Queen Elizabeth II opening MediaCityUK IMAGE p.Peel Group

Queen Elizabeth II opening MediaCityUK in Salford in 2012. Image courtesy of Peel Group

Raise a glass ‘To the Queen, the Duke of Lancaster’

The toast is “The Duke of Lancaster”.

How many times has that been said at dinners and events in the North West since the current Duke – the Queen – assumed the title in 1952? The answer is, many thousands. Several hundred of them have been property industry gatherings.

And it would be easy to assume that the connections between Queen Elizabeth II and the North West ended more or less there, with the formal black tie dinners, and the quaint historical wrinkle that she’s a Duke, not a Queen, in this part of the world. All you need is to add a few details: HMQ’s fondness for the Forest of Bowland, her proverbial unfondness for rowdy Manchester – and there you have it. Job done.

But that wouldn’t be quite right.

First, there’s some cold financial logic. A sense of stability is one of the things that encourages investors to splurge on UK real estate (in the process, building the offices, warehouses, factories and shops we need). Of course, to residents, the UK has recently felt as stable as a jelly. But to the rest of the world it looks solid as a rock – and having the same head of state for 70 years contributes massively to the sense that nothing here is going to change, much. Of course, it also infuriates anyone who would prefer change – but that might be useful grit in their oysters?

Second, although the daily royal presence in the North West is small compared to its daily round in London, it nonetheless adds up to something. Manchester’s Olympic and Commonwealth bids got some royal heave-ho. And it is no accident that it was the recipients of royal honours – Sir Richard and Sir Howard – who guided Manchester’s recovery from the despondency of the 1980s. The knighthoods said what no amount of back-patting could have managed.

‘A human life is a measurable, understandable thing in a way that so many other metrics aren’t’

Yet, perhaps the real significance of Her Majesty’s long reign for the region’s economy and property business lies elsewhere. Because there’s no escaping that the cities of this region have sometimes taken a sceptical view of the showy glittery bits of our constitution. And there’s no escaping that, however fond the sentiment, the region has had plenty of urgent non-royal things on its mind since 1952.

So the answer is probably this: a human life is a measurable, understandable thing in a way that so many other metrics aren’t.  No matter how many times you see a chart proving GDP has grown by this much over that long, it can’t possibly signify as much as the span of a life lived, enjoyed, and endured.

From the glittering empire to industrial decline

Manchester, in 1952, was still one of the (dwindling) Empire’s mighty engines, Salford its essential in-out valve. If you’ve seen the film, A Taste of Honey (and if you haven’t you should) you’ll know what it looked like: soot-black but busy. The Midland was as grand as the Savoy, and the theatres premiered as many shows as London’s West End.

The mill towns that surrounded it were still clothing the nation.

Liverpool was one of the major gateways to the world, particularly to the US on whose goodwill and money we still largely depended, and also a cultural petri dish about to bloom into amazing growth. Preston was an industrial and commercial force to be reckoned with, Chester one of the most stately of affluent Cathedral cities.

And then along came the horrors. The empire the North West was built to serve (and exploit) vanished, industrial decline became endemic, and populations plunged.

That 70-year span – an adult lifetime – has seen the North West recover much of its vitality and a good (but still inadequate) share of its wealth. There is work still to be done, the task is not finished, but it makes it easier to grasp the extent of the task if one imagines the baton being handed on from one generation to another.

And that is what royalty – if it works, and at its best – allows us to imagine. One life ends, another picks up the tasks left undone, and we all move on together.

Your Comments

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What a thoughtful article. Thank you.

By Chris Barry

Queen Victoria reign was a time of great importance and economic success for North West in contrast to Queen Elizabeth whose reign coincide with its decline in power and wealth to the benefit of London.

By Anonymous

The Queen was a remarkable person with great qualities, but she was first and foremost the head of the Southern establishment, which has controlled Britain for the benefit of those living inside the M25, since time began, even when the North was rich and vibrant. They took all our money and now carp, because they feel they have to subsidise our decline, with little awareness that the City of London became rich because our factories, mines and Steel Mills, provided the income to make it so.

By Elephant

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