Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh: His relationship with the West Country

From speaking to people after disastrous flooding to making history by becoming the first to cross The Severn on the new bridge and later sailing in to Bristol on the SS Great Britain, The Duke of Edinburgh made many visits to the West Country.

The Duke was - in the Queen’s words - her “strength and stay”, and that was apparent during the many royal engagements he undertook with her.

But The Duke of Edinburgh also made visits alone - and his relationship with the West Country will never be forgotten.

Scenes of devastation in Lynmouth in 1952

The Duke of Edinburgh visited local people affected by disastrous floods in Devon. Credit: Pathe

In 1952 the Duke of Edinburgh witnessed the scene of devastation in Lynmouth. 

Homes had been destroyed after a storm with heavy rainfall combined with already saturated soil, flooding the village and claiming 34 lives.

Prince Philip visited the Devon village after the floods, witnessing he devastating scenes left behind.

Wendy Marker told ITV News West Country: “My parents, my grandparents, they’d all lost everything. All we had was what we stood up in.

“Back in those days, The Duke of Edinburgh coming, that was something special.

“Nearly all of Lynton and Lynmouth was out.

“It meant everything to people who hadn’t got anything. It gave them a boost - just the fact that somebody cared.”

He returned 50 years later to hear the stories of survivors.

Tree-planting in Eggersford Forest in 1956

Prince Philip was an activist for conservation work. Credit: Pathe

Prince Philip and The Queen visited Eggersford Forest in Devon in 1956 to celebrate the achievements of the forestry commission.

They planted a tree and spoke to local forestry commission staff and various dignitaries there on the day. 

He was presented with a ‘slasher’ - a tool used for marking trees.

A new lifeboat station opening in 1961

Prince Philip on his visit to a new station in Cornwall. Credit: Pathe

Prince Philip was always at home on the water and in 1961 hundreds of people gathered to see the then-40-year-old visit The Lizard, in Cornwall.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s visit was to mark the opening of a new lifeboat station.

Dr Geoffrey Wood, former RNLI chairman, said: “The sheer quantity of the effort and work he put in to public appearances was just incredible. He really worked hard at it.

“Of course he gave up his naval career to take it on and he did an excellent job.”

The Severn Bridge opening in 1966

The Duke accompanied the Queen on the first crossing of the 'Gateway to Wales'. Credit: Pathe

Thousands of people gathered for the grand opening of the Severn Bridge in 1966, with the Queen and Prince Philip becoming the first to cross The Severn river on the bridge.

Beachley resident Liz McBride said: “We’d seen it being built, obviously, and we’d received an invitation to go on to the bridge.

“The cavalcade came past us with Her Majesty, Prince Philip and Prince Charles. We were all jostling to get to the front, everybody was cheering and shouting.” 

Tim Ryan added: “There were so many people there. There were raised banks of scaffolding seats - there were thousands of people there.

“We saw The Queen’s car coming up the sliproad.

“It was just so exciting, it was just brilliant.” 

The £8million Severn Bridge opened in 1966, marking a “new gateway to Wales”.

Liz McBride said:“It was the last day of the ferry which was quite sad. To be honest, going over to Bristol was a bit like going to another country because you had to go on the ferry to get there. So the first time going over the bridge was really quite exciting.

Sailing in on the SS Great Britain

The Duke of Edinburgh was on board as Brunel's ship returned to Bristol.

Prince Philip also helped make history in 1970, as he travelled onboard Brunel’s SS Great Britain on its triumphant return to Bristol.

The Duke was a big supporter of the restoration project and spent “six or seven hours” looking around the ship.

Capt Chris Young, Vice President of the SS Great Britain Trust, said: “He was going around precarious walkways and up staircases and things like that, with one arm in a sling.

“But then one of the volunteers who was up on the deck - which was very, very fragile, came through. Well he didn’t come through but a lot of stuff came down - so we thought disaster was about to strike but all was well.” 

A visit to Devises in 2004

The Duke rode through Devizes before visiting a local brewery.

A keen sports enthusiast, Prince Philip helped develop the equestrian event of carriage driving.

He visited Wadsworth Brewery in Devises in 2004, meeting staff.

Wadworth chairman Charles Bartholomew said: “The Duke of Edinburgh was incredibly good with people, he talked to absolutely everybody that he met.

“He drove the dray through the town which was amazing because it was raining really hard.

“There were lots of people in the town, lots of children wearing flags. It was really good fun and I hope he enjoyed it.”

From Windsor to Weymouth… A trip to the beach in 2009

Prince Philip was welcomed to Weymouth with a sand sculpture of his home, Buckingham Palace.

The Queen and Prince Philip made a visit to Weymouth in 2009, where the Duke was particularly charmed by a sand sculpture of Windsor Castle.

Speaking in 2009, sand sculptor Mark Anderson said: “He was pointing out various rooms in the castle and sort of saying ‘oh that’s where we have tea’.

“They were both very impressed and congratulated us on our hard works and our efforts.

  • Photographer looks back on his interactions with the Duke of Edinburgh

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