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‘Last Queen’s gift’: Ballater church to give away final royal raffle prize donation after 20 years

Reverend Canon Vittoria Hancock and Brakeley Gift Room owner Wendy Cobban with the sherry glasses. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson
Reverend Canon Vittoria Hancock and Brakeley Gift Room owner Wendy Cobban with the sherry glasses. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

Since 1953, the St Kentigern’s Church fair in Ballater has run a local raffle like no other.

Alongside the whisky, chocolate and hampers from businesses in the Aberdeenshire town sits a small donation from their most notable neighbours.

A cake stand, a crystal vase or coffee cups – all accompanied by a framed photograph of the Queen and a card to confirm it had been donated from Buckingham Palace.

On Saturday December 10, St Kentigern’s will give away its last ‘Queen’s Gift’, and bring an end to a tradition that linked the longest-reigning monarch in British history with this small north-east congregation for decades.

Rev’d Canon Vittoria Hancock inside St Kentigern’s Church, Ballater. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

“It means a lot to the church,” said rector Vittoria Hancock.

“It’s good to show we’re supported in the work that we do in the community by the Royal Family, and that work is valued and honoured in such a way.”

Extra weight to humble gift

The last gift, a set of six sherry glasses, has been displayed in the window of Ballater’s Brakeley Gift Room for a number of months, attracting attention from locals and visitors alike.

They were due to be given away at the church’s autumn fayre, originally organised for September 10.

But two days before, the death of the Queen at Balmoral Castle just seven miles west of the town meant all plans were called off.

Queen Elizabeth II Ballater
The Queen’s cortege passes through Ballater. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson

Instead of fundraising for the work of the episcopal church, residents spent that Saturday preparing for the sombre funeral cortege the following day.

The six sherry glasses, however, were still in the window of the Brakeley Gift Room, and many of the £1 tickets had already been sold.

So the autumn fayre was pushed back three months to become the winter fayre, with the meaning of the Queen’s gift now carrying considerable extra weight.

Seven-decade tradition

The tradition of the gift began almost seven decades ago, in the year of the coronation of Elizabeth II.

It was not her who started it, though, but her mother.

St Kentigern’s held its first annual fundraising sale in the summer of 1953, and the Queen Mother – an occasional congregant when visiting the north-east – donated a fine bone china morning set and flowers from the Balmoral garden to the raffle.

The Queen Mother chatting with locals in Ballater in 1959.

She continued her donations every year as her bond with the small church grew closer, with the funeral of her brother David Bowes-Lyon being held there after he died suddenly at Birkhall in 1961.

They only ended with her own death in 2002, at which point her daughter took over the tradition.

Queen’s generosity

Sabine Muir, the vestry secretary for St Kentigern’s, had the task of writing to the monarch annually to ask about her donation.

She said: “It’s a letter every year, which is nice to keep as well.

“She was always very interested in what’s going on, so we gave her a report of what’s been happening during the year.”

Sabine recounted one time the Queen sent a gift of whisky glasses, one of which was broken.

Rev’d Canon Vittoria Hancock, Sabine Muir and Wendy Cobban at Brakeley Gift Room where the glasses are being kept. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

After she summoned the courage to write a letter asking for a replacement for the precious donation, she was horrified to find the next one sent up was broken too.

She said: “Eventually they sent another up when the Queen was arriving.

“Just before the Queen arrived, they had the chauffeurs come up first to bring the cars, and luckily one of the chauffeurs brought along one of the glasses to replace it.”

Gift is big draw to St Kentigern’s

The gift has proven to be a significant draw for the fayre, helping to bring much-needed cash to St Kentigern’s.

Sabine used to put 1,000 tickets out for sale, but these sold out so regularly that she recently pushed the number up to 1,200.

So far this year, around 800 tickets have been sold for the Queen’s Gift raffle. The more traditional church raffle with the rest of the prizes is run separately.

The Sherry glasses that were donated by the Queen earlier this year. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

Vittoria, the rector, said: “It helps to pay the running expenses of our church, but also helps us with the work we do in the community.

“For example, this December we’re running a free soup lunch once a week for anybody who wants it in the community, so they can turn up and just be fed in a place with free food, warmth and company.

“We use it for that kind of outreach.”

Tradition to pass to third generation?

As for the future of the annual gift, Sabine is confident that the tradition can continue through to the third generation of royals.

Charles III is considered to be at least as much a lover of Aberdeenshire as his mother and grandmother, with his Rothesay Rooms restaurant at the opposite end of Bridge Street in Ballater to St Kentigern’s.

King Charles III and the Queen Consort meet Ballater resident to thank them for support following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Image: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

The vestry secretary said: “I probably will send him a letter.

“He’s very involved in our local community and very approachable.

“I’m sure I will probably send him a letter to carry on the tradition.”

Queen’s beloved Ballater mourns both a global icon and a much-loved neighbour