The toast is “The Duke of Lancaster”.
How many times has this been said at dinners and events in the North West since the current Duke – the Queen – assumed the title in 1952? The answer is several thousand. Several hundred of these were gatherings of the real estate industry.
And it would be easy to assume that Queen Elizabeth II’s ties to the North West more or less ended there, with the formal black-tie dinners and the quaint historical wrinkle that she’s a duke, not a queen, in this part of the world. All you need is to add a few details: HMQ’s affection for the Forest of Bowland, its proverbial indifference to rowdy Manchester – and that’s it. Work done.
But that wouldn’t be quite fair.
First, there is a cold financial logic. A sense of stability is one of the things that encourages investors to splurge on UK property (in the process, building the offices, warehouses, factories and shops we need). Of course, for residents, the UK has recently felt as stable as jelly. But to the rest of the world, it seems rock solid – and having the same head of state for 70 years contributes massively to the feeling that nothing here is really going to change. Of course, this also infuriates anyone who would prefer change – but could it be helpful in their oysters?
Secondly, although the daily royal presence in the North West is small compared to its daily tour of London, it nevertheless represents something. Manchester’s Olympic and Commonwealth bids have been given a royal boost. And it’s no coincidence that it was the recipients of royal honors – Sir Richard and Sir Howard – who guided Manchester’s recovery from the dejection of the 1980s. The knights said what no pats on the back n could have done.
“A human life is something measurable and understandable in a way that so many other measurements are not”
Yet perhaps the real significance of Her Majesty’s long reign for the region’s economy and real estate affairs lies elsewhere. Because it is undeniable that the cities of this region have sometimes adopted a skeptical view of the showy shards of our constitution. And there’s no denying that, affectionate as the sentiment is, the region has had plenty of non-royal pressing things on its mind since 1952.
So the answer is probably this: a human life is something measurable and understandable in a way that so many other measurements are not. No matter how many times you see a graph proving that GDP grew that much over that time, it can’t mean as much as the length of a life lived, enjoyed, and endured.
From glittering empire to industrial decline
Manchester, in 1952, was still one of the powerful engines of the Empire (in decline), Salford its essential in-out valve. If you have seen the movie, A taste of honey (and if you haven’t, you should) you’ll know what it was like: sooty black but busy. The Midland was as big as the Savoy, and the theaters put on as many shows as London’s West End.
The towns of mills which surrounded it still clothed the nation.
Liverpool was one of the main gateways to the world, especially to the United States on which we still largely depended on goodwill and money, and also a cultural Petri dish about to open. blossom into incredible growth. Preston was an industrial and commercial force to be reckoned with, Chester one of the wealthiest and most majestic cathedral cities.
And then came the horrors. The empire the Northwest had been built to serve (and exploit) disappeared, industrial decline became rampant, and populations plunged.
This 70-year period – a lifetime of adulthood – has seen the North West regain much of its vitality and a good (but still insufficient) share of its wealth. There is still work to be done, the task is not finished, but we better understand its magnitude if we imagine the relay that happens from one generation to the next.
And that’s what royalty – if it works, and at its best – allows us to imagine. One life ends, another picks up the undone tasks and we all carry on together.