A freshly jet washed Bolton Town Hall seemed to almost glisten in the January sunshine as hundreds gathered in the town centre for the arrival of King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort. It was the first visit to the town by a Monarch since Queen Elizabeth II came some 35 years ago to officially open the Market Place Shopping Centre and the much beloved but now demolished Water Place in 1988.
Hundreds braved the brisk weather to get to got to Victoria Square nice and early to secure a spot to welcome the royal visitors. One group who had arrived around three hours before the visit, at 10am, had come prepared with King Charles masks, attached to sticks.
A security guard walked up and down the growing line telling people that photographs would be fine, while warning against asking the King of England and the Queen Consort for selfies. Another council worker also paced along the crowds but was handing out Union flags for people to wave.
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It is fair to say that not everyone in attendance was doing so out of love for the Royal Family and there was a small pocket of protestors, holding signs with phrases such as 'abolish the Monarchy'. However some of these were moved on by police and there was seemingly no repeat of recent incidents, where eggs have been thrown towards the King.
The visit was to mark the 150th anniversary of Bolton Town Hall and as it got closer to the scheduled arrival time of 12.55pm, 150 children from uniformed organisations such as local schools, Scouts, Cadets, and Guides began lining the steps. As the motorcade turned from the gorgeous Le Mans Crescent into Victoria Square and in turn into the view of the crowds in attendance, the place went crazy.
People were screaming, cheering, applauding, and waving their flags frantically. As the King and Queen Consort emerged from their car, they were greeted by a performance from Polish folk dance troupe Polonez Manchester.
Dancer Maryla Steadman told the Manchester Evening News: "It was an honour. A few of us got a cryptic message saying 'I need you to dance next Friday, get it off work, I can't tell you anything more but trust me' and then at practise we were told we were performing for the King and Queen Consort. I still can't believe it and it's already happened."
Some of the kids who met the royals were from Lostock Primary School and one young girl who shook his hand excitedly said: "I don't think I'm ever going to wash my hand again."
One of her classmates, Imogen Whittaker described King Charles III as an "amazing man" and added: "It's one of the most sensational moments of my life."
Their headteacher Vicky Guest said: "I shook his hand and said I love your family. I was incredibly overwhelmed, I was so excited.
"I'm so over the moon that we got the opportunity to meet him and the kids are so happy. He said it was lovely to meet us all. I'm proud of Bolton today, the town is looking its best."
Once inside the Town Hall, one of the first people that the King and Queen Consort were introduced to was Yaroslaw Tymchyshyn - the chairman of Bolton's Ukrainian Cultural Centre. Of the meeting, he said: "It's been exciting but also emotional because I've had to relay to His and Her Majesty some of the sad events of the past 12 months. It's been a rollercoaster which is now Ukrainian life.
"It was exhilarating as I was the first to be presented to His Majesty. The Queen Consort spent a good five minutes with us and she took a real interest in what I was relaying. She even had follow up questions."
They were then shown 'Going to the Match' - the 1953 L.S. Lowry painting inspired by Bolton Wanderers' old stadium Burnden Park. Julia Fawcett, chief executive of The Lowry, which recently bought the painting for a record-breaking £8.1 million at auction, said: "It's been so exciting to be able to share it with the King.
"They genuinely were so interested to hear about the painting and I got the impression that they were Lowry fans. They were so warm and friendly, it was a pleasure to meet them."
The King and Queen Consort also met representatives from community groups, charities, schools, sports teams, and public services. One of those that they met was Bolton Wanderers chairman Sharon Brittan, who said: "It's been absolutely extraordinary.
"I've been involved with Bolton for three and a half years and it's been incredible to come today and celebrate how the football club, community, university and council come together to do the right jobs in the right way to make a difference in people's lives.
"It was very special indeed. [The King] was very interested to hear about the football and the work we're doing with the town because it needs to be a massive collaboration. The owners of football clubs need to understand the responsibility that they take on when they own a football club and work with the community because we're just custodians but we can have a massive impact on people's lives.
"It's been so emotional. It's a very special day and you could see in the children's faces and their eyes lit up."
Bolton Youth MP Harry Brannagan presented King Charles III with a ceremonial grand-master key to the town hall, a replica of the one given to King Edward VII. “The Youth Voice in Bolton is really important, and it is good that so many children and young people were involved today," Harry said.
“The King spoke to me about school and I presented him with the ceremonial key. I think today has shown Bolton really cares about young people and clearly The King and Queen do as well.”
The Mayor of Bolton, Cllr Akhtar Zaman, said: “As Mayor of Bolton, it was my privilege to lead the proclamation of King Charles III from the steps of town hall last September, following the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II. On that day, I spoke to Bolton residents in the crowd, and they told me about their excitement for the new King and their optimism for the year ahead.
“Little did any of us know that just a few months later we would be welcoming King Charles III himself to the town hall to celebrate the 150th anniversary of this historic building. Today was all about celebrating the friendly, diverse and vibrant town of Bolton, and inviting The King and The Queen Consort to meet local charities, sports team and volunteers who help make it such a great place to live.”
Bolton Council leader, Coun Martyn Cox, added: “Bolton Town Hall is a spectacular piece of architecture, and local people are as proud of it today as they were in 1873. The building represents 150 years of civic activity, which has seen Royal visits, sporting triumphs and celebrations to mark major landmarks in British history.
"We are all grateful to King Charles III and The Queen Consort for visiting Bolton today. It was yet another of those historic occasions, and I’m sure the people of Bolton will look back on it in another 150 years.”
Shortly after 1.30pm, their visit concluded with a performance of “God Save The King” by the Hand Made Sign Language Choir, which is based at Bolton Deaf Society. As The King and The Queen Consort walked down the town hall steps, they were played out by a performance from teenage musician Will Edgar local music initiative RockIt.
King Charles took the time to shake hands with the crowd and make conversation, while Camilla, Queen Consort did the same and was also inundated with bouquets of flowers. After a few minutes, they got back into their cars and made their way to their final stop of the day in Greater Manchester - at Norbrook Community Centre in Wythenshawe.
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