IT WAS a Royal visit with a difference - involving a senior member of the Royal family being rowed across the River Ouse by two York schoolboys.

The date was August 1923. Princess Mary, our present Queen's aunt, had come on an official visit to see the Linton Lock hydro-electric power station.

While there, she spotted a collection of canvas tents on the opposite bank. It was Bootham School's summer camp - and the Princess promptly expressed a desire to visit it.

A boat had been readied to ferry her across just in case. And with the waters of the Ouse that day described as 'choppy', one schoolboy had even put on a bathing costume "hoping against hope that the boat would founder on the flooded river, that he might have the chance to effect a dramatic rescue!"

York Press:

A 1923 press cutting showing the boat trip across the Ouse

Fortunately, no such rescue was required. But for the camp children - many of them ordinary York children from poorer families who would have had no chance of a summer holiday if they hadn't been invited to the camp by Bootham School - the events of that day were still memorable.

The Princess's impromptu camp visit was reported in several newspapers, including the Yorkshire Herald and the Yorkshire Post. But the excitement of her river crossing was best captured in a report for the Bootham School magazine, which has been dug out by the school's archivist, Jenny Orwin.

There's more than a splash of Jennings or of Boy's Own magazine about the way the report is written.

“Wednesday was a day unique in the history of camp," it reads.

"On that day the new Power-house on the other side of the river was to be formally opened by Princess Mary and Lord Lascelles. We knew that there was a possibility that they might come across to see the camp, which looked a great deal more interesting than any Power-house.

"A certain amount of tidying-up took place on the off-chance, beards disappeared, the Commandant donned a pair of stockings and a new blazer, whilst Brockbank erected a magnificent flagstaff, on which the Union Jack floated, probably upside down!”

After a 'long and boring wait' a policeman appeared on the opposite bank and shouted to the camp to send a boat across. "Immediately the camp leapt into life," the account continues. "A boat was taken across by Eyres and Latchmore – and cleaned by its occupants whilst they were waiting on the other side.

York Press:

The boat trip

"Tables were feverishly scrubbed with towels and anything else that came in handy, clothes were flung into boxes in the marquee, Victor Alexander and the Commandant put the finishing touches to their toilet and waited diffidently on the ‘marine drive’, whilst CW rapidly put on a bathing costume, hoping against hope that the boat would founder on the flooded river, that he might have the chance of effecting a dramatic rescue!

"No such untoward event occurred, however; the party arrived safely and were safely landed—Princess Mary and Lord Lascelles, Lady Kenyon-Slaney, and the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of York. They stayed for about ten minutes, inspecting the marquee and one of the lads' tents, the cooking arrangements and the salmon-ladder, and seeming genuinely interested in what they saw.

"George had a moment's anxiety when he thought that the Commandant was going to present the party with chocolate from one of the boxes in the marquee, the boxes filled with clothes, but this contretemps was averted, and the visit went through without a hitch.”

York Press:

Mealtime at the 1923 camp

The school's summer camp was an "effort in social service by public school boys", as the Yorkshire Post explained it at the time. In other words, this long-ago summer camp was an attempt by Bootham School to give poorer children the chance to enjoy some of the privileges of its own schoolboys."There are three masters and about 10 boys from Bootham, who bear the cost of the visiting lads," the Yorkshire Post said. "Princess Mary...was ...informed that the boys are taken to swim in the river every morning, and share in various sports, no distinctions being made between the Bootham boys and their guests.”

The first camp took place in 1905 near Robin Hood’s Bay, with the aim of providing a summer holiday for local York boys who might not otherwise get a holiday, explains Jenny Orwin.

York Press:

Bootham School archivist Jenny Orwin with cuttings about the 1923 Royal visit

"This was only four years after Bootham old scholar Seebohm Rowntree’s ground-breaking study Poverty, A Study of Town Life, which was based on his research in York and highlighted the causes and effects of poverty."

Rowntree’s work has been widely credited with helping to bring about welfare reform. And as for the Bootham School camps? They continued up to about 1968, Jenny says.

To this day, the school continues to collaborate with other York secondary schools, both state run and independent, to offer master classes for their students.

"This summer saw 123 year 7 and 8 students join a week long summer school ‘to inspire a love of learning’ under the theme ‘Chaos, Conflict and Harmony’,” Jenny says.

The children of that long-ago summer camp would no doubt have approved.