HM Queen Elizabeth II and NIAB

16 Sep 2022
HM Queen Elizabeth II visiting NIAB in 2019

Since its foundation by a Deed of Trust in 1919, NIAB has been honoured to have Royal support and is immensely proud that Her Majesty The Queen was our Patron for the past 70 years.

During her reign The Queen visited NIAB in Cambridge on three occasions, each to commemorate an anniversary – our 50th in 1969, 75th in 1994 and finally our centenary in 2019.

We thought it was time to delve into the NIAB archives to bring you some photos from these visits and some memories from NIAB staff who met her.

A winter’s day in 1969

A cold, wintery breeze and snow laying on the ground met The Queen as she stepped off the train at Cambridge station, before making the way to our old HQ on Huntingdon Road – a building officially opened by King George V and Queen Mary (the Queen’s Grandparents) back in 1921.

The Queen visits NIAB in 1969

For our Golden anniversary, The Queen met NIAB Director Frank Horne and toured the Official Seed Testing Station (OSTS) and looked at other aspects of NIAB’s work.The Queen at NIAB in 1969

Current NIAB staff member Sue Mann was still at school back then but was in the crowd that greeted The Queen: ‘I don’t remember much about it, but we came because my father worked as NIAB’s Trials Manager. We must have had a day off school – no fines in those days!’.

The 90s

The Duke of Edinburgh accompanied The Queen as she rolled through the gates of NIAB’s HQ in 1994 as part of our 75th anniversary celebrations.

The Queen with the Duke of Edinburgh at NIAB in 1994

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh show interest in NIAB's work on the 1994 royal visit.

NIAB Director John MacLeod accompanied Her Majesty as she met staff and looked at the chrysanthemum work in the glasshouses, seed health testing, potato virus testing work, and plant pathology research, as well as an exhibition of historic photographs from NIAB’s 75-year history.

The Queen inspects some potatoes during the 1994 royal visit to NIAB

One of NIAB's staff members who met The Queen in 1994 was Hillary Papworth. ‘I only started working at NIAB just a few weeks before the 75th anniversary celebrations and was hugely surprised to find out that one of the first things I would be doing was explaining DUS testing of chrysanthemums to The Queen!’ says Hilary.

NIAB's Hilary Papworth shows The Queen our Chrysanthemum trial

Hilary Papworth shows The Queen the chrysanthemum trials during the 1994 Royal Visit to NIAB

‘When the police came round to security check the glasshouses before the visit, I remember pleading with the officer not to let the sniffer dog off its lead in case it destroyed the whole trial, I had visions of an over excited labrador running riot! On the day itself I was nervous because I hadn’t had chance to get a good understanding of the work and I was worried I would make a mess of explaining it, but The Queen was so interested in the plants it made it easy to talk to her.'

NIAB staff eagerly awaiting the Queen's arrival at NIAB for the 1994 royal visit

NIAB staff eagerly awaiting The Queen's arrival at NIAB for the 1994 royal visit

Centenary Celebrations

Fast forward to July 2019 and The Queen arrived at NIAB’s Park Farm site in Histon, Cambridgeshire from Sandringham and toured an exhibition of our 100-year history, before visiting the MacLeod Glasshouse Complex – named in memory of John MacLeod, NIAB’s former director who The Queen had met 25 years previously.

‘I had the honour of showing The Queen the NIAB connection to the Royal Family.’ recalls Tricia Cullimore, NIAB Trials Co-ordinator and archivist. ‘I presented her a with our Centenary Book; I called it a family album of 100 years of NIAB photos and told The Queen she was part of our family then I showed her the photos of her.’

NIAB's Tricia Cullimore shows The Queen NIAB's Centenary Book

NIAB's Tricia Cullimore with the Queen

After Tricia had introduced The Queen to NIAB’s history, she headed into the glasshouses where Her Majesty met Dr Phil Howell, who showed her some of NIAB’s pre-breeding wheat lines. But it was once the cameras had stopped rolling that Phil remembers:

‘All the cameras disappeared to get ready for the tree planting – leaving just me, NIAB CEO Tina Barsby and The Queen. We were talking about the wheat and showing her a really good example. And I said that not all of them look quite as good as this, some don’t look quite as good but we didn’t want to show you those! And she absolutely hooted with laughter! She just threw her head back and giggled. It was fantastic.’

NIAB's Dr Phil Howell shows The Queen some wheat in the NIAB glasshouses

From there the then 93-year-old monarch headed to plant a tree and create something of a stir!

Tree planting goes global!

At the official opening of NIAB’s original HQ in 1921 Queen Mary, The Queen’s Grandmother, planted a mulberry tree – which still stands to this day. We thought it was only right that the Queen planted her own tree, marking our Centenary. Sadly, it looked like the Queen would not plant the tree herself and would merely look on – or so we thought! The Queen insisted on planting the tree herself! Tina Barsby, our CEO at the time, takes up the story of a now-famous tree-planting:

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II plants a tree at NIAB in July 2019

‘We’d been told several times by Buckingham Palace that The Queen was not going to plant the tree – simply supervise the planting. I’d reminded her of this a few times during the visit, and she didn’t say anything, until we got to the spot where the tree and camera crews were waiting.’

‘She handed her handbag to the Lady in Waiting, looked at me, said ‘I’m still perfectly capable of planting a tree!’, took the shovel and proceeded to plant the tree!’

‘NIAB then made front-page news across the UK and worldwide the next day!’ remembers Tina.

This is perhaps the only time to date that NIAB has been splashed across the front pages of the tabloids! Our 125th anniversary celebrations in 2044 will have a lot to live up too!