Returning Royal

When Doncaster needed Royalty to open a new Museum and Art Gallery, a shopping mall and a Country house, Princess Margaret stepped forward on each occasion.

Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery opening with Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon, 1964.
Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery opening with Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon, 1964.

Doncaster Museum and Art gallery was established as a corporation-run facility in Beechfield House, Waterdale during 1909 but collections soon outgrew space available. On October 23, 1964, Princess Margaret opened the town’s new £250,000 Museum and Art Gallery in Chequer Road.

Wearing a lime-green hopsack double breasted coat teamed with a large-brimmed brown velvet hat with matching dark brown crocodile shoes and handbag, Princess Margaret completed her outfit with a mink neckband and double string of pearls.

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At the new Museum and Art Gallery, Princess Margaret stepped on to a small platform in the foyer of the building, before an invited audience of about 200 people.

Brodsworth Hall roof work, 1992.

She was accompanied by her husband, the Earl of Snowdon, as well as the Earl and Countess of Rosse (the Earl had laid the foundation stone for the new building in 1962) and the Viscountess de Vesci.

The Princess said: “I believe this is the first Museum and Art Gallery to be built in Britain since the War and wholly out of the rate funds. Doncaster can be justly proud of setting an example in something of such lasting value to the community at large.”

Coun Clark said the director and his staff had worked day and night in preparation for the opening day, and he acknowledged the help and generosity of the Carnegie United Kingdom Trusts.

The new building provided approx. 26,000 square feet of exhibition floor space and had a professional staff of eight. In the Art Gallery which occupied most of the first floor of the two-storey building, many of the pictures were hung on moveable screens. Downstairs, in the museum, the showcases, made by local firms to the design of the staff, were also moveable.

Princess Margaret at Brodsworth Hall in 1995.

The Princess returned to Doncaster on July 6, 1976 to open the town’s Arndale Shopping Centre (now the Frenchgate Shopping Centre). The first phase of the centre was opened in 1968. At that time Mayor and Alderman Mrs Elsie Stenson, describing her impressions of the new enterprise said: “Doncaster is said to have lost its soul, but it has certainly gained a new heart.”

Planned from the early 1960s, the massive development resulted in a large area of properties, bounded by Frenchgate, St Sepulchre Gate, Trafford Street, Factory Lane and Station Road, being demolished. Amongst those cleared were a number of well known public houses including the Angel & Royal Hotel where Queen Victoria had once stopped overnight. Many favourite stores were also cleared like Hodgson & Hepworths and a colossal Co-op building as well as other buildings of architectural merit.

Whilst the development company, the Arndale Property Trust, was acquiring much of the required property in the area, a local newspaper on August 9, 1962 reported big scale development was creating many problems and difficulties in the centre of Doncaster. A question was also posed: ‘Is the [small shopkeeper] being driven out by the big boys because he cannot compete, nor pay the high rentals being asked for the modern impressive premises now mushrooming up?’

A large crowd waited to greet Princess Margaret outside the Arndale Centre which was thronged with shoppers and shop assistants who had been given a few minutes off to see her. Those who lined the balcony had the best view as the Princess walked along the malls after meeting, Jeffrey Stirling, chairman of Town and City Properties, Sam Chippindale, and others associated with the design and construction of the £6.3m shopping complex.

Princess Margaret goes on a walkabout at Doncaster Arndale Centre in 1976.

There was a bouquet for Princess Margaret from Sam Chippindale’s granddaughter, Francesca after she had pulled aside the blue velvet curtain covering a plaque, which formed part of a permanent display on the theme of a chronicle of Doncaster. As the Princess moved away to walk along the West Mall, the local Armthorpe-Elmfield Band, under their leader Haydn Griffiths played Aint she Sweet.

On July 5, 1995 Princess Margaret was in Brodsworth, a few miles west of Doncaster town centre, to officially open Brodsworth Hall to the public. Greeting the royal guest, chairman of English Heritage, Jocelyn Stevens, said: “This is a special day for Brodsworth Hall and for English Heritage.

“Five years ago we were entrusted with Brodsworth Hall, a marvellous Victorian house and its contents and today sees the result of what has been a painstaking conservation project.”

After being greeted by local dignitaries, Princess Margaret was given a tour of the grand country mansion. The Princess asked staff about some of hall’s exquisite furniture and requested an unscheduled peek into the ‘upstairs downstairs’ era kitchen.

Brodsworth Hall built in the 1860s was handed over to English Heritage by the late Pamela Williams, the building’s last private owner. When English Heritage took possession mining subsidence and damp had left it decaying.

At the opening ceremony, Mrs William’s husband, Ronald Williams, handed over a dress sword belonging to the mansion’s original owner, Charles Thellusson.