The Gold State Coach passes in front of Buckingham Palace on 2nd June, 1953. The image is among the displays at the special exhibition marking the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II which forms part of the summer opening of Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms. The exhibition, which runs until 29th September, features dresses, uniforms and robes worn by the principal royal party on the day along with works of art, paintings and other objects related to it. Admission charge applies. For more, check out www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/All Rights Reserved.
For those who may not be aware, the current Diamond Jubilee is, of course, not the first jubilee Queen Elizabeth II has celebrated. In 1977, the Queen and the nation marked her Silver Jubilee, celebrating her 25th year on the throne.
Just as this year is designed as a year of celebration, so too was 1977 with the anniversary of the Queen’s accession culminating in a series events run over a week in early June. They included street parties, the lighting of a chain of beacons across the country (the Queen lit the first fire at Windsor), a national service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral (which the Queen went to in the Gold State Coach) and a river progress from Greenwich to Lambeth.
To mark the Jubilee, the Queen and Prince Philip also travelled across the country, visiting as many as 36 counties during a Royal Tour, and went overseas where they visited nine countries as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, the West Indies and Canada.
In London, a number of memorials were installed which can still be visited today. They include:
• The Silver Jubilee Walkway. Opened by the Queen on 9th junee 1977, this is made up of five circular sections which are themselves located in a 15 mile (24 kilometre) circle around the city and takes in many of the city’s greatest sites, including St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and Shakespeare’s Globe. For more on the walk, see www.walklondon.org.uk/route.asp?R=3
• South Bank Jubilee Gardens. Originally created to celebrate the Silver Jubilee in 1977, these gardens, located between Waterloo and Westminster Bridges, have recently been remade – including planting 70 new trees – for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games.
• Memorial Urn in Queen Square, Bloomsbury. This monument has inscriptions by poets Philip Larkin (“In times when nothing stood, But worsened or grew strange, There was one constant good, She did not change”) and Ted Hughes (A nation’s a soul, A soul is a wheel, With a crown for a hub, To keep it whole”) in front of and behind it.
• King’s Stairs Memorial Stone. This memorial stone (pictured) located on the edge of King’s Stairs Gardens by the Thames in Bermondsey was first installed to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. The other side of the stone was inscribed during the Golden Jubilee in 2002.
• Plaque on Queen Elizabeth II’s birthplace. We’ve mentioned this plaque at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair in an earlier entry but it’s interesting to note that it was erected in 1977.
Any others you can think of?
Westminster Abbey has played a key role in the life of Queen Elizabeth II – it was here on 20th November, 1947, that she was married to Prince Philip (then Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten) and it was here on 2nd June, 1953, that she was crowned Queen Elizabeth II.
First to the wedding. Princess Elizabeth was only the 10th royal to be married in the Abbey (her predecessors included her parents who married here on 26th April, 1923). The ceremony started at 11.30am and the princess, who wore a white dress designed by Norman Hartnell, entered to a specially composed fanfare accompanied by eight bridesmaids and two pages.
Due to post war austerity measures, only about 2,000 people attended the wedding (we’ve previously mentioned that the princess had to save coupons for her wedding dress like any other bride). On the day, the grave of the Unknown Warrior was the only stone that was not covered by the special carpet and the day after the wedding, the now married Princess Elizabeth followed a royal tradition started by her mother, Queen Elizabeth, which involved sending her wedding bouquet back to the Abbey to be laid on the grave.
It was about five-and-a-half years after her wedding that the princess returned to the Abbey to be crowned a queen.
Then Princess Elizabeth was in Kenya (on her way to Australia) when news reached her on 6th February that year of the death of her father, King George VI. After Prince Philip broke the news to her, the new queen chose Elizabeth as her “regnal name”, and the couple returned to England.
Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, Queen Mary, died on 24th March, but it was decided to proceed with the coronation anyway (Queen Mary had apparently asked that the coronation not be delayed by her death).
The coronation, the 38th to be conducted in the Abbey, was the first to be televised (with the exception of the anointing and communion) and was “instrumental” in helping to popularise it in the UK and elsewhere.
The building was closed for five months so preparations could be made for the more than 8,000 wedding guests. The Queen’s coronation dress, meanwhile, was made by Norman Hartnell (as had been her wedding dress) and was made of white satin embroidered with emblems of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.
Having arrived from Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, the Queen entered the Abbey at 11.20am and, having been invested with the Regalia while seated in the Coronation Chair, was crowned with St Edward’s Crown at 12.34pm. She left the Abbey at 2.53pm and rode through the streets of London back to the palace.
Of course, the Queen has since attended many other events at the Abbey – including thanksgiving services for their golden and silver wedding anniversaries and last year’s Royal Wedding – since her coronation which we don’t have space to talk about here. But it is worth noting before signing off that the Abbey continues to have a special relationship to her – it is a “Royal Peculiar” meaning it is exempt from any ecclesiastical jurisdiction but that of the Sovereign.
WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Westminster (nearest Tube station is Westminster or St James’s Park); WHEN: Open to tourists everyday except Sunday (times vary so check the website); COST: £16 an adult/£13 concessions/£6 schoolchildren (11-18 years), free for children aged under 11/£38 for a family (two adults, two children); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org