10:00am Saturday 8th June 2013
By Bill Gardner
It’s not every day that a new queen is crowned – and in 1953 the people of Sussex celebrated the landmark event in style.
Far away from the pomp and ceremony in London, residents unpacked their trestle tables for the party of a lifetime.
Despite a disappointingly damp coronation day, streets across the county were festooned with bunting and filled with revellers for the whole weekend.
Elizabeth II became queen following the death of her father, George VI, on February 6 1952.
But her coronation was held more than a year after the accession, on June 2 the following year.
This was in line with the tradition that a celebration was inappropriate during the period of mourning for her father.
As the big day approached, excited residents across the county began to organise concerts and balls, coronation cake-making and fancy-dress parades.
Around Brighton and Hove, huge public decorations proclaimed the arrival of a new monarch.
Perhaps the most striking was a giant model of the imperial state crown measuring 17 feet high and 12 feet wide on the roundabout in front of the Aquarium.
According to the Sussex Daily News, “its facets take on an adamantine brilliance and its mundane traffic island site acquires the aspect of a cushion for a royal diadem”.
Live screenings But in the era before a television could be found in every home, following the ceremony itself was far from straightforward.
In the weeks leading up to the big day, retailers like Lambert and Whistlecroft of Western Road, Hove, urged the public to make the most of the occasion and buy their own TV set.
An advert in the Brighton and Hove Herald on May 9 read: “The coronation is very near, but there is just time to have your television installed – if you hurry…”
On coronation day, hundreds of people who had decided not to splash out on a set sheltered from the weather at the Gaiety Cinema, where the ceremony was screened live.
Many others gathered in public places, such as at Moulsecoomb Primary School where three televisions had been installed, or on the seafront where the BBC coverage was broadcast via loudspeakers which had been set up.
In front of more than 8,000 guests at Westminster Abbey, including prime ministers and heads of state from around the Commonwealth, Elizabeth took the Coronation Oath to serve her people and to maintain the laws of God.
Crowds cheering After being handed the four symbols of authority – the orb, the sceptre, the rod of mercy and the royal ring of sapphire and rubies – the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, placed St Edward’s Crown on Elizabeth’s head to complete the ceremony.
A shout of “God Save the Queen”
was heard and gun salutes were fired as the crowds cheered on Brighton seafront.
The coronation ceremony in London was well-rehearsed and carefully choreographed – but not everything on the day in Sussex went perfectly to plan.
In Angmering, proud farmer Edward Smith had been asked to lead a coronation parade with his brand new tractor and trailer.
Unfortunately he took the wrong turning into the field and led the entire procession around a cul-de-sac.
Author and composer Peter Thorogood, owner of St. Mary’s House and Gardens in Bramber, had a front row seat for the royal event of the century.
He said: “On June 1 1953, my sister Mary and I joined our friend, Bunty Horniblow, on the pavement in St. James’s Street, London, just a few yards from the Royal Overseas League club rooms, where Bunty was a member.
“The excitement of the occasion was indescribable.
“The night was noisy with the chatter of the assembled crowds, the occasional burst into song of families and friends up from the suburbs and even further away.
“On one side of us was a patriotic family from Edinburgh, on the other, a group from Australia.
“As the day dawned, more and more crowds emerged from early underground trains and squeezed into any available space or corner.
“Sometime, as I remember it was about 1pm, we could begin to hear the cheers of onlookers as the procession approached.
“At last the first of the mounted police turned the corner by the Palace and wild cheers broke out all down the street even before anybody had seen any of the glorious spectacle that was to come.
“I still possess my treasured souvenir coronation programme, describing in every detail the order of the procession.
“I shall never be able to read it, for its pages soon afterwards became inextricably glued together by the rain on the day.
“On one page I can glimpse a long list of the motor cars of foreign potentates, after which came the carriages of colonial rulers, including the sensational appearance of the Queen of Tonga.
“Then came the carriages of the prime ministers, followed by the princes and princesses of the blood royal, and finally the wild cheering of the ecstatic crowds announced the arrival of the Queen herself.
“No words now can describe the thrill of those historic moments – enough to say that, sixty years later, on the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen’s coronation, to be still alive at 85 to celebrate the reign of our most serene and admirable of monarchs must surely be one of my life’s true blessings."
To commemorate the day, a concert at St Mary’s was given by Royal Opera House singers of music covering sixty years of the Queen’s reign.
The event took place at 3pm on Saturday at St Mary’s House, Bramber.
For more information about upcoming events, visit the website stmarysbramber.co.uk.
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