Blog Editorial May 2023 – The 1953 Coronation
The coronation of King Charles III on the 6th May has prompted a look back seventy years to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II to discover how St Neots and the surrounding villages celebrated in 1953. People across Britain had mourned the passing of King George VI in 1952, the monarch who had led them through the terrible years of the Second World War. Food rationing was still continuing in 1953 and sweets had only come off the ration in February 1953, causing long queues outside sweet shops.
By the summer of 1953 the people of Britain were ready for a celebration and the accession of the glamorous young Queen Elizabeth II was a wonderful opportunity. The day of the coronation, Tuesday 2nd June, was declared a Bank Holiday and as soon as the day was announced streets and village groups began to come together to raise money and seek out gifts in kind, to provide a memorable celebration to mark the day. Events planned included fancy dress and decorated vehicle competitions, sports events, afternoon tea, dancing and singing, fireworks and bonfires.
On the 1st June the coronation honours list was released and locally Mrs Rita Sabey of Eaton Ford received the OBE for Political and Public Services in Huntingdonshire. On the same day Mr John Twigden, a St Neots Postman and Mr Sidney Cox, the Chair of St Neots Urban District Council both received the Coronation Medal and a certificate. Mr Twigden, seen here on the right, was due to retire from the Post Office on 6th October 1953 after 47 years, service.
Many places started the day early with a united church service and at Kimbolton the day began with a peal of bells from the Parish Church and in St Neots a united service was held on the Market Square.
At Paxton Park Maternity Hospital three babies were born during the morning and both the girls were named Elizabeth in honour of the Queen.
For millions of people across Britain, and certainly for many locally, one of the highlights of the day was watching the coronation on a television set. The formal procession started at 10.15am and the coronation service itself ran from 11.20am to 1.50pm. David Rudd, of Eaton Ford, who was 23, remembers that he bought a cream television costing £40.00 (including aerial installation) so that the family could watch the coronation. He recalls that his mother spent much of the day making sandwiches for the many neighbours who crowded into the house to watch the television. At Diddington just north of Little Paxton, Mr Noel Thornhill MC presented the Jubilee Village Hall with a television, a ‘handsome set’ and the whole village packed into the hall to watch the coronation service. At Kings Road, St Neots, Tony Murfin recalls that his family were able to watch the service on the television set of their next door neighbours, the Brittains, and Tony was struck by how heavy the crown looked on the Queen’s head. At Wintringham Farm, Elaine Donaldson remembers the arrival of a Pye television set in a small wooden cabinet with doors that opened to reveal a tiny television screen. On the day of the coronation all the women and children on the farm were invited into the sitting room to watch the historic event and marvelled at the tiny moving figures revealed on the screen.
Cromwell Gardens and Manor Gardens party, the pub the Engine and Tender can be seen in the background.
Then, once the coronation service was over the local celebrations could begin. However, when rain showers swept across much of the country, local people had to turn to ‘plan B’ and move their celebrations indoors to enable them to go ahead.
It was only the families of Cromwell and Manor Gardens (and friends) who avoided the predicted rain and held their coronation party and events on Saturday 30th May, as the St Neots Advertiser noted ‘They had their fancy dress, children’s and adults sports, community singing, firework display and bonfire’, ‘As fate had it they chose the best day’. Liz Hodgkinson, nee Garrett, who attended the Cromwell Gardens celebrations, remembers the excitement of the day with children feeling special because much of the celebration centred around them.
Cromwell Gardens celebrations, remembers the excitement of the day with children feeling special because much of the celebration centred around them.
St Neots Urban District Council gave every child a coronation mug and on the day of the Coronation Mr Sidney Cox, the Chair of St Neots Urban District Council and his wife toured the local parties delivering the mugs to local children. Many street party committees supplemented the mug with further gifts. For example, Mr F. Bellamy presented the children of Bedford Street & Ryecroft Avenue with a coronation book to go with their souvenir mug and bag of sweets. Other extra gifts included coronation plates, spoons, bags of sweets, tins of chocolate, pens and even a coronation stick of rock given to Buckden children.
Many celebrations featured a fancy dress competition for children and the St Neots Advertiser reported that King’s Lane and Shaftesbury Avenue, made a bold show with their Comic Band and Fancy Dress Parade. Chris Darrington and her sister Marion were both dressed as sailor girls by their mother. The sailor’s hats were borrowed from a man in Shaftesbury Avenue who had served in the Royal Navy and the party was held in Mr Wager’s garage premises at the top of the road.
Every party involved a special tea and at Little Paxton the children were taken to Grove Farm for a tea which consisted of ham, tongue, beef, salads, jelly, trifles, cakes and ice-cream. At the Cromwell Gardens party the children had fizzy lemonade to drink, which photographs reveal had been provided by Paines brewery.
At Eaton Socon over 300 children sat down to tea at 4.30 in the school and in the Institute over 100 old people had a high tea and 60 packed teas were sent out to those who could not attend. Later in the day a thanksgiving service was held on the sports field and at 10.30pm a torchlight procession left Eaton Ford Green led by Mr W. Bolton on his ‘charger’ and walked to a local field where a bonfire was lit.
The local newspaper, the St Neots Advertiser, reported on most of the events held locally and the reports give a real sense of the country celebrating together, as the Advertiser reports reveal it was ‘altogether a grand day’.