Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visits Browns Lane, March 1956
As an ardent supporter of British industry, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II often visited car factories throughout her 70 year reign, including Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant in March 1956. Following Sir William Lyons’ knighthood earlier the same year, the visit was in recognition of the company’s success in the UK’s postwar drive for exports.
The Queen and HRH Prince Philip were escorted by Lyons together with his wife, Lady Greta, and were shown most areas of the facility, from the machine shop to the assembly line where the Prince struck up a conversation with worker, Brian James Martin. “I was surprised when Prince Philip, while on the tour, poked his head under the bonnet of the 2.4-litre I was working on and asked what I was doing,” said Martin in his 2018 book, Jaguar From the Shop Floor. “I told him that I was fitting a heater. In response to my stammered reply, he said, ‘You are all doing a grand job for England.’ It was as good as a pay rise.”
The pair were then introduced to several other employees, including three that had originally joined the company in Blackpool, including Jack Beardsley (machine shop manager), Bernard Hartshorn (assembly tracks manager) and Harry Teather (purchasing manager). They also met the then newest apprentice, 15-year-old John Deakin, who later became principal engineer in the body shop.
Finally, the Royal couple inspected several finished examples of Jaguar’s current range, including the D-Type that had won the previous year’s Le Mans 24 hours (pictured). No stranger to anything mechanical due to her time in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) at the end of the war when she enrolled on a driving and vehicle maintenance course, The Queen took a great interest in the car.
From this moment onwards, Her Majesty would continue to have a close association with the company, visiting Browns Lane again in 1994 when she inaugurated a new overhead conveyer system. Two decades later, she and Prince Philip opened JLR’s new engine facility in Wolverhampton.
After driving a variety of Fords, Vauxhalls and Rovers throughout the early years of her reign, Her Majesty eventually became a Jaguar customer herself when she took delivery of an XJ12 in the early- Eighties. Due to the Royal family’s close ties with the Daimler brand that went back to 1910 when the future King Edward VII bought his first, The Queen always chose it over the Jaguar version.
She would own at least one example of each generation of XJ from the Series 3 through to the X350, all painted in her specific shade of dark green, called Edinburgh Green. In later years, Her Majesty used a facelifted X-Type estate which she was often seen driving through Windsor Great Park.
Unsurprisingly, the State Hearse that transported The Queen’s Royal Standard-draped coffin from London to her final resting place inside St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle was based on an X351 XJ. Designed by Jaguar together with the Royal Household, Her Majesty was personally involved to ensure the public would have a clear view inside the vehicle.
This unique Jaguar is a final fitting tribute from a company that often benefitted from the support shown by this much loved monarch, a support that started with that first Browns Lane visit over 60 years ago.