My memories of the Queen's visits to Oxford May 2,1968 and March 5,1976.


My memories of the Queen's visits to Oxford May 2,1968 and March 5,1976.


My Memories of the Queen’s visits to Oxford on 2 May 1968 and 5 March 1976.

When the Queen visited the City and University on 2 May 1968, I was a 25 year old graduate who had just been appointed to direct archaeological excavations in advance of the building of the original Westgate Centre. The City was keen to show Her Majesty signs of the impending St Ebbe’s redevelopment programme so the Lord Mayor decided that the highlight of this part of her visit would be to see the excavations. The excavations had only just begun so that the only clearly visible features were a series of 18th century cesspits belonging to houses in the former Church Street, St Ebbe’s. Nevertheless a marquee, furnished with a red carpet, was erected in the car park adjoining the excavations. The civic dignitaries were introduced to the Queen and then I nervously explained what we had found. Looking at the cesspits I explained how we were hoping to discover about the lives of the ordinary people of Oxford going back to Saxon times.

After her visit to St Ebbe’s, Her Majesty went on to lay the foundation of Wolfson College and to dine in Oriel College with the Provost who was Vice-Chancellor at the time. I was subsequently, told on very good authority, that the other most senior lady present at this dinner was Dame Kathleen Kenyon, the then formidable Principal of St Hugh’s College. Dame Kathleen was famous for her ground-breaking excavations at Jericho (the real Jericho, not Oxford’s Jericho). According to my informant, Dame Kathleen turned to The Queen and said that she had heard that Her Majesty had been to see the excavations in St Ebbe’s and presumed that there couldn’t have been much to see there. According to my informant Her Majesty replied that there had been plenty to see, and how important it was for people to learn about the past lives of the ordinary subjects of her predecessors. Apparently Dame Kathleen was left speechless.

On 5 March 1976, Her Majesty returned to Oxford. The City decided to show her the completed Westgate. On this occasion Prince Philip accompanied her. Apparently she specifically requested to see the results of the excavations which had by then uncovered not only domestic buildings, but 2 of the City’s streets, the site of St Budoc’s church, the outer defences of the Castle, and the church and part of the cloisters of the Greyfriars.

The Lord Mayor was due to welcome the royal party to the Westgate and then Douglas Murray, the City Architect, was going to explain the entire St Ebbe’s development with the aid of a model and I was due to show photographs and plans of the excavations, together with some of the more interesting finds.

The event got off to a shaky start when there was an IRA bomb scare. The police decided that it was probably just a hoax and advised that the visit should proceed. Just as the police made this announcement to the assembled silent and ashen faced civic dignitaries, my wife, Angela’s, alarm clock which she carried in her handbag for teaching purposes, went off loudly.

A second hiccup occurred when the Lord Mayor was so overwhelmed by the occasion that he became tongue tied. I ended up explaining about the redevelopment programme and Douglas Murray talked about the excavations.

At the end of the presentations Prince Philip turned to us and said ‘I wonder when this lot will be pulled down and excavated.’ Ironically the Prince lived long enough to see the very spot where he was speaking demolished and further excavations were indeed carried out on the Greyfriars by Oxford Archaeology.

My three sons, Oliver, Nicholas and Edward were allowed a day off school to see me talking to the Queen. The Oxford Mail described how each boy carried a Union Jack “but the big occasion had reduced all three to tongue-tied British understatement. ‘She’s all right,” was all Oliver, aged seven, could manage to stammer out to express his feelings about the Queen.”

Tom Hassall 16/05/2022


May 2, 1968 and March 5, 1976


Tom Hassall


Museum of Oxford


Tom Hassall






Written account

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