cecil beaton portrait

“You would have to be around the age of 65 or over to remember the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which took place 60 years ago tomorrow. That means that five out of six people in this country have no direct memory of any kind of the Coronation, while an even smaller proportion have anything like a detailed recall of what is now a very distant event.”

THE GUARDIAN - Saturday 1st June 2013

So just in case you are one of the 5 out of 6, or swotting up for your next pub quiz, here are 15 fascinating facts issued by the Queen’s Press Secretary in 2003 to bring you up to speed on that ‘very distant event’ …

  1. The crowning of the Sovereign is an ancient ceremony, rich in religious significance, historic associations and pageantry. For the last 900 years, it has taken place at Westminster Abbey as the royal church for the Palace of Westminster. Before the Abbey was built, Coronations were carried out wherever was convenient, for example at Bath, Oxford and Canterbury.
  2. Queen Elizabeth II is the 39th Sovereign and sixth Queen to have been crowned in Westminster Abbey in her own right. The first Queen was Mary I, who was crowned on 1 October, 1553.
  3. The Coronation service used for Queen Elizabeth II descends directly from that of King Edgar at Bath in 973. The original fourteenth-century order of service was written in Latin and was used until the Coronation of Elizabeth I.
  4. The Queen, with The Duke of Edinburgh, was driven from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in the Gold State Coach, which was pulled by eight grey geldings: Cunningham, Tovey, Noah, Tedder, Eisenhower, Snow White, Tipperary and McCreery. The Gold State Coach has been used by The Queen twice since her Coronation - at the Silver and Golden Jubilees.
  5. The Queen’s Coronation dress was made by Mr Norman Hartnell. The dress was made of white satin embroidered with the emblems of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. It had short sleeves with a full, flaring skirt, slightly trained, while the neckline of the fitted bodice was cut square over the shoulders, before curving into a heart-shaped centre. The dress’s exquisite embroidery in gold and silver thread and pastel-coloured silks was encrusted with seed pearls and crystals to create a lattice-work effect. Since the Coronation, The Queen has worn the Coronation dress six times including:
    • The Opening of Parliament in New Zealand, Australia and Ceylon in 1954 and Canada in 1957. Elizabeth and Philip
  6. The Coronation service fell into six basic parts: the recognition, the oath, the anointing, the investiture, which includes the crowning, the enthronement and the homage.
  7. The anointing has the deepest significance during the ceremony. The recipe for the Anointing Oil contains oils of orange, roses, cinnamon, musk and ambergris. Usually a batch is made to last a few Coronations. In May 1941, a bomb hit the Deanery destroying the phial containing the anointing oil so a new batch had to be made up. The pharmacy that had mixed the last anointing oil had gone out of business but the recipe was found and the oil made. Charles at the Coronation
  8. Prince Charles created history when he became the first child to witness his mother’s coronation as Sovereign. Princess Anne did not attend the ceremony as she was considered too young.
  9. The 1953 Coronation service was the first service to be televised - and for most people it was the first time they had watched an event on television. It was a breakthrough in the history of outside broadcasting. An estimated 27 million people in Britain watched the ceremony on TV and 11 million listened on the radio. (The population of Britain at the time was just over 36 million.)
  10. Among the many foreign journalists in London to report on the Coronation was Jacqueline Bouvier (who later became the First Lady of the United States of America, Jackie Kennedy). She was working for the Washington Times-Herald at the time.
  11. Many people were so keen to see the Coronation procession that they camped for two days along the route. Thousands more celebrated throughout the country and the Commonwealth with street parties. The Ministry of Food granted 82 applications for people to roast oxen, if they could prove that by tradition, an ox had been roasted at previous Coronations - a welcome concession in a country where the meat ration was two shillings a week.Salote
  12. The smiling Queen Salote of Tonga won the hearts and acclaim of the waiting crowds as she remained undaunted by the rain throughout the long procession and refused to raise the roof of her carriage for protection. (Queen Salote was noted for being 6 ft 3 in (1.91 metres) tall.)
  13. Coronation Chicken was invented for the foreign guests who were to be entertained after the Coronation…Constance Spry, who also helped with floral arrangements on the day, proposed a recipe of cold chicken in a curry cream sauce with a well-seasoned dressed salad of rice, green peas and mixed herbs. Constance Spry’s recipe won the approval of the Minister of Works and has since been known as Coronation Chicken.street party
  14. Numerous official photographs were taken in Buckingham Palace after the Coronation, but the most memorable are those taken by Cecil Beaton. For his defining image he posed The Queen in front of a backdrop depicting Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
  15. On 2nd June, 1953 it was learned that Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay had become the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The Queen had the idea of presenting the fourteen members of the expedition with special edition Coronation medals, which contained the extra wording ‘Mount Everest Expedition’.

Just eight years after WW 2 life in exhausted and impoverished Britain was hard. Many of the conveniences that we now accept as standard simply didn’t exist - central heating, home computers, the internet, mobile telephones, foreign holidays, multi channel television, sophisticated kitchen appliances, private cars outside every home, credit cards and consumer choice in virtually everything - but we did have a brand new welfare system to watch over us, free education and health care, pensions and financial support for the less able and nationalised utility and transport services geared for people and not for profit. That was the victory that our parents had won for us eight years earlier….and on Tuesday 2nd June 1953 we had a new Queen who made this promise… “Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust”.

One out of six of us still remember all of that.

A tribute to Queen Salote of Tonga by Edmundo Ross 1953.

Documentary about that day in 1953 - B&W and colour

– from Martyn Day