In times past, royal visitors to the Peak were few and far between, but one day the Prince of Wales unexpectedly dropped in on Tideswell. The surprise visit took place 210 years ago, on a Sunday in 1806, when the future George IV, on his way to Chatsworth from Buxton, stopped to change horses at Tideswell’s George Hotel.
A contemporary account tells how the ‘first Gentleman in Europe’ was rumoured to be on his way early in the morning but had still not arrived by the time divine service was due to begin. Anxious not to miss their illustrious visitor, parishioners went into church only after posting a lookout on the steeple, with orders to give a signal at first sight of the royal carriage.
Ringers stood by the bells while prayers were read, including the usual benediction for King, Queen, Prince and Royal Family – but the thoughts of the congregation were elsewhere. The vicar was in the pulpit and about to begin his sermon when the bells rang out with gusto, bringing worshippers to their feet. They grabbed their hats and rushed outside with unseemly haste, not even waiting for the customary blessing.
With all the pews empty, the parson followed followed suit. Tradition has it that this address was composed on the spot and delivered to the Prince of Wales:
‘We men of Tideswell beg you will alight
And take some bread and cheese – or stay all night,
For we left the place of holy marriage,
Loyally to yoke unto your carriage.
Should you kindly tarry here this Sunday,
We’ll drag you down to Middl’ton on Monday,
And though our sin deserves a shameful curse,
One jot we care not – if you’ll ope your purse.
We beg your Highness now will condescend,
To give the money – we desire to spend.’
‘Your wicked necks’
But came the regal response:
‘Which far surpassed whate’er he could believe,
You left poor parson, and poor clerk, in lurch,
Your kind address His Highness did receive,
And turned your impious back on holy Church.
I will not take a snack, or condescend
‘Twas such a sinful irreligious thing
You are deserving neither Prince nor King.
That you your wicked necks to me should bend.
Return from whence you came – I will not give
One shilling to such sinners, while I live.’
Photo: Tideswell church