Celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Reign … 70 Years Apart

Bella Wilkinson’s excellent article last week focused on Hornsey’s 1953 Coronation street parties, the children’s fancy dress competition and party visits by Alderman William Grimshaw, Mayor of Hornsey. This week we will examine two brochures in the HHS Archive, issued by the Borough of Hornsey, which highlight the range of events which took place to celebrate the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II.

The background

We need to remember that Hornsey was celebrating this event only 8 years after the end of the devastating Second World War which had resulted in the deaths of an estimated 40-50 million people worldwide, nearly half a million of whom were British with 20,000 of that number dying in London during the 1940-41 Blitz. Eighty percent of Hornsey’s housing stock had been damaged to some extent. Hornsey’s bomb sites had been cleared of rubble and shrubs and young trees planted in the open spaces by 1953, rationing was coming to an end, but people’s mental and physical scares were harder to erase. Also, the coronation of the Queen’s father, King George VI, had taken place (1937) after the dramatic turmoil the previous year; the abdication of Edward VIII, his elder brother. 1953 was seen as the dawn of another Elizabethan Age, full of hope and promise, as demonstrated by the Festival of Britain in 1951.


Alderman W J Grimshaw, Mildura Clinic Park, 10th June 1953
Alderman W J Grimshaw, Mildura Clinic Park, 10th June 1953

Celebrating through events

The Borough of Hornsey published a 15 page brochure of events in April 1953, price 6d. The first page sets out the Calendar covering the dates 27th April to 25th July, with the greatest number of events taking place between 2nd (Coronation Day) and 13th June. This list is followed by a detailed page for each event which gives us the opportunity to peep into the past and see how the ‘older generations’ celebrated. A week’s Art Exhibition was held at Hornsey Town Hall and the North Thames Gas Board Showrooms (now Barclays Bank). Artists had to be associated with Hornsey and visitors took part in a public ballot to choose Hornsey’s Picture of the Year; paintings were then sold.

The 7th Battalion The Middlesex Regiment held an Albuhera Day on 16th May remembering action in the 1811 Peninsula War by marching through Hornsey and Crouch End, demonstrating fighting techniques in Priory Park and Beating the Retreat. The sporting programme included two cricket matches, a 36 hole golf competition at Highgate Golf Club, Inter Club and Novices road walks starting and finishing in Finsbury Park as well as Inter Club Athletics held there. In mid June Ladies’, Men’s, Mixed Doubles and Junior tennis tournaments were held at Coolhurst Lawn Tennis Club. Park Road open air swimming pool hosted youth club and school children’s competitions and aquatic displays and the Bowling Green at Priory Park was used for Ladies’ and Men’s Singles and Mixed Pair bowls’ matches open only to Borough residents. A Pageant of Youth was held in Priory Park in which representatives of the four UK countries took part and Hornsey Arts Council held a variety show at the Town Hall.

The values of 70 years ago … alive today?

Considerable effort was made by the Borough trying to ensure that nobody was left out of the celebrations. On Coronation Day (2nd June) a large number of local organisations, including the Rotary Club, the British Red Cross, the British Legion, the Derby & Joan Club, the Old People’s Welfare Committee and the Hornsey Youth Council, to name a few, made arrangements for old and disabled members of the community to see the Coronation on a television or to listen to the event on radio. Home hospitality was stressed by the Mayor, William Grimshaw, who wanted people to welcome others into their homes, ‘you have the opportunity of giving someone less fortunate than yourself a chance to enjoy this historic event… no matter how big your family party may be, please find a chair for just one more’.

It’s important to remember that Alexandra Palace played a vital role as the BBC transmitter, still very visible today, allowed millions of people to see the Queen crowned.

Hornsey Coronation Show in Priory Park N8, Saturday 25th July 1953

Looking at the activities in this event makes us sit up and ask the question, ‘Could such a show be put on now and in one today?’ The Show was divided into sections. There was a Produce Show with a competition for residents to show their best Flowers (eg. vase of sweet peas, bowl of pansies or violas) and Vegetables (eg. 4 round beetroots, 4 autumn-grown onions, 4 turnips, 12 pods of peas) with a separate competition for a larger number of vegetables grown by Hornsey’s allotment holders.

Alderman W J Grimshaw and guests at the Hornsey Coronation Show, Priory Park, 25 July 1952
Alderman W J Grimshaw and guests at the Hornsey Coronation Show, Priory Park, 25 July 1952

The Domestic section was for amateur fruit bottling, jam, cake and breadmaking with a special prize for the best Madeira Cake, Victoria Sandwich and Queen Cakes – recipes supplied. The Handicraft section had entries for knitted garments, needlework, embroidery, handmade rugs, basketwork and model making with an electric clock for the winner of the best exhibit. An Exotic Fish Show was open to members of the Hornsey & District Aquatic Society and Junior Branch, with the added attraction of a display of reptiles and amphibians and one of Show Standard Guppies.

Added to the above was the Poultry and Egg Show (limited to 200 entries), a Rabbit Show with classes for ‘most Fur, Fancy and Rex Breeds’ and a Budgerigar Show open to all Hornsey residents and members of the Hornsey Budgerigar Club. There were numerous side shows plus children’s roundabouts and dodgem cars, a Punch & Judy Show, model car racing, and balloon racing (tags on each balloon essential!

The Coronation Show ended with an evening of Community Dancing, including ‘Old Time’, Country, American Square and Modern Dances to suit all ages.

I wonder what will be written about our Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations in 70 years time?