CHEERS and bells rang out across Blackburn town centre to welcome the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh for one of the most important royal occasions of the year.
Thousands lined the streets, waving flags to welcome the Head of State and her husband, who arrived at Blackburn Railway Station by royal train before making their way the town’s Cathedral for the historic Maundy Thursday service.
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Royalists young and old had spent the morning waiting for the couple, several wearing Union Jack fancy dress, so they could cheer as the royal procession went past.
Some had even been there since the early hours of the morning to get the best vantage point possible to catch a glimpse of the Queen.
It was the first time in Blackburn’s history the important royal ceremony was held at the cathedral, as well as a first for the county. During the service the Queen presented specially minted Maundy money to the 88 men and 88 women from across Lancashire, who had been nominated for their good Christian works.
It is the only service throughout the year in which the Queen actually travels to meet recipients, an echo of the act of humility Jesus carried out after the Last Supper of washing his disciples feet.
After waving to excited supporters outside the Railway Station, the royal party travelled slowly along the Boulevard and then Church Street, which was thronged with wellwishers.
A fleet of police motorcycles had heralded the Queen’s arrival, as the clergy stood and waited at the West Door, holding bouquets of flowers.
Just behind came three cars carrying dignitaries, including Blackburn mayor Coun Salim Mulla, and the town’s MP Jack Straw. Once the advanced party had been ushered into a side door of the cathedral, the Queen’s claret Rolls Royce pulled up outside, to the roar of cheers from the gathered crowd.
Her Majesty and Prince Philip stepped out of the car where they were greeted by the Bishop of Blackburn Julian Henderson, and the Dean of Blackburn Christopher Armstrong.
The Queen wore a printed woollen dress in cerise, grey and cream designed by Stuart Parvin. Over the top, she had a matching cashmere coat with black buttons down the front.
Her hat, also in a beautiful cerise colour, was designed by Angela K. Silver broaches in the shape of flowers and feathers were pinned to her coat and hat. The monarch topped off her elegant outfit with black patent leather shoes and black gloves.
The royal couple could be seen smiling broadly, and after a brief exchanging of conversation they were led inside. The moving service, which brought some of the Maundy recipients to tears, saw each of the nominated pensioners receive two leather pouches with coins inside.
The tradition, which dates back around 700 years, involved the Queen handing over the Maundy money to people who had given up their time to help their communities. Eighty eight men and 88 women were chosen to signify the Queen’s age.
After the hour long service, the Cathedral bells rang out once more and the Yeomen of the Guard started to take their places outside the Cathedral’s West Door. More Beefeaters lined up to form two lines on either side of the building’s door.
Next came the Maundy children, four local youngsters who took part in the service, and the clergy, closely followed by the Queen and Prince Philip, all holding flowers.
The party posed in front of the assembled group of photographers for official pictures, before the royal couple got back into their Rolls Royce and were driven away to Ewood Park for lunch with 98 invited guests from across Lancashire, including local dignitaries.
Prior to the meal the Queen held a private reception with Bishop and other leading members of the clergy.
As they passed through the crowds, the Queen smiled and wave to people, who waved flags and cheered loudly.
It was agreed by all that the occasion had been a great success and that Blackburn had done the royals proud.
Coun Mulla, who later enjoyed lunch sat next to the Queen, said: “It was an absolutely amazing day, it is one I will never forget.
“I’m on such a high after that experience, it was an incredible day for this town.
“From the service with so many local people being recognised for their work, to the fantastic lunch and the chance to speak for so long with the Queen, every minute was one to remember.”
Coun Kate Hollern, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said she spoke to the Duke about the work that was being done to renovate the town centre.
She said: “It was a fantastic day and it was a great honour for Blackburn.
“I was telling Prince Philip the Boulevard is being transformed and he said the hoardings looked interesting.
“It is difficult times with the renovations going on, but it showed Blackburn is still on the up and there is a lot happening.”
Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: “The Queen was amazing. I was watching her going down to speak to all of the beneficiaries and she had a smile for each one of them. It was extraordinary.
“I think it is fantastic for the town to host the Maundy service. The place has been buzzing in anticipation and will carry on buzzing.
“She was given the warmest of Lancashire welcomes.”
The Rt Rev Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, said: “It was incredibly humbling for me to be involved with this service and a massive privilege. To welcome the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to the Cathedral is something I’ll never forget.
“My predecessor never got the chance to do that, and in my first year it has fallen on me to do this Maundy service.
“It is a fantastic day for Lancashire and especially for the 176 people who were recognised for their service over the years.
“I spoke to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh briefly. It is a nice day for them, usually it is people going to the Palace for awards, but this is the one day a year when they come to their people.”