WALTER Benson wasn’t exactly dressed to meet royalty the day he was summoned to St George’s Hall.

The Bradford furniture-maker came to the attention of the Queen Mother when she visited the concert hall on March 29, 1962, sitting on a specially-made ornate chair to watch the opening concert of the Delius Centenary Festival.

Walter’s brief was to fashion the finest chair to keep the royal guest comfortable during the three-hour performance celebrating the Bradford composer. Four seats were taken out to fit the royal chair, made from black American walnut with blue upholstery. “It was one of the best chairs I’ve ever made,” Walter told the Telegraph & Argus.

It impressed the Queen Mother, who asked who’d made it, and was told the chair maker had been presented to her during the war, when Walter was a corporal in the military police. When Her Majesty asked the Lord Mayor of Bradford if she could meet him again, a message was passed to the Lord Lieutenant, who passed it to the Chief Constable, and a police car was swiftly despatched to Walter’s Little Horton factory. “I was terribly nervous,” Walter told the T&A. “I wasn’t really dressed to meet royalty, but she didn’t seem to mind.”

The Queen Mother’s ornate chair, with foot stool, was on the front row of the dress circle. Regarded as the best seats in the house, this was where Bradford’s great and good, including Sir Titus Salt, sat over the years. “Not only did you have the best view of the stage, you also had your own little stage - being seen in your finery,” said Bradford Theatres Heritage Learning Officer Penny Green. “The men wore white tie and waistcoat, and a long black tailcoat, and ladies wore long evening gowns and jewels. That’s why it’s called the ‘dress circle’.”

When St George’s Hall opened, in 1853, it was the first grand public building in Bradford, designed to show off the city’s wealth. And those who went there were expected to dress in full evening wear, to show off their own wealth and status, as Penny revealed in a Right Royal tour of the historic venue, held this week to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: St George's Hall was built to show off the citySt George's Hall was built to show off the city

In 1853 Bradford was the wool capital of the world, vast fortunes were being made, but 50 per cent of children in the city were dying in poverty. St George’s Hall had its own class hierarchy; the working-classes - those who could afford tickets - weren’t allowed through the main entrance and instead had to go in at the side and up to the cheap seats. The venue was designed so that different classes didn’t even meet on the stairs.

The first royals at St George’s Hall were the Prince and Princess of Wales, in 1882. “They came to a church institute bazaar here, which doesn’t seem a very grand occasion, but this was the place to come and show off in Bradford,” says Penny.

One of the most lavish events was a great ball celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Seats in the auditorium were taken out and it was decorated with palm plants and flowers.

When the Shah of Persia came in 1889, Bradford pulled out all the stops. This visit by Persian royalty was good for trade links. He arrived to a military parade, gun salute and a firework display. Bradford’s success was showcased at St George’s Hall which was adorned with bling, not least gas-lit chandeliers held up by golden angels.

In 1902 a film recreating Edward VII’s Coronation was shown in venues nationwide, including St George’s Hall. The film flattered the King, said Penny, as the actor playing him was, unlike him, taller than the Queen.

Two years later, the Prince and Princess of Wales - George and Mary, the Queen's grandparents - were invited to lunch at St George’s Hall. May 4, 1904 was a busy day for the royal couple, who opened Cartwright Hall and the Bradford Exhibition at Lister Park, unveiled the Queen Victoria statue in the city centre, then sat down to a 10-course luncheon at St George’s Hall, joined by 300 guests.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The unveiling of Queen Victoria's statue in Bradford in 1904The unveiling of Queen Victoria's statue in Bradford in 1904

The Bradford Daily Argus reported: “From the roof, stripes of green and white draperies radiate from a huge floral crown, from which depends a basket of flowers in canopy form to the galleries and walls. Festoons of artificial flowers sweep from the same centrepiece. Thousands of electric bulbs cast a fairy radiance over this dream of colour.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Invitation to the royal luncheon at St George's Hall Invitation to the royal luncheon at St George's Hall

Leading us backstage, Penny revealed that there was once a hotel and two restaurants at the concert venue - and a family of 11 who ran the hotel lived here too! The tour included a glimpse of the main dressing-room, where everyone from Charles Dickens and Harry Houdini to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie have reclined over the years.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Building specially constructed in Lister Park for the Bradford Exhibition of 1904Building specially constructed in Lister Park for the Bradford Exhibition of 1904

There have been no royal visits to St George’s Hall since the Queen Mother in 1962, but a Princess Diana memorial concert was held there in 1997, featuring Bradford rockers Smokie.

Unlike Freddie Mercury’s Queen, the Queen herself has never been to the concert hall. But the venue’s royal links have taken centre stage in its rich history.