In York, a waiting crowd greeted with rapturous applause the first chimes of the Minster's Queen Mother Bells on the morning of her 100th birthday.

The Kings Division Waterloo Band followed the chimes with a rendition of Happy Birthday for the Queen Mother and the crowds clapped along in time.

Their congratulations came as the Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, expressed his warmest wishes for the Queen Mother's special day.

In a joint letter with the Archbishop of Canterbury, he wrote: "We send warmest congratulations and birthday greetings to Her Majesty on behalf of the bishops, the clergy and the laity of the Church of England.

"We are conscious of your unswerving commitment to - and support of - the Church as it seeks to minister to people up and down the country."

The Lord Mayor of York, Coun Shan Braund, added her birthday greetings: "On behalf of the citizens of York I wish Her Majesty best wishes and congratulations on her 100th birthday," she said.

"She's well loved, especially by those who remember the part she played during the Second World War.

"And this city is proud of the fact that she was once the Duchess of York."

Before the Minster bells rang out today the Dean of York, the Very Rev Raymond Furnell, led an act of dedication.

He said: "We here in York are marking the Queen Mother's extraordinary contribution to the life of our nation."

Bellringing enthusiast Ron Smith, from Stamford Bridge, was looking forward to hearing the bells for the first time.

He explained his personal admiration for the Queen Mother by saying: "I was in London during the Blitz and everybody thought she was absolutely wonderful.

"I think she is absolutely first class but then I am a self-confessed royalist."

Pensioner William Mitchell, from York, said he had been at the Minster to see the new bells arrive and be hauled up to the tower.

He said: "I'm really looking forward to hearing them. Everyone's respect for the Queen Mother goes back to the war years when she was a real leader.

"Today is a unique event and something I won't see again in my lifetime."

From slightly further afield, New Yorker Diana Foster said: "I am old enough to remember several decades of the Queen Mum's life, and I admire her strength and her loyalty to duty."

Catherine Lazenby, from York, said: "You just can't miss out on today can you? It's only ever going to happen once. The Queen Mother has been there all my life and I really can't conceive of a time when she's not going to be.

"She's always been there as a figurehead to provide stability and keep the politicians under control."

After the dedication of the bells, the focus of the festivities moved towards York's Museum Gardens.

Immaculately turned-out in their distinctive red and black bandsmen's uniforms, the Waterloo Band led the procession along Duncombe Place and Museum Street to the park.

Hundreds of people from across the generations packed into the gardens to witness the 21 Gun Royal Salute - the ultimate sign of respect.

Glorious sunshine beamed down on the crowd as the band played.

The inspecting officer was the Lord Mayor of York who stood on a dais as gunners from 38 (Seringapatan) Battery Royal Artillery prepared to fire.

At noon the thunderous roar of the first 25 pounder ripped through the Museum Gardens and sent a sound-wave booming across the city.

The National Anthem followed and was greeted by applause from the crowd.

Hundreds stayed in the gardens for an afternoon of musical entertainment led by the Waterloo Band.

Among those enjoying the celebrations were Paul and Janet Butler, from Thorner near Leeds. Mr Butler said: It's a great achievement for anybody to reach the age of 100, but its even more special with it being the Queen Mother. It's nice to see so many people turning out to celebrate that fact."

Mrs Butler said the day was particularly special as she had an aunt who just turned 101 and another whose is 93 tomorrow.

Fellow centenarians added their best wishes, too.

Annie Worcester, of Westminster House Nursing Home, York, who celebrated her 100th birthday last October, said: "I think she's very nice and she doesn't look old, really."

War veteran John Shanks, of Manor House Nursing Home, Stamford Bridge, turned 100 in June.

He said: "I admire the way she stood by her husband. He had a stutter and she helped him, and gave him confidence. She's very strong."

PICTURE: The King's Division Waterloo Band followed the chimes with a rendition of Happy Birthday for the Queen Mother