A blog looking at the royal visits to industry in 1946 in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee in 2022.

By Asha Gage, IET Archivist.

To effectively meet the demands that war brings, organisations are urged to mobilise their staff and transfer their technology to meet the challenges faced. During the Second World War this was seen with maximum effect when factories were taken over to aid the war effort. For example, technology was transferred from the motor industry to that of aircraft construction.

After the war Queen Mary was keen to take the then Princess Elizabeth on a series of visits to different types of industrial plants to further her education in British business and industry. Also, to understand how these organisations were converted from peacetime activities to that of war.

Princess Elizabeth was no stranger to technical problems, during the Second World War she entered the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) and trained in mechanical transport. Therefore, these visits were an extension of her training and furthering of her education in British manufacture and industry.

A collection of letters in Dame Caroline Haslett’s file of correspondence during her time as Director of The Electrical Association for Women details the close relationship between herself and Queen Mary. The collection of letters consists of invitations and introductions for four industrial visits where Caroline Haslett was pivotal in the arrangements between the Royal family and the directors of the organisations. The visits took place in 1946 and were to the Kayser-Bondor factory, Battersea Power Station, General Electric Company Research Laboratories, and the Johnson & Philips factory.

Kayser-Bondor visit 11 March 1946

In her capacity as Chair of the Board of Trade’s Hosiery Industry Working Party, Caroline Haslett was requested by Marlborough House to talk to Queen Mary with regards to their work. After a ‘long and interesting’ talk the Queen expressed a wish to visit a hosiery factory and Caroline wrote to John Goodenday, Managing Director of the Kayser -Bondor factory. The factory’s location in Baldock, Hertfordshire, was chosen as the Royal party could visit and be back within the day due to its proximity to London. Caroline expressed the Queen’s wish,

‘to see a factory which has not completely re-converted to peace time production. She would like to see some of the war work that is still carried on, but in particular she wants to see the stockings being produced.’

In reply John Goodenday said he would be glad to entertain the Queen but noted,

‘All war work has finished, but we are certainly well in the throes of conversion troubles and both the factory and grounds will be a mess for the rest of this year. On the other hand, we are producing stockings, in all processes.’

The other documents in the file give an account on how the day was to be conducted. The Royal party consisted of H.M Queen Mary, Princess Elizabeth, The Hon Margaret Wyndham (Lady in Waiting) and Major Wickham (Her Majesty’s private Secretary). The tour was to include a presentation and explanation of the rehabilitation situation followed by a walk round to various rooms to see demonstration machines, knitting rooms, X-ray department, heeling department, seaming department, mending department, dye hut and a converted chicken hut to witness the finishing processes. Another record detailing the day’s arrangements added a personal memo for Caroline,

‘Miss Haslett should take her clothes coupon book with her and on no account loose coupons.’

In a newspaper report on the event, it records that Princess Elizabeth was given a pair of nylons. She borrowed clothing coupons from Caroline Haslett but returned them later. In 1946 clothes rationing was still enforced and a pair of nylon stockings required the surrender of two coupons. In a letter from Caroline to The Hon. Margaret Wyndham, Caroline thanked her for her letter and the appreciation from the Queen for a successful visit. She also added that Mr Goodenday would be delighted to exchange the stockings the Queen received for a pair in the colour that she admired so much.

‘With regard to the coupons, these were provided, and you can assure Her Majesty that all the necessary conditions were complied with.’

During this visit the Royal party were able to see first-hand the organisation involved in the conversion from war to peace time activities. During the war the factory had been engaged in the manufacture of valves but returned to making stockings after the hostilities.

References:  Kayser-Bondor visit 11 March 1946 NAEST 33/18/02

Princess Elizabeth arriving at the Kasyer-Bondor factory with Caroline Haslett, 1946. Ref. NAEST 093/08/20/32

Princess Elizabeth and Caroline Haslett inspecting the stockings at the Kayser-Bonder factory, 1946. Ref. NAEST 093/08/20/33.

Battersea Power Station visit 28 March 1946

A second file of correspondence records that Queen Mary expressed a wish to take Princess Elizabeth on a visit to Battersea Power Station as part of her industrial education. Caroline Haslett was once again contacted to assist with the arrangements.

Emphasis was to be placed on the importance of power stations in the national industrial recovery after the war and how industry was now expanding.

During the visit Princess Elizabeth and Queen Mary saw generators and turbines at work on the production of electric power, following the link from design stage to practical work. The party were keen to see how developments that evolved from the war were now transferred to civilian usage.

The Queen and Princess were given an iron as a souvenir from their visit. 

Queen Mary (centre) with Princess Elizabeth and Caroline Haslett (far right) with staff at Battersea Power Station, ref. NAEST 093/08/20/37.

The General Electric Company Research Laboratories 16 May 1946

After the success of visiting a power station Caroline was again instructed by the Royal household to organise a visit to see industrial research with a reference to the UK’s export programme. Caroline communicated with Sir Harry Railing, Chairman of the General Electric Company, regarding a visit to their Research Laboratories in Wembley. This site was chosen because,

“In those laboratories research is carried out which has a very important bearing on adaptation of wartime processes to peace-time production in many industries.”

Ref. NAEST 33/18/2 Letter from Caroline Haslett to Lady Cynthia Colville, 9 April 1946 from the Battersea Power Station visit file.

A brochure produced especially for the royal visit introduced the Research Laboratories as,

‘the channel through which new scientific knowledge and methods are introduced and applied to industrial products and their manufacture.’

It goes on to explain the difference between a place of research and a place of manufacture. Ideas and experiments are worked out in the laboratory and once successful they are taken up by a company or factory to be produced in the service of the community.

‘The reason this work is done in a separate laboratory instead of in the factory itself is, firstly, that modern scientific research and experiment use elaborate apparatus which has to be specially housed. Secondly, both the organisation and the psychology need to be quite different for a research laboratory and for a factory.

The Royal party were particularly interested in the importance of research and the contribution it played in the war effort. A demonstration of the automatic manufacture of delicate parts for radar valves was closely studied. The urgent evolution of radar during the war was one of the factors that contributed to victory, in sea and air, and this research establishment devised many of the vital valves for its more advanced form.

Johnson & Phillips Ltd 25 November 1946

Later in 1946 Mr Wates, from Johnson & Philips, Electrical Engineers and Cable Makers, contacted Caroline Haslett regarding a visit to his factory. In a draft letter to Caroline, Mr Wates referred to a previous engagement when he met Queen Mary at Roffey Park, a rehabilitation centre near Horsham that was set up to treat individuals from industry who were suffering from exhaustion, anxiety, and depression during the second world war.

Since this meeting Mr Wates wondered whether Queen Mary would like to visit the factory, as an inspiration to the workers but also to show her an important branch of industry that might have been unfamiliar.

Mr Wates was justly proud of the company’s history, stating that it was founded in 1875 and had played a leading role in the manufacture of cables for electric power and machinery. In the first world war they supplied cables to the Admiralty and later played a prominent part in Operation Pluto as the only firm concerned with the manufacture of the ships gears which enabled the Pluto pipe to be handled on board the cable-laying ships.

In his letter Mr Wates tells Caroline that the factory works had an impressive record throughout the second world war, especially since they were situated in one of the most bombed areas in London. During the heavy night attacks on London, the nightshift never failed, and many workers refused to go to the shelters even during the most intensive bombardments. In March 1945 a rocket fell on the works causing some fatalities and much damage. However, their spirit did not waver and the work continued.

From the correspondence in the files, it can be ascertained that Queen Mary did visit the factory in November 1946. A letter dated 25 November 1946 from Mr Wates to Caroline Haslett expressed his thanks to her for the introduction and organisation of the visit.

Letter from Mr Wates of Johnson & Philips Ltd expressing his thanks to Caroline Haslett ref. NAEST 033/18/02.

In all these visits Caroline Haslett was instrumental in making the necessary arrangements between the Royal household and the places of industry, utilising her professional positions as well as her skills in diplomacy.

Seeing how and why industry was so essential in the war effort was emphasised many times by Queen Mary who wanted to educate the young Princess Elizabeth on these visits. Also, they serve as a pertinent reminder on how engineering, technology, and employee skills can be adapted to meet the needs that new challenges bring.