As we’ve all been enjoying ourselves celebrating HM The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee recently, we thought it would be the perfect time to take a look back at how Berkhamsted and the surrounding villages marked the Coronation in 1953.
We’re always at the mercy of the weather in this country when it comes to outdoor celebrations – and the day of the Queen’s Coronation – 2 June 1953 – was no different.
Cold wet weather put a dampener on many organised events – but there was another culprit, according to the Berkhamsted Gazette: ‘This new age in which national events are brought to the homes of the people involved the formation of family parties around the TV sets to almost complete exclusion of everything.’
We’re not sure we completely agree, as there seem to be plenty of people having fun in these photos, kindly supplied by Berkhamsted Local History and Museum Society – but it demonstrates that blaming a screen for people’s lack of involvement in outside events is nothing new!
The town’s cricket and football clubs had come together to hold the ‘Berkhamsted Celebrations on the Coronation’ on the Sports Ground, and an ambitious programme had been scheduled, to entertain everyone over the afternoon and evening.
Organisers had expected around 6,000 people to attend – but thanks to the heavy rain showers, they counted 2,800 visitors. No one entered to become Coronation Queen of Berkhamsted and a planned tennis tournament had to be abandoned.
However, plenty did go ahead, including fanfares and a marching display by the 1113 Berkhamsted Squadron Air Training Corps and its band.
Four large TV sets had been set up in the grandstand, so the proceedings in London could be viewed, thanks to Messrs Norman Clarke Ltd.
There were competitions to enter too – although there weren’t too many entries in the Business Tradesmen’s and services decorated vehicles – which was won by Messrs S Sanders and Son.
The fancy dress competition (under 14 years) was won by Hilda Picton dressed as a Queen with sceptre and orb. We wish we had a picture of runner-up Maureen Martin, who came as ‘Eat More Salad’!
There were displays of both Scottish dancing and square dancing, as well as bicycle polo, tug-of-war and horse gymkhana competitions.
The celebrations moved to the High Street later in the evening, where there was dancing in the street, thanks to music relayed over loudspeakers outside Norman Clarke’s shops. A large crowd enjoyed the entertainment, despite the drizzle, and the party went on until 1am.
It would have been a cheery scene in the High Street as the council had approved that the official street decorations in the town centre would be lit each night for a fortnight from 9pm until midnight (and 2am on the day of the Coronation).
Great Gaddesden celebrations
In Great Gaddesden, large crowds took part in indoor celebrations (again to avoid the atrocious weather). They had an early start, as Holy Communion was held in the Parish Church at 7.45am, and then the congregation gathered in the church again, with more than 70 people attending to watch the televised broadcast of the Coronation itself.
A celebration tea was planned to be held in the school playground, but ended up inside the school building because it was so wet and cold outside. Around 100 children received special souvenir mugs, presented by Lady Halsey.
The Maypole dancing had to be postponed, and the outdoor games and races were moved to the Village Hall.
The day ended with everyone gathering in the Vicarage orchard at 10pm for the lighting of the bonfire and community singing.
In Northchurch the third prizewinner in the best decorated house was Leonard King of 36 High Street. You may wonder why we are not mentioning the winner – it’s because they aren’t mentioned in the story. Instead, the Berkhamsted Gazette told the tale of Mr King, whose ancient cycle featured in his decorations – the same machine he won first prize with for the best decorated bicycle in 1922 on the coronation of King George V!
Station Officer Arther H Martin, in charge of the Berkhamsted section of the Herts Fire Service, was awarded the Queen’s Coronation Medal. Mr Martin had been a member of the fire brigade for 24 years.
The Sports Ground celebrations were the location for an ox roast, carried out by Tommy Tompkins. Mr Tompkins was following in the footsteps of his father – also Tommy Tompkins – who had carried out the ox roasting ceremony for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.
The ox roast was also affected by the weather, according to the Berkhamsted Gazette: ‘the strong wind caused an excess of heat, which had the effect of carrying out the roasting process rather too quickly’. While the outside got burnt, the ‘deep-seated portions of the carcass’ were almost uncooked!
Nevertheless, in a Berkhamsted still subject to food rationing, the free distribution of meat and bread caused a scramble from some of the younger visitors.
Tommy’s parents Emily and Thomas Tompkins ran the butcher’s shop opposite the Kings Arms, which had its own slaughterhouse at the back on the other side of Church Lane. Tommy was the most recent family member to go into the family trade, and he ran the butchers shop in Gravel Path until he retired to Norfolk, where he died in 2013.
Many thanks to the Berkhamsted Local History and Museum Society for providing us with the images and information for this feature. Find out more about the society and how you can join at www.berkhamsted-history.org.uk.