On Wednesday 7th April 1971 Her Majesty The Queen officially opened the new shopping centre at Chelmsley Wood, which was described as having space for around 70 shops, six stores and a number of boutiques.
Most of Chelmsley’s 40,000 population turned out for the Royal visit. Large crowds gathered along Bosworth Drive and the precinct itself to watch as the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh toured the centre and unveiled a commemorative plaque on the clock tower in Greenwood Square. Building firm Bryants, co-developers of the shopping centre with Samuel Properties, had provided local schools with six gross (864) of flags.
The shopping complex cost around £3.3m to complete and provided an essential focal point to what was at the time the largest housing development in Europe, having been constructed by Birmingham City Council as overspill housing.
The Royal party arrived at Birmingham Airport at 10:55am on 7th April and was driven to Chelmsley Wood along the Coventry Road and Bickenhill Lane – where the Queen was able to see the proposed site for the National Exhibition Centre – into Bickenhill Road, Station Road, Marston Green, and Moorend Avenue. The party arrived at Chelmsley Circle at 11:20am.
As the Queen walked into the shopping centre, the crowds almost broke through, only being prevented from doing so by the police joining hands. The visit was slightly behind schedule but the Duke of Edinburgh continued to stop and speak to people, asking what they thought of Chelmsley Wood and whether they liked living there. Although the response was always “yes,” there were comments that rents were too high.
After opening the shopping centre and unveiling a commemorative plaque, the Queen was presented with a bouquet by ten-year-old Helen Baxter, of St Anne’s Primary School, on behalf of the 4,000 school children who lived on the estate.
Her Majesty then inspected the Chelmsley branch office of the City Council’s Housing Department, exchanging a few words with Mrs Mary Walton, an 81-year-old Scot living at Roundmead Old People’s Home in Crabtree Drive, whom the Queen had requested to be present at the centre. Mrs Walton had become acquainted with the Queen Mother when her brother was in a hospital near Glamis Castle and had frequently corresponded with the Queen Mother. The Queen then saw some new council houses on Bosworth Drive, visiting a bungalow occupied by Mrs Beatrice Downes a 79-year-old great-grandmother of 12.
The Duke also spoke to 32-year-old Terence Hall, who had been living at Chelmsley Wood for about 16 months with his wife, Sheila, and their eight children. Mr Hall had been in the Royal Navy at the same time as the Duke but was now unemployed.
At 12:10pm, the Royal party left Chelmsley Wood for Birmingham, travelling via Bosworth Drive and into Chapelhouse Road, Fordbridge where the Royal procession drove slowly past the Whitesmore Comprehensive School. After a civic luncheon at Birmingham Council House, the Queen opened the £35m inner ring road, which she named the Queensway. She then had a tour of the Inner Ring Road and was due to leave the city from New Street Station at 4pm.
The Royal Train departed from Platform 8, driven by British Rail footplate man, Jim Eames, also a Birmingham City Councillor for Small Heath ward. He had attended the luncheon for the Queen with his best uniform in a bag ready to change, and then drove the train along the North Warwickshire line to Cheltenham. He said that he would be careful with luncheon wine as British Rail did not like employees to be “under the influence” whilst working, and staff had to take a breathalyser test every day when reporting for duty. The Queen stayed overnight at Cheltenham before travelling to Tewksbury the following day to present the Maundy Money.
In 1974, Chelmsley Wood became part of the new Metropolitan Borough of Solihull as a result of local government reorganisation in England & Wales. However, responsibility for council housing in the area remained with Birmingham City Council until 1980.
Chelmsley Wood Shopping Centre has undergone extensive refurbishment since its opened, with a new Asda supermarket opening as the anchor store in June 2009.
Andy & Tracey
© Solihull Council, 2021.
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