60 years ago…….
Princess Elizabeth became Queen, and the next year she was crowned. I have a few scattered memories of her Coronation.
Watching it in a friend’s monochrome television was not enough. I took the 5.00 a.m. coach from Oxford to Victoria, the nearest vantage point. Roads in suburban London were deserted, but tube stations along the A.40 were besieged by parked cars.
As we walked down Victoria Street, an official Humber, with an Oriental looking passenger pulled out of a side-road. ‘That’s him!’ whispered someone. Akihito,
Crown Prince of Japan. Letters had poured into the Press, asking angrily how we could welcome the representative of a ruthless enemy. No one wondered how he felt
hob-nobbing with the head of one of the states which had incinerated two Japanese cities.
There was already a crowd in Victoria Place opposite the Palace, in for a long wait, but we had diversions. A cavalryman, resplendent in scarlet tunic and bearskin, seemed to be blocking our view. ‘Shoot that horse!’ shouted someone. Another
‘Shoot him too!’. Later a Ministry of Works lorry drove past, cheered by the crowd.
The workman on the back of it waved and bowed back.
The morning papers came out. One French paper commented on the weight of the crown to be borne by our frail young Queen.- it nearly fell off during the ceremony.
The British press broke the news, kept back until that day, that we had conquered Everest. A new Golden Age!
Eventually the procession started.. A special cheer for the Queen of Tonga with her grass-skirted warriors. She alone braved the ‘Queen’s weather’ in an open coach. After that, all the other coaches, even our Queen’s, seemed almost an anti-climax.
The ceremony was broadcast to us by loudspeakers. After the Royal Coach came back to the Palace, barricades came down, and those of us who had stuck it out surged up to the railings and I got my first live view of the Queen, her mother and her sister. Their freshness, colour and complexion were something TV could not show. Whatever I felt about Monarchy as an institution, I was looking at three lovely women.
What did I feel? . I had none of my present doubts about hereditary monarchy. I resented a cartoon in next day’s Guardian carping at the expense. I was not deferential, but loyal. But the point was, I had to be there…
At the time of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 I was 9 years old and living in a prefab on the border of St. Pancras and Islington. There were 13 of these compact, self-contained houses that had much of a village atmosphere. They had a party in the biggest garden that I could see from our garden. I say ‘I could see,’ because I wasn’t allowed to go to the party. One of my siblings had caught the measles, so we had to watch the other children having fun and eating jelly and cakes. We were brought some of these delights, but it wasn’t quite the same
The model of the Coronation coach and horses was kept in my parents glass fronted bookcase, until my mother moved into a residential home 3 years ago.
My mother applied for, and got, a seat in the Mall. I was taken by my father to the RAC in Pall Mall. There was some problem over my age as I was only nine at the time, but luckily they let me in!
The club had a party atmosphere. We looked out of the big windows at the front over Pall Mall and watched the procession pass. I remember the gold coach; lots of horses and colour. There were TV screens at either end of the room, on which we watched the rest of the proceedings – in black and white.
I was at boarding school, so must have been out for half term.
I remember my mother, a war widow, getting a wooden crate of tins etc, including peaches from Australia. The Queen sent one to every war widow. I also remember being given sweets – a first, as sweets were still rationed, and having a cardboard cutout of the coat of arms.
The first thing I remember is that I was asked by the church to make a replica of the Ampulla – the receptacle, which was for the anointing. Different bits of the regalia were shown at the church (the first try it fell apart, then I was helped) I was doing A level Art at the time and made it out of clay.
My friend and I left at 8 o’ clock the day before and spent the day and slept the night on the Mall. I remember the papers saying ‘Everest Conquered’.
We slept on the pavement, and I remember the troops in front of us were Northern Irish, wearing saffron kilts – we were there all the time from 8am the morning before, getting drenched over night, but we were young and tough! Maybe we slept on newspapers and with newspapers over us. I remember we went to the loo in St James Park at 7am and then not again till Baker Street going home at 6pm – one of my sharpest memories!
We must have taken sandwiches. We were in the front row, and must have seen everything, with the gold coach and the amazing horses. The buzz of being there and being part of it was the biggest thing, amazing crowds and pageantry.
I think my parents saw it on black and white television at home.
Anna Sujatha Mathai
My parents, Professor and Mrs. Samuel Mathai were in London as at that time my father was a Commonwealth Professor. They attended the coronation with a seat in the abbey. They were also invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace.
(Originally a parish magazine article)
When the war ended, I came out of the army in 1946 but couldn’t settle down in my home town near Keighley in Yorkshire. So I went to Bolton in Lancashire and spent three years taking singing and guitar tuition. I then set out for London with the intention of getting into a show. Near Victoria Station I got bed and breakfast, then applied for work in the nearby Labour Exchange the next morning.
I had been advised until I got properly organised to get live in work in an hotel. In the interview the man said the Charing Cross Road office was the place for hotels. However he called me back and said there was a job going close by and I would be working for “His Nibs”. Not knowing Buckingham Palace was just a short walk away I asked, “Who is His Nibs?”
He answered, “The King.” They want a coal porter to attend to the fires.”
(The Palace was not centrally heated then.) He gave me an official green card to present at the side entrance to the palace. When inside I was directed to a large room that dealt with staff duties and was informed by a uniformed footman that a Colonel Somebody would interview me. He was however engaged at the moment at a garden party in the palace grounds. He would be along shortly and I was directed to a seat until he arrived. There was much activity and after a while a tall heavily built man in a double breasted suit entered the room. He went to a drawer close to me, took out a revolver, slipped it into his pocket and left. I remarked to the head footman about the incident and he said he was accompanying the Queen on a trip to Belfast. More time passed and the head footman asked me if I was hungry. I replied in the affirmative and he took me out into the corridor and directed me to the staff canteen with instructions to return after having a meal.
It was a large dining hall with a cafeteria service that dealt with all staff members of the Palace – gardeners, chambermaids, valets, page boys etc. I remember having fish and chips, apple tart and custard and returned to the staff room. There the head footman had been in conversation with another footman and said they had been discussing me and would I be interested in being a footman? There were eleven of them and there should have been twelve and the required height was five foot eight, which I was. Footmen served meals at the table and at banquets and escorted carriages on ceremonial occasions. When the household moved to Sandringham, Balmoral or Windsor Castle they moved with them. I remarked that I would be nervous in their presence but he said no, they were very friendly and asked about our families. I imagined the Queen asking about me brother’s grocery shop and saying, “Has he short changed anyone lately?” And me replying,
“Lately? He does it all the time.”
The footman gave me a leaflet with conditions of service . These included full board and lodging in Buckingham Palace, a uniform, a new civilian suit every year, four weeks holiday a year and a salary of four pounds a week. He asked for my address and when I said I did not have one, he phoned a hostel in Notting Hill Gate and said, “Stay there until I contact you.”
After a couple of days in the hostel, I phoned the head footman to say I could not take the position as my intention was to get into shows.
Three years later at the Queen’s coronation I was with my girl friend Doris (who was later to become my wife) in Whitehall. We had slept overnight on the pavement with other sightseers waiting for the procession from Westminster after the crowning. As it eventually passed, there positioned on the coach were the footmen in their livery. I pointed to them and said to Doris ”Any one of them could have been me!
We saw the coronation in the front room of a friend’s mother’s house in Edinburgh. That was the first time I had seen television and in black and white of course with a very small screen by today’s standards. The colour film of the event was shown later in The News Theatre in Princes’ Street where my sister saw it.
I was struck by how young and unprepared the new queen seemed as she wore and carried the heavy regalia.
We enjoyed a picnic meal using the best china and one of our men friends sat heavily on a delicate chair which crumbled before our horrified gaze. A good time was had by all.
A few years before this, The Stone of Destiny, the coronation stone of Scottish Kings,was reclaimed
from Westminster Abbey where it had rested under the coronation throne since it had been stolen from Scotland by Edward I in 1296.
A group of four Glasgow students organised this recovery and brought the stone back to Arbroath Abbey. It was returned to London for the coronation of Elizabeth but is now back in Scotland.
After the coronation, new pillar boxes in Scotland were given the insignia E11R. There was an outcry (you will remember that Scotland had not had an Elizabeth 1) and at least one box in Edinburgh was blown up. A student I knew was sent to prison when explosives were found in his lodgings at that time. I remember he always wore a kilt to classes. (Most of the men, ex service, wore grey flannels).
Two Scots songs composed at the time were “The Wee Magic Stane” and ‘Sky High Joe’ referring to the above events.
It was a time of new beginnings, so soon after the war and people were determined to have a different kind of life in the future.