January 28, 2011

Royalty in Richmond

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I just finished a book set in Yorkshire.  You don’t need to know its title because it wasn’t very good and I’ll recommend a better book later on.  The point here is that it got me thinking about Richmond, a splendid market town in North Yorkshire which I visited a few years back.   I am in possession of a family genealogy that traces my family to this particular town in the year 1000.  I visited it on the same trip to England wherein I got a look at St Margaret of Clitherow’s hand ( so you can imagine the scale of the highlights of that trip.

I was booked to stay two nights at The King’s Head hotel in Richmond.  (What does that mean exactly?  Did they erect a hotel after a be-heading?  Kind of like apartments in the states are named after whatever got torn down to clear the land—the Willow Grove Apartments, for example, when there’s not a willow in a 5 mile radius.  There wasn’t a severed head anywhere that I could see which just illustrates my point.  And this was before I saw St Margaret’s hand.)

In any case, when I learned that Charles and Camilla were coming on the day I was leaving, I immediately booked a third night.

I was up early that third morning and went for a walk.  Someone was collecting minute bits of trash in the square and bagging it.  All the dustbins had been shrink-wrapped—no place for a bomb to hide.  I overheard the comment, “They were paintin’ the flagstones. Paint’s not even dry.  Mind you, if it takes a royal visit to get things done, we all come out right.”

The royals were not expected til noon but I was rushed out of a shop at “just gone ten.”  “Can I ring you up a card, luv, because we’re closing for the royal visit, He’s sometimes early.”   This was being promoted as the first royal visit to Richmond in 200 years so it seemed rather sweet to hope He would be early.

By “half ten” the crowd was massing in the large, oddly shaped market square.  Lines of schoolchildren in uniforms and paper crowns, waving tiny Union Jacks streamed into the square.  Women in huge flowery hats and their best shoes stood, smiling and animated. A military band started to play.  When they launched into “All Through the Night,” I started to cry, having what I call a “little containment problem.”

The news went around that They had arrived. I stationed myself behind a class of children, figuring I looked like a teacher and would get my best view over the tops of their heads.  Also it was very hot, and I didn’t think the Royals would make children wait in the heat for long.  I said as much to a woman in a flowery green hat and fine shoes who raised her eyebrows and said “Oh, they’ll make them wait.”

We all waited for an hour.  Then the royal guards appeared in their furry busby hats looking like the wicked witch’s guards in The Wizard of Oz.  The town council swept through in black robes and white wigs, carrying scepters.  And suddenly, there was Camilla.  She shook my hand.  What that means is that she came though and grabbed every out-stretched hand that she could and squeezed it slightly.  She looked like someone who never thought this would happen to her.  So she looked rather like I felt.

Charles halted for a bit of a chat with the busby standing a foot from me.  The lady in the green flowery hat and I eavesdropped shamelessly.  They chatted about the garrison outside of town and how long the young man had been in the military. Boy, he would have something to tell his mum that night!  I wanted in the worst way to take a photo but I was afraid of the Royal Disapproval should a flash go off right in His face and He were to find out I was an American on top of that.

After I returned to Seattle, I discovered a writer named Robert Barnard who sets all his very literate mysteries in Yorkshire. One of his books is called Fete Fatale in the states. In England its title is The Disposal of the Living which in this case is a clever pun since the murder involves a rector.  A rector’s right to the tithe from his church is called “a living.”

Here is his description of Hexton-on-Weir, the town in the book: “A town of stone houses, most of them very old and slightly cramped, centered around a town square which is not a square but a highly irregular form unknown to geometry.  In the centre is a church which . . .  has been turned into a museum to a famous regiments whose barracks are a few miles outside of town.”

The description goes on but I didn’t need to read more.  I shrieked, “But that’s Richmond!  It’s Richmond!”

Here is where living with only cats is dis-satisfying. They opened an eye a piece, checked their watches to see if there was the remotest chance it could be meal time, and went back to sleep.

I wanted to call up everyone in my address book and say, “Hey guess what? I started reading this book and the author says his fictitious town is really a real town and from the description, I could tell it was Richmond!  It’s Richmond!  Okay, goodbye, I have 37 other people to call!!”

The last thing I want to say about Richmond (for now) is that there’s a Richmond Castle whose Norman ruins are lovingly maintained. So there was yet another reason I didn’t want to do something so down-market as flash a photo in Prince Charles’ face. I am a Richmond, after all.  I have a certain dignity to maintain in that town.

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