Camilla’s day in the West Midlands was busy yesterday. She made four stops – two in Birmingham and two in Walsall -covering a range of areas from ballet, to book, and handbags to children’s health. The Duchess even got to see the maker of The Queen’s favourite handbags, Launer, at their factory.
The Duchess of Cornwall’s day began with a tour of Elmhurst Ballet School, of which she is patron. The schools is a world-renowned centre of excellence in association with Birmingham Royal Ballet; it prepares talented young dancers aged 11-19 to become the thinking dance professionals of the future.
She was there to visit the school’s newest department, the Health and Wellbeing Centre, which seeks to prevent injury within the ballet students.
Students gave a demonstration of exercises they use for strength training, as the Royals chatted to staff, including physiotherapists and nurses, before seeing one injured student receive a physio session for a hip injury.
There was time for a chat with Carlos Acosta, who she last met in Cuba! Dance training at Elmhurst is delivered by current and former dance professionals, and Agusta a well-known Cuban ballet dancer, with a successful career in the UK.
A demonstration of a year 7 class was also given, as younger students practised moves to music, and Camilla was given flowers, as well as a pair of ballet shoes – on the stage.
Camilla briefly spoke with the Head Boy, Bradley Howell and Head Girl, Maddie Irwin.
She said ‘how very proud I am to be patron of this this wonderful school’ and commented on the ‘beautiful manners’ of the pupils. Posing for a photo with students, the Duchess then signed the visitors’ book to mark her visit, which is her fourth to the location since she became patron in 2006. Her last appearance at Elmhurst came in 2014.
Clarence House said that both The Duchess of Cornwall and The Prince of Wales ‘share a strong appreciation of dance’. Prince Charles is President of Birmingham Royal Ballet, a role he has held for 17 years.
Jessica Wheeler, Principal, said: “It is always a great pleasure to welcome Her Royal Highness, a long-standing supporter of Elmhurst, to Birmingham and the school.
“On behalf of all our students and staff, we are thrilled Her Royal Highness has included a visit to the school in her busy schedule.
“Since Her Royal Highness’s last visit we have continued to work hard to retain our place at the forefront of ballet education and training, ensuring our students leave us with the very best chances to succeed in a professional dance life. We look forward to sharing our latest news with our wonderful patron.”
The next stop of the tour in the Midlands, was Birmingham Children’s Hospital for a special book-themed visit. The hospital and its charity has teamed with Sir Quentin Blake and Felicity Dahl, (wife of the late author, Roald Dahl) to create a stained-glass window installation using some of the author’s most famous characters,
10 windows have been created at the hospital, which specialises in paediatric care, by Andrew Moor and Proto Glass Studios. The windows include depictions of The BFG, The Enormous Crocodile and The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me, in Blake’s distinctive illustration style.
There is one display at the front of the hospital (overlooking Whittall Street) and a series of nine panels along the main ground floor corridor of Waterfall House, which is their new £40million clinical building.
There was some overlap between causes, as Camilla met four nurses who specialise in rare diseases; the staff are funded by Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, of which the Duchess is patron. Each Christmas, children with severe illnesses, or life-limiting conditions, who are supported by the organisation, are invited to Clarence House to decorate the Christmas tree, and 2019 was no different.
Local children from the School of Theatre Excellence were also adding to the atmosphere, singing Roald Dahl-themed songs during this time.
The Duchess of Cornwall concluded the visit by unveiling a plaque and presenting story books for patients. She is known to be an avid reader, and supports numerous literacy causes, hoping to inspire others to improve – or gain – reading skills and enjoy books.
In Walsall, a short drive from the city, Camilla stopped to officially open the recently renovated, Lichfield Street Hub (Walsall Central Library and Archives). The old centre in Essex Street was moved as part of a £4.6 million improvement project. The building dates to 1905 and was in dire need of conservation and repair to keep the place alive.
Camilla first went to the children’s area to meet toddlers and mothers attending a Gruffalo-themed, ‘Tiny Tots’ session. Probably much like she does with her own grandchildren, the Duchess picked up a book (this time, The Gruffalo) and read to the group.
It was then on to view the Walsall Archives Repository and Charter, located in the Research Room. It was explained to the royal visitor that the local archives have roots back into the medieval era.
The Duchess said: “The work you have done both this library area and the archives is wonderful. As I came in I could see it was a really good space. Thank you very much for inviting me.”
Librarian Cath Yates said: “It is very exciting and an honour for us to meet the Duchess. She took a lot of interest in the archives and seemed very knowledgeable about them. She was very interest in our oldest document, the charter.
“Another document that she looked at was from John Leckie, who was involved in saddlery.”
These records come from many organisations including Walsall Council and its predecessors, churches, schools, businesses, societies, individuals and organisations. There is also a local studies library of books and pamphlets, maps and plans from the 1700s onwards, local newspapers, photographs and illustrations from the 1850s to the present day and recorded memories of local people.
The library is something of a community hub, and offers training for the unemployed, job seeking and a mindfulness colouring group in the multifunctional space. The Royal helped colour in the town’s crest, and commented that her husband was ‘a much better drawer’ than she is.
The crest will be framed and displayed at the centre. She also unveiled a plaque to mark the visit.
Finally, the day came to an end at Launer London, a royal-warrant holding leather goods maker. A tour the factory was undertaken, with the Duchess accompanied by CEO, Gerald Bodmer.
Walsall has a long history to the leather industry, known mostly for its saddlery.
The Duchess was given the opportunity to help build a bag, and shown how the process works. She also helped with gold blocking, printing letters onto the leather.
It is at the Walsall factory that all their handbags and leather goods are made, by hand, using traditional and time honoured methods. Launer designs are crafted by skilled artisans and can take up to four weeks to produce a single piece.
The company was awarded a Royal Warrant in 1968, as it provides The Queen with all her handbags. Gerald Bodmer and his wife Sue, saved the company in 1981, and ensured the brand flourished. It now enjoys its greatest success with a global presence and prestige reputation. Its signature bag is the Traviata with ‘twisted rope’ logo.
She was given a ‘Judi’ handbag during the visit, which is worth some £1500. Camilla already owns a number of the brand’s bags, but she usually chooses clutches.
There was tea ands cake on offer, with the future Queen doing the honours of cutting the iced sponge.