Home » Cultural Life » Rule Britannia : The Royal Yacht visiting London in 1954

Rule Britannia : The Royal Yacht visiting London in 1954


Regular readers will know that local collector, Eric Pemberton often sends postcards or interesting photographs about the Island which I feature on the blog.

This week, Eric has sent a postcard that celebrates the arrival of Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia into London passing through Limehouse Reach  in 1954. This was the first time, the royal yacht had made its way up the Thames and was watched by hundreds of thousands of people all along the riverside. People living on the Island joined the crowds when the yacht made its way around the Isle of Dogs and into London.

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The 413 ft long HMY Britannia was built at the shipyard of John Brown & Co. Ltd on the Clyde and launched by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Britannia’s maiden voyage was on 1954 from Portsmouth to Malta before travelling to pick up the Queen and Prince Philip in Tobruk at the end of the royal couple’s Commonwealth tour. Also on board were the young Princess Anne and Prince Charles who had travelled to meet their parents.

The Commonwealth tour saw the royal couple travelling around the world visiting Bermuda; Jamaica, Panama Canal, Fiji, Tonga; New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon, Aden, Uganda, Libya, Malta, Gibraltar before finishing in London.

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Most of the tour was undertaken by air or boat, but it was only in the Tobruk to London leg that the Britannia was used and would be the first opportunity for Londoners to see the royal yacht. A newspaper report of the time gives some insight to the excitement of the arrival.

The Queen’s Home in London

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II, tired, but happy, came home yesterday from her 6-months’ world tour to a London of pealing bells, marching bands and dense crowds roaring a welcome to her. As she drove into Buckingham Palace through a sea of waving flags a plump Cockney woman shouted, “We’ve missed you, duck. Don’t stay away so long again.

It summed up the mood of the millions who had lined the banks of the River Thames to cheer as she sailed triumphantly in the Royal barge through the heart of her capital. It was like last year’s Coronation all over again— except yesterday it did not rain.

Like they did then, Londoners had camped all night on the pavements to make sure of a place on the route.The Queen, the Londoners saw as she drove through the capital was a slimmer Elizabeth than the one who left in November, 1953.

The. day of the carnival began at the mouth of the River Thames where Britannia had anchored, for a few hours in the early morning. As soon as the: Royal yacht began to move on her 52 mile voyage up the winding river the clamour of welcome started. Guns boomed a salute and ships hooted their sirens, Everything that could float, bedecked with everything that was colourful enough to look like a flag, put to sea in the river estuary to follow the Queen. All along the banks, crowds stood on tiptoe to cheer and motorists sounded their horns.


At Woolwich, a large number of jet fighters of the R.A.F  and Royal Canadian Air Force screamed down to less than 1000 feet above the yacht.

On Britannia’s bridge stood the Queen waving to the crowds with her family and Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister beside her.Then came the end of Britannia’s voyage; The great bascules of Tower Bridge were raised and the yacht steamed through and came to a stop.

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During her Commonwealth tour, the Queen had opened six Parliaments, unveiled three memorials, opened a road, planted six trees, inaugurated a dam, laid the foundation stone of a cathedral, dedicated a shrine, opened a school, made’ four broadcasts and held 11 investitures,attended 50 State balls, garden parties, lunches and dinners, 135 public receptions and presentations, 27 children’s displays and seven race-meetings. No wonder she looked tired and people began to question whether it was a good idea for royal visits to last so long. For all the obvious goodwill, there were questions asked if Britain which was still struggling economically could afford a ‘lavish palace’ of a yacht for their monarch. These were questions that would often reappear throughout the yacht’s service, eventually Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 and is now permanently moored as a visitor attraction in the port of Leith near Edinburgh.

Many thanks to Eric Pemberton.




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