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“It was a supremely happy occasion”: memories of the last Coronation

Residents and day guests at the charity Lilian Faithfull Care share their eyewitness accounts and memories of 70 years ago; bringing the day to life with tales of Queen Salote of Tonga, Sir Edmund Hilary and newly purchased television sets!

Sheila Cooper was 21 at the time of the Coronation living with her family in Harpenden in Hertfordshire. The family didn’t have their own television but, as Sheila explains, “My father said ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll get one for the Coronation’, it was a little nine and half inch set. We all thought it was absolutely marvellous. All our friends had them too and they were all the same size!”

“We were particularly excited as our whole family were interested in climbing and on that particular day the news came through on the radio that Edmund Hilary was to be awarded a knighthood, and Tenzing Norgay a gold medal for climbing Everest together.”

“On the eve of the Coronation we all piled into the car and my father drove us through London to see all the decorations and the streets were already crowded. We were standing up in the car and waving. There were masses of floral displays, streamers and paperchains; all the schools had got together to make decorations. was a supremely happy occasion. It was absolutely marvellous, the atmosphere was fantastic.”

Margaret End was 21 and living in the village of Naunton in Gloucestershire when she travelled up to London to watch the Coronation.

“I met up with my brother in London who came down from Leeds University. We stayed overnight at a friend’s house and we caught the first tube of the day at about 4am. We found a place to sit on West Carriage Drive. We talked to the people round us and there were lots of Cambridge students climbing trees to get a better view. It came over the loudspeaker that Everest had been conquered – everyone was pleased that had happened”

“We had a good view and I do particularly remember Queen Salote – she had an open carriage, as opposed to everyone else who had closed carriages. I can picture her. She waved and waved and delighted the crowd.”

“As you can imagine, if you know Naunton, it was very busy in London which we weren’t particularly used to. It was a thrill and something unusual.” 

Betty Sims remembers not just one but two Coronations!

“I remember there was a girls relay race, I ran and I was the last one to hold the baton.  It was at Kingsholm rugby club. All the schools were there and it was a tremendous thing.” 

“At the time of Queen’s Coronation I was working at the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital in Stanmore as a primary school teacher and play therapist. My elder brother bought a television for the occasion. We got all the food prepared on a trolley and we sat there and watched it from beginning to end. The service was about five hours – everything was ceremony. The decorations were absolutely marvellous.”

Irene Kettley

“I was on a boat coming back from New Zealand with my son. We were coming through the Panama canal. It was a wonderful day as there was a huge Coronation party going on onboard.”

“I was travelling home to my mother and father in London. On Coronation day they watched it on a neighbours television. They were so impressed that, when I got back Dad went out the following day bought a television, it had a ten inch screen!”

“Even though I arrived in London after the celebrations you could see the decorations still up and the atmosphere was still palpable.”

Muriel Graves was 100 years old last October and was one of the first to get a card from King Charles at Royal Court.

“I was at home, let me think. We watched it on the television – and it was a long drawn out affair, it was very well done. We didn’t have many celebrations then.”

“I think he is a lovely man, not only handsome and good looking, but I think he has a lovely speaking voice, and intelligent. I think he is too advanced for some people. He really has got a first class wife.”

Richard Ollin

Richard lived in Newport, Wales. “I was seven at the time , I’d just been to hospital to have my tonsils out and it was the week after the cup finals with Stanley Matthews.”

“The street where we lived was quite a long through street and there was bunting through all the upper windows. There was a street party outside my Grandmother’s house as she was the only person in the road of about 200 who had bought a television set, it had a walnut cabinet around it. The boys and girls played cricket. There were big trestle tables and there were huge platefuls of ‘cut rounds’. I think it must be a Newport expression, essentially they are rounds of bread spread with marg and jam – delicious.”

Brian Organ

“We were going down to spend the day with my grandmother. They had a parade. My father had been a member of a singing group called The Bluebirds and he’d kept his costume. My gran wanted me to dress up for the parade, so she had my dad’s costume which was almost like a harlequins outfit, with a ruff collar. The parade was in Pontymister– inbetween Newport and Cross Keys. It was something special, the parade ended up in the park and we had a party. I must have been about 17 I think.” 

Doreen & Ernie Rowland 

Doreen & Ernie recently celebrated their 71st Wedding anniversary at Faithfull House in Cheltenham and were newly weds at the time of the Coronation;

“Ernie was in the police force and he had fortunately been given the day off, which was lovely. We travelled down by train from Dartford to the Medway towns, we surprised Ernie’s parents, arriving just before lunch. They were delighted.”

“They had bought a television set especially for the occasion. It was such a tiny screen. It was one that had the oil screen which went in front of the sets to help enlarge it. There was six of us and it was a lovely day especially as usually a policeman doesn’t get the time off on days like that, you normally get called in regardless of what plans you had.”

Lorretta Kurr is a regular visitor to our Secret Garden Hub

“I was aged six at the Coronation. I was living outside Coventry and I watched it in a neighbour’s house. They had bought a television specially – a black and white television. There was a fancy dress competition in my primary school.  I dressed up as a Queens Herald – I didn’t win! There was a tea in the village hall for the children. We were all given a Coronation mug… and it poured with rain all day long. She is a very hard act to follow.”

Clive Pearce comes to the Secret Garden Hub explaining that “A bit of company -it makes a big difference.” 

“I was born in 1937 so I would have been at secondary school at the time. We lived in a little village outside Newport called High Cross – we knew everybody. There was a lovely big bonfire and I think we had some food and we certainly had fireworks.”  

“There were two singers and they sang “We’ll run ‘em in”. There were very few televisions about at this time around. The few people who did have a television invited people in – they were crowded affairs. The Queen did look good.”

Margaret Cheetham

“I was at university at the time studying for an English degree. I was staying in a hostel run by nuns. There were two very big houses, and between the two there was a big garden so the nuns organised a huge party. We always had to pray for the royal family, so it was a big thing in our lives.”

“There was a television set up in the garden  – the nuns went to a lot of trouble to have it set up. Everywhere was really festive, we all celebrated.  It was a truly splendid event.”

Mary Paterson was 14 years old and living in Cheltenham with her parents at the time of the Coronation.

“There was a lottery for various organisations and my Father – he was a big man in the Scouts – his number came up.” 

“We went to London the day before and stayed overnight in a hotel. The hotel breakfast was at 5 o’clock in the morning and I thought ‘I suppose that is what happens in London Hotels’! As we were coming down to breakfast I saw the newspaper and the headline was the conquest of Everest.”

“We got to our appointed places on a stand, it was on Piccadilly backing onto Green Park. We sat and the rain came down – it was extremely wet. I had my Guide uniform on. In due course the procession came past. Oh my word, wasn’t that exciting! There were mounted bands and the horses were obviously very well trained.”

“Everyone in the procession were in closed carriages except for Queen Salote of Tonga. I wonder if in Tonga they don’t have much rain so it’s exciting to have it. She was in her carriage, waving away and we all waved back and the crowds loved her. When the procession was eventually over we scampered across Green Park to Buckingham Palace; in those days I was young and spry!”

Thank you to the residents and day guests at the charity Lilian Faithfull Care for sharing their vivid memories. To recall the Coronation day so clearly seventy years on reminds us how significant such days are in the life of our country. The communities in in Lilian Faithfull Care’s six homes and two hubs look forward to celebrating the Coronation with family and friends in the coming days; sharing this moment in history together.

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