A monarch in waiting

We have just said an emotional goodbye to our Queen of 70 years. This led Bath resident Astra Blair to look in her archives to tell us the story of her father-in-law Florent Herincx who worked for the Royal tailors, Bernard Wetherill in the 1950s. Words by Emma Clegg.

Here you see Princess Elizabeth in 1951 on the front page of Everybody’s Weekly. She was representing her father, George VI, who was absent that year through illness, at the Trooping of the Colour. As Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, the Princess left Buckingham Palace escorted by the Duke of Gloucester, the King’s personal Aide de Camp, to take the salute.

Her mother Queen Elizabeth, her sister Princess Margaret, her son Prince Charles, Queen Mary, the princess’ grandmother, along with King Haakon VII of Norway, watched the Trooping from the Buckingham Palace balcony.

The Princess was riding Winston, the famous police horse (named after Winston Churchill) and she wore a scarlet Grenadiers tunic and a tricorn hat of a colonel of the regiment of 1743, around which time George II reorganised the regimental colours. This was the first time she had taken the salute and the first time that she had worn the red full dress uniform.

I recently met Bath resident, Astra Blair, whose Belgian father-in-law made the tunic for the Princess Elizabeth in 1951. Florent ­­­­­­Herincx had been brought to London by accident after being injured in Belgium in the First World War. He had experienced severe trauma and when he was picked up by the British, he was unable to speak, which is why the misunderstanding occurred. He was taken to a home in London South Kensington that was run by nurses taking care of wounded soldiers, and when he began to communicate they realised he wasn’t British. However he was able to stay in London.

Above: Princess Elizabeth wearing the tunic for the Trooping of the Colour in July 1951
Above: Florent Herincx altering Princess Elizabeth’s tunic in 1951

The young Florent had been training to be a tailor in Antwerp, and so as he recovered he was placed as a trainee with Bernard Wetherill, the Royal tailor just off Conduit Street in London. “He entered that world, and after a while he was sent to the Palace and he looked after the riding gear that they wore,” Astra explains. “They took to him and then he was asked to make the Princess Elizabeth’s Trooping of the Colour jacket in 1951.”

Astra remembers seeing the jacket in Florent’s London home on a tailor’s dummy when she was first introduced to him by her soon-to-be husband Raymond Herincx. Florent had taken the tunic home to make alterations. He showed it to them both and then went out of the room with his son. “When they were out of the room I tried it on,” says Astra, still a little guiltily, over 70 years later.

Astra says that Florent worked for Bernard Wetherill for around 35 years, during which time he looked after the Palace’s riding clothes. “When they sent the riding clothes back to Bernard Wetherill to be altered or cleaned, my father-in-law always oversaw this and when they were sent back to the Palace the Queen always sent a little monogrammed silk handkerchief for Florent’s wife as a present.”

Astra told me that Florent used to visit the Queen’s private apartment at Buckingham Palace and he would also go to her home at Windsor. She said that most of the conversations between Florent and the Queen were about horses.

The BBC commentary to Trooping the Colour in 1951 said, “This must be Princess Elizabeth’s most important official occasion. There is sadness this festival year because the King could not be there to enjoy it. We have found the young girl who thrilled the world when she first rode with him to the Trooping has grown to a regal stature worthy of the high position which some day she will be called upon to fill.”

Seven months later George VI died and Princess Elizabeth became Queen.