Nostalgia - A Royal visit to Outer Hebrides in 1956

This article is a report of Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal family's visit to Stornoway from 1956.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 19th October 2018, 1:24 pm
Updated Friday, 19th October 2018, 1:27 pm
The Royal yacht Britannia berthed at Number 1 Pier. The picture, taken from Gallows Hill in Lews Castle Grounds, provides a stunning viewpoint of the impressive vessel. Inset are the Royal family on a tour of the town, with a mini Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
The Royal yacht Britannia berthed at Number 1 Pier. The picture, taken from Gallows Hill in Lews Castle Grounds, provides a stunning viewpoint of the impressive vessel. Inset are the Royal family on a tour of the town, with a mini Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

In a perfect balance between impressive ceremony and friendly informality was the outstanding feature of Lewis’ welcome to the Queen in 1956.

Stornoway resisted the temptation to imitate a big city, but graced the occasion with just that touch of form which befitted a town of its importance.

There were two bands on the pier, a spick and span Guard of Honour and the dress uniforms of general and admirals.

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But the Duke, driving an open car with the Queen beside him, and the two Royal children waving from the back seat, were the very picture of informality.

It was a happy family outing and a sight which still further endeared the Royal family to the people of Lewis.


Compared with other ports of call in the Western Isles, Stornoway must have looked like a Metropolis form the deck of the Royal yacht as she sailed into the Loch on Saturday morning.

It didn’t seem like Saturday morning at all. Indeed, it was like no other day anyone could remember.

Hundreds of people were packed on No. 2 pier, so close together and so near the edge that more than a few officials trembled every time they looked at it.

It was very surprising that no one was pushed over the side.

South Beach was a solid mass of people and the crowd stretched from the top of No.1 pier to beyond the Town Hall.

There it thinned out a bit but there was a strong contingent at the curing station who had an excellent view of the Royal couple, over the heads of the crowd hung strings of small flags, limp in the still air.

The crowd was quiet and orderly and there was very little jostling for positions.

The police, including small reinforcements from Ross-shire and Inverness walked up and down the narrow lanes left in the middle of the streets for the Royal entourage.

They wore their medals and white gloves and shared in the spirit of the occasion by managing to look as though the only purpose of their presence was to add a little colour.

They did not glare menacingly at the crowds as we have seen other policeman do on such occasions.

The crowd fairly bristled with cameras as the Royal yacht came alongside No. 1 pier. The vessel was an ideal subject.

There was a great deal of coming and going on the pier before the Royal party came ashore.

Sailors and their officers came and went and the Master of the ship hurried about the decks.

Then two sailors appeared, running along the boat decks.


Only their heads could be seen at first, but when they passed a low part of the railing it was seen that they were playing with Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

The children scampered about the decks for a while and then came to peer over the side at the crowds.

Some people on No.2 pier spotted them and gave them a cheer and Anne acknowledged by trying to climb over the side. She was hauled back by one of the sailors.

Later she decided to discipline the sailor by landing a few well aimed punches on his chest but at that point the pipe band began to play and she became more interested in that.

The crowd laughed as she made wide gestures with her arms. It was difficult to decide whether she was conducting the band or imitating her brother.

Charles took a much more sober view of things, standing solemnly listening to the music with his head on one side.

The Royal party were about ten minutes late in coming ashore. The Duke of Edinburgh appeared in a doorway at the exact time appointed for them to land, but he turned back.


When, at last, the Queen appeared, there was a loud cheer from No. 2 pier which was taken up by the people in South Beach, although they could not yet see Her Majesty.

Provost AJ Mackenzie, OBE, DSC, DL, JP. Admiral The Hon. Rupert Drummond, CB, MVO, DL and their wives, were the first local dignitaries to meet the Queen.

Also on the pier were the Lt. General Sir Richard O’Connor and Lady O‘Connor and Major Sir John Stirling, County Convenor, both of whom had come from the mainland for the occasion. The Provost’s wife presented a bouquet to the Queen.

After presentations by the Lord Lt. And the Provost, the Queen and the Duke got into their open Hillman and the Duke drove off.

As they passed under the triumphal arch of heather and greenery which spanned the pier from the east side of the Maritime Buildings, Her Majesty looked up admiringly at it.

It had been constructed by Mr George Newhall and the sign ‘Failte Do Leodhas’, the centrepiece, had been painted by Stomoway signwriter, Mr Alex MacLeod.


The Queen’s Paper Knife Stomoway’s gift to the Queen a golden ‘Cutag’, is the knife used by women for gutting herring, honouring the skill of all the island women who have followed the fishing and bears the inscription:

‘Presented by the Town Council of Stornoway to Her Most Gracious Majesty to commemorate Her visit with His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, 18th August, 1956’.

The blade of the knife is of gold, the handle is of Scottish oak. The inscription is on a gold band along one side of the handle.

Along the other side there is a similar gold band with the town’s crest and the motto, “God’s Providence is Our Inheritance”.

On the blade of the paper knife are the words, ‘Replica of a Lewis ‘cutag’.