Royal visit marks anniversary of Morpeth's Chantry

THE Princess Royal was greeted with flowers and music as she visited Morpeth on Wednesday.

She was in town to mark the 21st anniversary of the Chantry's official opening by Princess Margaret.

This was meant to happen last October but the trip had to be postponed because the 13th Century building was washed out by flood water.

The engagement was not forgotten and she was able to see the major makeover carried out at the home of the Tourist Information Office, Bagpipe Museum and Northumbria Craft Centre.

Before entering the Chantry, she was given a bouquet of flowers by three-year-old Emily Reed who lives in Longhirst and treated to traditional Northumbrian folk songs such as Lads of North Tyne and Rothbury Hills by Chantry Middle School's Ceilidh Band.

She was met by the Vice Lord Lieutenant Captain Professor Iain Moffat and was introduced to a group of dignitaries — John Blackett-Ord, High Sheriff of Northumberland, Ken Brown, Mayor of Morpeth, Chairman of Northumberland County Council David Woodard and Vice Chair Marcia Bircham.

Once inside, the Princess met groups of people including owners of businesses in nearby Chantry Place that were hit by the flood, councillors and officials, Northumbrian pipers and people involved with the Bagpipe Museum.

This included a performance of The Curlew's Return by piper Ann Sessoms, whilst she also spoke to volunteers who helped to rescue valuable instruments, books and equipment from the museum on the day of the flood.

She was taken round the building by Dawn Goodwill-Evans, who was its Manager for 24 years including the preparation work for its opening.

"She is a delightful lady and she made people feel very special when talking to them because she listened intently to what they were saying," said Mrs Goodwill-Evans, now Sales Development Co-ordinator for Northumberland County Council.

"The architecture of the building and its former uses came up during her visit and she wanted to know the extent of the flooding and damage caused.

"She thought the Chantry was beautifully renovated and enjoyed the music played by the school pupils."

Lynn Oxley had her chocolate shop Oxley's of Morpeth in Chantry Place and her home in Middle Greens flooded.

"Princess Anne was very nice and spent more than her scheduled time listening to us about our situations," she said.

"It was lovely to be invited and we were able to speak about how we are getting things back to normal and the fantastic support of the local community."

Northumberland County councillor Milburn Douglas worked at the Chantry in the late 1950s and early 1960s when it was a pop bottle factory.

He said: "I have many good memories of my time working in this building and it was fantastic to be here to meet the Princess Royal, as I believe she has a genuine feel for community spirit."

"She was very down to earth and interested in the Chantry building itself as well as how it recovered from the flood and was refurbished."

And fellow councillor Glen Sanderson said: "Her interest in what has happened here shows that the Royal Family do care about people and the visit is a fitting tribute to the staff who have worked so hard to get it up and running again so quickly."

The authority's Museums Officer North, Anne Moore, was impressed that the Princess Royal spoke to people who she was not scheduled to talk to.

"We were pleased to tell her that there have been more visitors to the museum now that there is a lift to take people to the first floor where it is located," she added.

"And her visit shows that the people hit by the flood who have yet to return to their homes have not been forgotten."

The Princess then met residents of the Middle Greens area, which was devastated by the floods, representatives of local voluntary organisations and the Morpeth Flood Action Group in the Chantry Gardens.

She was applauded by a large crowd as she walked to meet groups of people at Carlisle Park, which celebrates the 80th anniversary of its opening this year.