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Precious memories of the Queen’s coronation
THE fact that this year marks the Queen’s diamond jubilee has, naturally enough, prompted many memories of the time, 60 years ago, when the young Princess Elizabeth first became Queen – and of the celebrations just over a year later when she was formally crowned at Westminster Abbey.
A group of pensioners from Skelton, however, have gone one better – and produced a booklet of memories.
The village is planning a gala on Monday, June 4 – the day before the June 5 bank holiday which officially marks the Queen’s 60 years on the throne – which will be opened by Barbara Maidment, who as Barbara Dunn was Coronation Queen at the village’s Coronation Party in 1953.
And as part of the preparations for the gala, pensioner Arthur Robinson agreed to collate the memories of other pensioners living in the village today about the Queen’s accession and coronation.
The booklet includes two photographs from the village’s 1953 Coronation Party – as well as memories of the death of King George VI in 1952, the accession of young Princess Elizabeth, and her coronation the following year.
Bob Grainger was at Poppleton Road School on the day in February, 1952, when the death of the king was announced.
“The headmaster, Mr Holt, announced: ‘The king is dead. Long live the Queen!’” he recalls in the book. The children responded in a way that didn’t really pay due respect to the king who had led the country through the Second World War: but then, they were just children faced with the prospect of a day off. “We all cheered and went home,” Mr Grainger writes.
Alf Tinsley was 13 at the time of the old king’s death, and a pupil at Malton Grammar School. “All the pupils…were told to go to the Assembly Hall at 10.45am,” he writes. “At 11am the wireless was turned on to the Light Programme and, in sombre tones, John Snagge announced the death of HM King George VI and the accession of HM Queen Elizabeth II.”
As well as personal memories, the 28-page booklet – Royal Memories Of Sixty Years Ago – has passages which set the scene, and provide a fascinating record of the time.
By 1953, the book says, the country was ready for celebration. “It was only eight years since the end of the war, and there was still austerity. Clothes rationing had ended in 1949, and petrol rationing in 1950, but some food rationing would continue until 1954. On the positive side, the National Health Service had been in operation since 1948, and the mortality rate of some groups was already falling. The Olympic Games – the first since Hitler’s in 1936 – had been held in London in 1948.”
But it is the first-hand memories of the day that make the book so vivid. Many of the pensioners now living in Skelton who contributed were brought up elsewhere – in Lancashire, Gloucestershire and Scotland among other places – so the booklet amounts to a record of how the Coronation was celebrated around the country.
More locally, however, Alf Tinsey lived on the Swinton Grange Estate of Colonel Behrens, near Malton. “A marquee was erected in the nine-acre field,” he writes.
“The Boss had generously provided a keg of beer. There were fizzy pop and ice cream for the women and children, and enough food was provided to feed an army. Don’t forget some rationing was still in operation. There were races, fancy dress, and all sorts of fun for all. Each child was presented with a coronation crown, a coin valued at five shillings.”
In Skelton, meanwhile, Janis Copley remembers all the village children being given a bible to commemorate the Coronation.
Sadly, the weather on the day of the coronation itself wasn’t great. The dance took place in the hut that served as the village’s Memorial hall, recalls Sheila Huggins.
But the village was able to watch the coronation ceremony itself on television. “My father, Donald Duffill, arranged with Cussins & Lights electrical shop to put a television and screen in the then school for all the village to see the Queen,” Sheila writes.
• Royal Memories Of Sixty Years Ago, by Skelton pensioners and friends, is available priced £2 from Skelton Post Office or from Arthur Robinson on 01904 470558.