It was a red-letter day for Wigan when the Queen Mother’s motorcade drove sedately through the town in June 1959.
Thousands of well-wishers lined the route to the Town Hall to cheer the royal matriarch who meant so much to the North West.
The Queen Mother held a special place in Manchester’s heart after she and her husband King George VI made a visit to the city during the wartime blitz of winter 1941.
Her indomitable spirit lifted morale when she chatted to servicemen and women in Salford. She truly inspired the nation in its darkest hours.
The Queen Mother was also the much-loved Colonel-in-Chief of the Manchester Regiment from 1947 until her death at the age of 101 in 2002.
Little wonder the people of Wigan were so pleased to welcome her. They were especially delighted at the main reason for her visit too.
She was in Wigan to celebrate the opening of the H. J. Heinz food manufacturing plant at Kitt Green, Orrell. As well as baked beans, it promised more wealth and jobs for the area.
The H. J. Heinz company was founded 150 years ago in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. Its famous ‘57’ varieties slogan was coined by Henry Heinz in 1896 after he saw an advert for 26 kinds of shoes.
Heinz tomato ketchup first went on sale in the UK at Fortnum and Masons in London in 1886. A headquarters was established at Hayes in Middlesex just after the first World War.
The first UK factory opened at Harlesden in the 1920s. Production moved to Wigan in 1946 after Harlesden was bombed twice in the London blitz.
Heinz took over the former munitions factory at Standish, near Wigan, and soon realised the need to build a bigger factory to serve the north of the UK and Europe.
Kitt Green was chosen because of its easy access to the Atlantic through Liverpool Docks and Europe via the North Sea.
The factory was opened by the Lord Chancellor, David Maxwell Fyfe, on May 21st 1959 and then visited by the Queen Mother a month later.
Expansion quickly followed on the 55-acre site. By the late 1980s, almost all Heinz UK food products were manufactured there.
A new packaging hall was opened by the Queen and Prince Philip in 2009 during their visit to mark the factory’s 50th anniversary.
The scale of the Heinz operation at Kitt Green is truly immense. It now employs 1,200 people and makes more than a billion cans of food each year.
It turns out around 1.3 million cans of baked beans every day!
Not surprisingly, it is the biggest food processing plant in Europe and the largest Heinz factory in the world.
All of this was to come when the Queen Mother was greeted by staff when she arrived for her visit in 1959.
Archive photos show her touring the brand new factory, checking foodstuffs and chatting animatedly to everyone she met.
Workers also watched her tour the grounds from the large glass windows in the new factory building.
It was seven years since her beloved husband King George VI had died from lung cancer with complications – and she was determined to continue her active role in public life.
Three months earlier, in February 1959, she had undertaken a major royal tour to Kenya and Uganda.
The King’s illness prevented him from coming to Manchester in November 1951 for the re-opening of the Free Trade Hall. The Christmas Blitz of 1940 had reduced it to an empty shell.
The Queen Mother performed the ceremony in front of the Halle Orchestra and massed choirs, once again strengthening her bond with the people of Manchester.
The new hall was rebuilt behind the two walls of the original façade by Manchester City Council architect L. C. Howitt.
As well as hosting classical concerts, the hall has welcomed Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan, the Moody Blues and T. Rex. Pink Floyd have performed five times there.
In June 1976, the Free Trade Hall helped launch punk rock on the world when the Sex Pistols played their iconic early gig in Manchester.