded visit by some very senior members of the royal family.

Before her death in 2017, at her home in the village, Countess Mountbatten of Burma would host the likes of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales when they were 'off-duty'.

As third cousin to the Queen, the families were close - her father, Earl Mountbatten had a special bond with a young Prince Charles. She was on the fishing boat off the coast of Ireland blown up by an IRA bomb in 1979 - killing Earl Mountbatten and her 14-year-son, Nicholas.

Her daughter, Lady Amanda Knatchbull's wedding at Ashford's St Mary's Parish Church in 1987 saw a turn out of all the major royals - with the exception of Princess Diana - to the church service and then back to Mersham, with crowds lining the route.

Queen Victoria

A plaque, commemorating Queen Victoria's visits to the Hotel Du Vin, Crescent Road, Tunbridge Wells before her accession to the throne is unveiled. Picture by Andy Payton
A plaque, commemorating Queen Victoria's visits to the Hotel Du Vin, Crescent Road, Tunbridge Wells before her accession to the throne is unveiled. Picture by Andy Payton

The links to Queen Victoria, who reigned between 1837 and 1901, with the county are perhaps naturally strong. She was, after all, the only daughter of the then Duke and Duchess of Kent.

And as you wind your way up and out of Ramsgate's picturesque marina, it would be easy to drive by a place of royal relevance. Because in what is now the Albion House hotel, is the room in which Victoria stayed as a child with her mother and Sir John Conroy, the Duchess' confidante and advisor.

It was there, in 1835, and at the age 16, she suffered a severe fever and had to be nursed back to good health - apparently using a secret tunnel to take her down to the beach. They were no stranger to Ramsgate - she'd stayed in the town as a four-year-old where she played with other children and enjoyed donkey rides.

They were also regular visitors to Tunbridge Wells at the opposite end of the county - attending services at the Church of King Charles the Martyr in the Pantiles. She stayed at what was then Calverley House - now the swanky Hotel du Vin, opposite the town centre police station.

The town would be given its 'Royal' status by Victoria's successor to the throne, Edward VII.

The Queen

The Queen visits Invicta Park Barracks, Maidstone.Picture: Matthew Walker (7504901)
The Queen visits Invicta Park Barracks, Maidstone.Picture: Matthew Walker (7504901)

The list of royal visits stretch long and wide with the Queen a regular visitor.

In 1989 she attended the Kent Show - deciding to return to Windsor by train. Thus a special service was laid on from nearby Bearsted Station to get her back home and not disrupt the busy Friday night commuter service.
She visited Brompton Barracks in Medway in 2007, Invicta Barracks in Maidstone in 2011 and bid farewell to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders when they left their long-time home of Howe Barracks in Canterbury in 2013.

Margate received a visit from her and the Duke of Edinburgh in November 2011, and in 2015, on a damp and gloomy day, she officially opened The Wing - a tribute to the Battle of Britain at Capel-le-Ferne, near Folkestone.

A few majestic days for Kent

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visiting Whitstable Oyster FestivalPicture: Gary BrowneKMG/Royal Rota FM2721766 (7504795)
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visiting Whitstable Oyster FestivalPicture: Gary BrowneKMG/Royal Rota FM2721766 (7504795)

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla made a visit to the Whitstable Oyster Festival 2013, while two years later, a heavily pregnant Duchess of Cambridge toured Margate - including the Turner Contemporary.

Prince Harry officially opened the First World War Memorial Arch in Folkestone in 2014.

Going back in time, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (who would later become the Queen Mother) toured Folkestone and Dover during 1944 as part of the war effort on one of a number of visits during the conflict.

King Edward VIII may have been a 'blink and you missed him' monarch in the 1930s (he abdicated less than a year after taking the throne after triggering a constitutional crisis over his proposed marriage to US divorcee Wallis Simpson), but prior to handing over the crown to his younger brother and becoming the Duke of Windsor, Edward, as the Prince of Wales, had been a regular on the royal circuit.

Prince Harry in Folkestone. Picture: Gary Browne
Prince Harry in Folkestone. Picture: Gary Browne

And in 1928, in that capacity, he attended the South East Counties Agricultural Society event held in Tunbridge Wells. The future King was cheered by enormous crowds, all waving their hats, as he toured the site.

And no round-up of royalty in Kent would be complete without the obligatory reference to the rich history - and royal patronage - of the county's many castles.

Dover Castle hosted visits by the likes of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, while Leeds Castle was in royal ownership dating back to the 13th century and King Edward. Henry VIII took a particular shine to it and is acknowledged for transforming it into a royal palace.

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