June Harding vividly recalled the disruption to her class at Knaphill School on the afternoon of 6th February 1952 when classmate, Arthur Martin, stood up and excitedly announced, “Please Miss. Please Miss. The King is dead.” Their teacher Miss Nancarrow was shocked, and reprimanded him, “Boy, don’t stand there and tell lies!” but Arthur insisted it was the truth, he had been home for lunch and heard the news on the radio. The School Office confirmed it; yes George VI was dead.
There was a lengthy period of official mourning, but spirits gradually lifted as Princess Elizabeth took up her role as the new monarch and plans were made for her Coronation in the summer of 1953. As a young college student Bob Boorman recalled going with friends on a grand tour on London buses to see the decorations that had been put up all over the city. Having been brought up in the ‘black out’ and austerity of the war years Bob had never seen anything like it. The evening sky glowed: the ‘Coronation Arches’ of flags, trimmings and lights; the beautiful floodlit public buildings; The Festival Hall and the lights along the Thames.
Coronation Day, June 2nd was a Public Holiday and people were pleased to have the opportunity to celebrate. Most households didn’t have a television in those days, so families like Ruth Collyer’s on Victoria Road, invited friends and neighbours in to watch the programme with them. Di Blair also remembered a house packed with people, squeezed in to their living room, to watch the grainy black and white image on the 9 inch screen. It is hard for modern viewers, with so many channels and choices, to realise how special the TV and radio broadcasts were on that day; the pomp and ceremony of the event was relayed to millions of people via the BBC programmes, and most people across the country watched or listened.
As well as London, most towns and villages made a real effort to decorate their neighbourhood. Bob came home to be part of Knaphill’s Coronation celebrations. A procession had been arranged through the village and he was persuaded to join the ‘recorder band’. There was a big party on the ‘top’ recreation ground, with various sports events, floats and fun. There were many local street parties too. Di and Ruth both remembered neighbours shared in the preparations: made decorations, begged and borrowed trestle tables, made sandwiches and cakes, orange squash, pots of tea and often someone wheeled out a piano or brought along an accordion so people made their own music and sang.
When the children went back to school there was a Commemorative Mug for every child. The Radio Times and most newspapers had special editions with photographs, and British Pathé produced a film of the Coronation that many schools and families went to watch it at the cinema. Do you have memories or memorabilia from the Coronation? How our lives have changed since then. We have lots of improvements and good things to enjoy now, but somehow memories linger on, reminding those who were growing up in the 1950’s of a simpler time………
Thanks to all those who shared their memories and photographs with KRA and helped in the preparation of this article.
Special thanks to Ruth Collyer, Bob Boorman, Di Blair, Mrs Kathleen Boorman, June Harding, Sylvia and Derek Cloak.