Queen Elizabeth II
Coronation Chicken, Comic Cricket Matches, and Cross-Dressing – how Amersham celebrated the last Coronation
by Alison Bailey
As we count down to the Coronation of King Charles III, researchers at Amersham Museum, Sheila Borwick and Jill Mace have been busy gathering news, mementos and recollections of previous coronations. This will be exhibited on-line at Amershammuseum.org and in our mobile museum, which will be at the Coronation Picnic in the Park at the George V Playing Fields Monday 8 May.
For many of us next Saturday will be our first experience of a coronation. This is very different from last time. Elderly residents, such as those invited to a meat supper in Goya’s staff canteen, could remember three previous coronations: Edward VII on 9 August 1902, George V on 22 June 1911, and George VI on 12 May 1937.
Many older residents today have clear memories of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation on Tuesday 2 June 1953 as this was the first British coronation to be fully televised. Around 18.5 million people watched at home or at friends. A further 1.5 million watched in public venues such as pubs, cinemas, and halls. Over 100 elderly guests and war veterans watched the live broadcast on Harold Bowman’s 4ft by 3 ft screen at Amersham’s Synagogue on Woodside Road. The hall was decorated with flags and red, white and blue geraniums. Coronation Cake with a toast to the Queen followed the celebration lunch.
Jill Mace watched the ceremony at a neighbour’s: “only one lady in the road, Hilda Giddings, had a television set and I had never seen one. It was about nine inches wide but was enhanced by a magnifying screen in front of it. Everyone from the road piled into Hilda’s living room to see the wonderful event. I remember it being quite magical”.
Living so close to London, many travelled in to join the crowds. Age 15, Ernest Newhouse caught the last train in with a school friend the night before: “We found a place to watch the procession after the ceremony, a bit above the curve in Regent Street, and sat on the pavement through the night. At about 6 in the morning, the police made us stand up even thought the procession would not come through until the afternoon. The crowd around us were very good tempered and in due course we had a very good view. At some point, probably in the morning, the news of the ascent of Everest came through which cheered us all up”.
Monica Sado was near Trafalgar Square with her parents: “Eventually the time came for the procession, and it was raining quite heavily. A cheer went up for every carriage as it passed; all the carriages had closed tops until Queen Salote of Tonga came by in an open top carriage – a huge cheer went up for her and she waved to the crowd with great enthusiasm”.
Famously Coronation Chicken, otherwise known as Chicken Elizabeth, was invented by Cordon Bleu chef Rosemary Hume and her business partner, florist Constance Spry, to feed the 300 dignitaries entertained at the Queen’s coronation. Mary Bradfield, then 18, worked with Constance Spry to decorate Westminster Hall and Lancaster House for the coronation banquets: “The flowers on the tables at Lancaster House were in gilt and crystal bowls with swags of flowers on the walls. I remember we started work at 6am and wore pale rose-pink overalls. We were allowed to see the tables when they were finished, and I remember that the cutlery was gold. As a memento of the day Constance Spry presented each one of us with a brooch showing a picture of the Queen”.
Barrow Boys of Old Amersham
The inclement weather didn’t stop community events taking place in the town as reported in the local press: “Watched by an admiring crowd gathered in the High-street on the morning of Coronation Day sixteen variously attired males and eight wheelbarrows, one passenger and one pusher to each barrow, raced from the Swan Inn to the Nags Head in Whielden Street. A condition of the race was that the competitors should take refreshment at each of the eight inns and hotels enroute, passenger and pusher changing over at each visit. The winners were temporary barrow boys George Langridge and Albert Gladman who completed the alcoholic course by sinking a final pint. Provided by Arthur Parker, landlord of the Nag’s Head”.
Comedy Cricket Matches
At 6pm on the evening of Coronation Day the first ball underarm was bowled in an ‘old-time’ cricket match between the Fencibles and Amersham Hill: “The collection of bewhiskered and top-hatted gentlemen put on a wonderful show which when Amersham Hill had been dismissed was unfortunately brought to a close due to a familiar Old Trafford expression “rain stopped play” Doubtless however rain stopped play on Barn Meadow 120 years ago so tradition was equally well observed”.
Chesham Bois Scouts and Guides presented a comic cricket match on Chesham Bois Common and Winchmore Hill’s match between the women and the men, had another twist – they also swopped clothes! The women wore trousers, flat caps and beards and the men dresses and headscarves.
Fancy Dress and Dancing
Fancy dress parades, pageants, children’s sports and dances were all held in the town and surrounding villages in keeping with the previous coronation traditions. Although due to the rain the evening dances had to move indoors; to St Leonard’s Hall in Chesham Bois and the council offices in Elmodesham House in Amersham. As the reporter put it “despite all the caprices of the weather, Amersham was determined like many other places in the country to celebrate Coronation come what may”!