ONE of the Queen’s busiest days in the region came in 1967 when she opened the Tyne Tunnel and a pram ramp, and commemorated the 100th anniversary of her great-great-grandmother granting Darlington county borough status.

Her day on October 20 began on Tyneside, where she gave a short speech to formally open the new £8.5m 'Tyne Vehicular Tunnel' as it was then called. She congratulated all involved in its construction, spoke of its importance to industry and gave a nod to the ferrymen who had once plied their trade across the water’s surface.

“The Queen – wearing a coat of deep tangerine wool with a two tier matching hat with black trimming – and Prince Philip became the first couple to drive through the new tunnel, followed by distinguished guests, including Mrs Barbara Castle, Minister of Transport,” said The Northern Echo.

“But in the tumult for the Queen, another ceremony, simple and moving, passed unnoticed. The old ferry AB Gowan, Queen of the Jarrow-Howdon river crossing for the last 46 years, slipped her moorings for the last time on the longest trip of all – to a breakers’ yard at Dunston.”

From Jarrow, Her Majesty was taken by train to Billingham, where a car picked her up.

“The maroon and black car, royal pennant flying stiffly in the breeze, crawled past the thousands of men, women and children along the route, below men in yellow helmets perilously perched on cranes and new building sites, into the heart of the space age town's £7m centre,” said the Echo.

“She later walked down a specially designed pram ramp and remarked: “I think this is specially good – prams are so burdensome.”

Having previously visited Peterlee and Newton Aycliffe, she must have thought that the North-East was packed with post-war new towns. Billingham was a newly-built model town centre, created by the local council which was flush with business rates from ICI, where plastic production has started in 1966.

She unveiled a statue by Edward Bainbridge Copnall, of Canterbury, entitled Family Group, at the centre of the model town. The Echo said it showed “a man in jeans and his wife in a mini dress (well, almost) and their two children”, and that it “represents the spirit of the new town”.

“The Queen said she thought it was much better than the abstract works she had seen at Expo 67,” said the Echo, reporting an extremely rare personal opinion from Her Majesty.

Her visit to Billingham was completed by her opening a “futuristic playground” – the Forum – which brought every sporting and cultural venue, from an ice rink to a theatre, under one roof.

“And then it was time to round off the day with a tribute to the past – a visit to Darlington, celebrating its centenary as a county borough,” said the Echo.

That tribute to the past began with a nod to the future: she called in on the minimalist Chrysler-Cummins factory in Yarm Road.

The American diesel engine manufacturer had only been in Darlington for a couple of years, attracted to the town in a bid to make up for the decline in the local railway industry following the Beeching Axe. The factory was housed in the first British building to use Cor-ten steel in its construction – it was as modern as anything she had seen in Billingham.

Then it was down to the town centre. Queen Victoria had granted Darlington a charter in 1867 which allowed it to form its own council, and Queen Elizabeth was taken into the old town hall, beside the covered market, to drink in the quintessential Victorian municipal grandeur.

But in 1967, Darlington council was planning to bulldoze the market complex, including the iconic town clock, and cover the whole of the Market Place with municipal concrete-and-glass boxes. This clearly concerned Prince Philip.

“He asked me twice if we were going to keep it (the town clock) in the new developments, and he was pleased when I said yes,” said the Darlington mayor, Alderman Alec Porter. In the end, the clock and all of the covered market complex, plus the market square, escaped. The only one of the concrete-and-glass boxes envisaged in 1967 that would come to completion was the new town hall, which was opened by the Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, in 1970.

“The chill wind was still blowing as the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh waved a last goodbye to waiting crowds,” concluded The Northern Echo, “but they left with nothing but the warmest memories of their day in the North-East.”