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From Norwich to Nairobi: Queen Elizabeth II & Coventry cars

12 September 2022

Reflecting on royal visits recorded in the Rootes Group's photographic archives

A black and white photograph of HM Queen Elizabeth II in an open top car, smiling and waving towards the camera. A crowd of people have gathered to watch, and there is bunting hanging from street lamps in the background.

Her Majesty The Queen during the Royal Tour of Whyalla, South Australia, entering Toowoomba Show Ground

During the early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, Coventry was a major motor manufacturing city, exporting vehicles around the world as well as selling them in the UK. 

Soon after her coronation in 1952, the Queen embarked on a Royal Tour, visiting several Commonwealth countries in a journey that was documented by the Rootes Group, which produced luxury cars in which the Queen herself travelled, including the Humber Pullman Landaulette. The Rootes Group photographs are now held by Culture Coventry in the Coventry Archives at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum

As well as international tours, Rootes photographers also documented domestic journeys, including the then-Princess Elizabeth’s visit to Coventry in 1948, during which she was invited to a display of local vehicles at the War Memorial Park, as well as overseeing the official opening of Broadgate and celebrating the start of the city’s post-war regeneration. Written captions report that Princess Elizabeth took an active interest in the car exhibits, having "gained first-hand knowledge of motor mechanics during the war". Another photograph shows her return to the city in 1956, when she laid the foundation stone of the new Cathedral.

As we reflect on Queen Elizabeth II's life and legacy, we're revealing a few of the photographs held in our archive, which you can browse below (captions are given below the images). If you would like to see any of the photographs in-person, Coventry Archives is open Wednesday – Friday, 10.30am – 3.30pm. Find out more about browsing our online collections catalogue and visiting the archives centre here.

A black and white photograph of the queen stepping out of a car and being greeted by a man in ceremonial attire (possibly a priest). Crowds are gathered and flags are waving in the background behind the car.
Her Majesty The Queen arrives at St Andrews Church, Nairobi, 2nd February 1952

 

A black and white photograph of Queen Elizabeth II walking away from a long line of Humber cars, accompanied the Duke of Edinburgh and a small group of others including a man in a ceremonial gown and mayoral chain. Behind them, a large crowd of people has gathered beside the cars.

Humber cars for the Royal Tour of Australia and New Zealand, 1953

 

A black and white photograph of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh driving past crowds of people in an open-top Humber car

Her Majesty The Queen photographed during the Royal Progress at Yallourn, Victoria, 3rd March 1953

 

Queen Elizabeth II wearing a light summer dress, stepping out of the Humber Pullman Landaulette onto a carpet as a man holds open the door for her. Other men attend around the carpet and a ramp front left. Behind them is a large, flat expanse of ground.

Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh alighting from the Humber Pullman Landaulette when they visited H.M.Cy.S. Vijaya on April 11th 1954. The area forming the background of the photograph had recently been reclaimed by suction dredging to build the new Passenger Quay which Her Majesty named ‘Queen Elizabeth Quay’ during her visit. The Royal Yacht ‘Gothic’ was the first ship to tie up alongside this new Quay. Up to this time all ships in Colombo Harbour discharged passenger and freight by lighter.

 

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh attending the Chicago International Trade Fair on 6 July 1959, visiting the British Automobile Manufacturers’ exhibit of eight different makes of English cars, including Austin, Austin-Healey, Hillman, Humber, Jaguar, Morris, Rolls-Royce and Triumph.

(left to right) Queen Elizabeth; Prince Philip; Thomas H. Coulter, Director of the Chicago Fair; John Dugdale, Vice-President of the British Automobile Manufacturers Association; John Panks, Chairman of B.A.M.A. and Managing Director of Rootes Motors Inc.; and Richard Yorke, Vice-President of Rolls-Royce Inc. Accompanying the Royal party were Mr John G. Diefenbaker, Canadian Prime Minister; the Governor of Illinois; and the Mayor of Chicago.

 

A black and white photograph of the then Princess Elizabeth stepping out of a Coventry car and being greeted by the Lord Bishop in Norwich.

Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth being received by the Right Reverend The Lord Bishop at the Cathedral in Norwich

 

A black and white photo of Princess Elizabeth looking at a display of vehicles in the War Memorial Park, Coventry

Princess Elizbeth looks at a Sunbeam-Talbot car - part of a Rootes Group display of locally made vehicles, exhibited in the War Memorial Park during her visit to Coventry for the official opening of Broadgate on 22nd May 1948

A caption on the reverse of the image reads: "When Princess Elizabeth visited Coventry to unbeil the tablet commemorating the early stages of the rebuilding of the City Centre (blitzed in 1940), she spend a considerable time inspecting the special exhibition of Coventry's industries set up in Memorial Park. The Princess, who gained first-hand knowledge of Motor Mechanics during the war, was particularly interested in the car exhibits."

 

Princess Elizabeth looking at a Humber Super Snipe on display as part of the Rootes Group exhibit in Coventry's War Memorial Park in 1948

Princess Elizbeth's passes a Humber Super-Snipe - part of a Rootes Group display of locally made vehicles, exhibited in the War Memorial Park during her visit to Coventry for the official opening of Broadgate on 22nd May 1948

 

A black and white photograph of Princess Elizabeth looking at a Commer Superpoise van, part of the Rootes Group display in Coventry's War Memorial Park in 1948

Princess Elizbeth's looks at a Commer Superpoise Van - part of a Rootes Group display in the War Memorial Park during her visit to Coventry for the official opening of Broadgate on 22nd May 1948

 

A photograph of Queen Elizabeth II leaving Coventry Council House in 1956, a car waiting outside to collect her

Her Majesty The Queen accompanied by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, leaving the Council House in Coventry after the Civil Luncheon, during her visit to the city on 23rd March 1956. The photograph shows (left to right): Mrs Dewis, Lord Mayor Alderman D.H. Dewis, H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh and H.M. The Queen.

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