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2010: A queen in our midst

By Toby Neal | Ellesmere | Nostalgia | Published:

Back in 2010, Welshampton rolled out the red carpet for an African queen.

The royal visitor in 2010

And it was an occasion to celebrate the village's unusual and little-known bond with a tiny African kingdom.

The very special royal visitor was the Queen of Lesotho, Her Majesty Masenate Mohato Seeiso, who arrived in the village near Ellesmere with her entourage in tow on October 6.

She and the royal party, some wearing traditional dress, had come to Welshampton to pay their respects at the grave of an ancestor who died in 1863 and is buried in the churchyard.

Others there included the High Commissioner Prince Seeiso and Princess Mabereng Seeiso.

The village’s links with the kingdom date back to the 1860s when the vicar of Welshampton, Father Thomas Buckley-Owen, was offered a job in Lesotho by the Bishop of Orange River. He rejected the post but maintained South African links.

The royal party poses in front of the church

An African bishop convinced his own people to become clergymen and sent two of them, including the Prince, Jeremiah Libopuoa Moshueshue, to train at Canterbury.

Prince Jeremiah paid a visit to Welshampton when its church was consecrated in 1863 but caught a fever and died.

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This twist of fate was to turn the village churchyard into a place of pilgrimage for people from Lesotho.

The Reverend David Ash, of St Michael & All Angels’ Church, led prayers during the visit, and said afterwards: “We were delighted to receive the royal visitors.

“Although it was a very distant ancestor it is my belief that African people keep them in close regards.”

Children from Welshampton Primary School were out in force at the church to sing songs for the royal party.

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Church wardens, residents and members of the parish council all joined in the spectacle at the packed church.

The Queen of Lesotho pays her respects at the graveside

Some lucky youngsters even got to meet the queen, who also stopped to sign the church’s visitor book.

While in the area the royal party also took the opportunity to go The Maelor School in Penley, near Whitchurch, because of its strong links with St Saviour’s School, Leribe, in Lesotho. The local school was looking forward to welcoming four students and two teachers from its partner school.

Why was the prince in Welshampton in the first place? The story is that he was taking a break from his theological studies at the time the village church was being consecrated in the summer of 1863.

A long contemporary report in the Shrewsbury Chronicle of the consecration of the new church makes no mention of his presence, so assuming he was there it would seem the prince was keeping a low profile, or the reporter of the day either did not know who he was, or if he (and it would have been a he) did, did not think it worthy of a special mention.

The death notice in the Wellington Journal, August 29, 1863.

However, the young prince's passing was recorded in a death notice published in the Wellington Journal of August 29, 1863. It read: "Moshesh - 26th instant, at the Vicarage, Welsh Hampton, of typhoid fever, aged 21, Jeremiah Moshesh, Basuto (Libupoud), third son of the King of Basuto, South Africa."

Basutoland was the name for Lesotho back then and the death notice reveals that the visiting African prince died at the vicarage, which is no doubt where he was staying as well.

It was not the first time a royal entourage had come to Welshampton, because in May 1999 Lesotho’s Queen Mother, Queen Mamohoto, her second son, Principal Chief Prince Seeiso Seeiso, ladies-in-waiting and palace officials paid their respects at the church graveyard.

Pilgrimages may have gone back further than that, as it is said that in the 1880s a wheel fell off a lion's cage when a wild beast show passed through Welshampton. The driver was a man from Lesotho who had been sent by his King to look for the grave.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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