AS THIS year’s Oscars Night grows ever closer and the record-breaking British movie ‘The King’s Speech’ is hotly predicted to be among the winners, how many people will make a connection with Fife and Arbroath when the red carpet is rolled out in Hollywood on Sunday?
Arbroath might be better known for a declaration than an abdication, but one cornerstone of the Angus town would not be of such unique historic importance had it not been for the King who was never crowned.
Saved for posterity as the town’s former Labour Exchange in Millgate Loan was being demolished in 2006, the tribute to ‘King Edward’ was lovingly cleaned and repaired by award-winning stonemason George Sweeney, jnr., at his factory on Whitehill Industrial Estate, Glenrothes – perhaps appropriately in the Kingdom of Fife.
George explained: “The stone was subsequently returned to the site which was being developed as apartments. Back in 1936, it was originally installed by on the then new Department of Employment premises in Arbroath to mark the accession to the throne of Edward, Prince of Wales.
“He reigned for less than a year before abdicating and never actually had a coronation but the stone had carefully been inscribed with E VIII R 1936 making it historically inaccurate ever since.”
George Sweeney spent several days making sure that the pieces of stone making up the inscription were removed intact and was delighted that the stone had been saved.
He continued: “As far as we know it is one of very few such references to the King in the United Kingdom and of 161 pillarboxes with the lettering on them countrywide, for instance, our research revealed that only five remain. So it is all the more important that a stone like this was preserved because of its rarity.”
As Prince of Wales, Edward VIII reigned from January to December, 1936. In 1930 he had met and fallen in love with a married American woman, Mrs Wallis Simpson. He was popular with the people, but concern about his private life grew in the Cabinet and elsewhere and when Mrs Simpson obtained a divorce it was clear that Edward was determined to marry her.
Edward realised that he had to choose between the Crown and Mrs Simpson who as a twice-divorced woman would not have been acceptable as Queen.
On December 10, 1936, Edward VIII executed an Instrument of Abdication which was given legal effect the following day. In 1937, Edward was created Duke of Windsor and married Wallis Simpson in a ceremony in France. On his death in Paris in 1972 Edward was brought home for burial in Windsor.
He was never crowned and his reign lasted only 325 days, making the Arbroath stone very special indeed.
“Without his abdication which led directly to his brother becoming King George VI there would never have been the storyline upon which this wonderful new film is based,” said George. “But it does make the Arbroath stone all the more special in my mind at least, especially given the other Angus connection in that the new King’s wife - the late Queen Mother (Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon) - was brought up at Glamis.”
George Sweeney, jnr., is a member of the Scottish Society for Conservation and Restoration and has won countless awards for stonemasonry and drystane dyking during nearly 35 years in business.