Railway memories of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh

Monday, 12 April 2021
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Naming a train at Cambridge Rail station in 2009

The Duke of Edinburgh naming at train at Cambridge station

The Duke of Edinburgh was Chancellor of the University of Cambridge from 1976 to 2011 and paid many visits to Cambridge, often arriving or departing by train. Greater Anglia’s head of corporate affairs, Jonathan Denby, recalls one occasion when Prince Philip visited the station.

"To celebrate the 800th anniversary of the University of Cambridge, we agreed to name a train "University of Cambridge 1209-2009" at Cambridge Station. Prince Philip, in his role of Chancellor of the University, was invited to come to the station for the official train naming ceremony and to unveil the special nameplate.

"The train, a Class 317 electric train, was in platform 5 with a naming dais and its big red curtains covering up the plaque. After short speeches from Andrew Chivers, managing director of National Express East Anglia, which was operating the franchise at that point, and the Vice- Chancellor of the university, Professor Alison Richard, Prince Philip said a few words to the assembled guests and unveiled the plaque.

"He was very engaged in talking to representatives of the university and those of us working for the train operator. It was a really memorable occasion, enjoyed by all those present and a fitting way to mark the historic anniversary of such a prestigious university, with their royal patron playing such a positive part in the celebrations."

Catching a rush hour train to Ipswich

Waiting for a train in an office at Cambridge rail station

Catching a rush hour train to Ipswich

Jonathan also met the Duke a few years before, when he accompanied the Queen and Prince Philip when they were travelling from London Liverpool Street to Ipswich on a private visit to Suffolk, catching the 17.00 fast intercity service on a Thursday evening in November 2006.

"We made special arrangements for the rear half of the First Class carriage at the rear end of the train to be cordoned off for the royal party, but in every other respect it was a normal peak time train, with passengers in the other half of the carriage.

"The train was deliberately scheduled to depart from platform 10 at London Liverpool Street to enable easy, separate access for the Queen and Duke to the train and, after being welcomed on board, they were served afternoon tea during their journey.

"I was the senior manager assigned to accompany the Queen, the Duke and their officials on the journey. I was lucky enough to be able to speak to them both as we approached Ipswich.  The Duke mentioned how in the past they used to travel from London Liverpool Street more regularly, but nowadays it was usually Kings Cross. That reflected the fact that from the early 1990s the majority of direct, scheduled trains to/from Kings Lynn switched to Kings Cross, whereas before that we they were predominantly from Liverpool Street.

"He was very friendly and interested in the journey. At Ipswich we were specifically diverted into platform 2 to ensure an easier and quicker interchange with the car waiting for them.  There were quite a few surprised customers, seeing the Queen and the Duke on their normal train home.

"It was such a privilege to be involved with all these events. They’re some of those experiences that were a real pleasure to participate in and which you never forget."

Waiting for a train in an office at Cambridge rail station

Greater Anglia’s VIP host has been reflecting on his encounters with Prince Philip as he travelled by rail to royal engagements.

Alan Neville, now Greater Anglia’s customer and community engagement manager, has accompanied dozens of VIPs in his 41-year career on the railway, but the royal family has always been closest to his heart.

Alan Neville

He met His Royal Highness four or five times, but the most special occasion was when he invited the Duke of Edinburgh into his office and chatted with him for 15-20 minutes at Cambridge station.

The Duke had been on a visit to Cambridge and arrived sooner than planned at Cambridge station - about 25 mins early, in fact. Rather than waiting on the platform, Alan arranged for Prince Philip to wait in his office.

"When His Royal Highness arrived, I greeted him and asked him if he was willing to come into my office as he’d arrived early. He was pleased to do so and I sat in my office with the Duke of Edinburgh and his equerry for approximately 15-20 minutes.

"We had a great conversation about many things - luckily I’m not a person who finds it difficult to converse. He was particularly interested to hear that all the bikes parked outside Cambridge station in a great mass didn’t disappear each night – I told him that a lot of them had been left there and were never reclaimed and didn’t move from one week to another.

"Obviously my eye was on the time and making sure I knew where his train was and what time it was going to arrive at the platform. At a certain point of time I suggested that we move onto the platform and we subsequently did. I remember it very clearly where we stood and what we talked about as well on platform number 1 at Cambridge. We were standing by a rail map and he was asking me about the connectivity between east and west in the region."

Alan has nothing but respect for the Duke. "He was very easy to speak to, highly, highly intelligent, absolutely fully aware of issues in Cambridge that we discussed and it really was a great, great privilege to talk to him for so long.

"I felt very proud to be representing the railway and very proud to be able to talk about Cambridge station and the railway in general."