Celebrations for the Coronation of Elizabeth II 1953

Needham Coronaton Fancy Dress
Needham Coronation Fancy Dress 1953

In 1952 the death of King George V led to his young and pretty daughter succeeds to the throne as Queen Elizabeth II. Her Coronation was planned for June 1953 which galvanised the whole country into action in anticipation of an event which would give everyone the perfect excuse to throw off the post-war restraints and have a really great party.  

At a Parish meeting held on 6th October 1952 (held at the village school, as there was no village hall at this time) Needham’s Coronation Celebrations Committee was set up with its first session scheduled just three days later. Thankfully the Committee’s Minute Book has survived so we know a considerable amount about its activities. The group was chaired by Mr H E Stringer; Vice Chair was gravel pit owner Harold Dean who had built himself a large detached house adjacent to his business at the East end of the village. Miss Weatherby and Miss Baker served as joint secretaries, with Miss Adams as Treasurer. Although there were 18 other committee members from the outset, (including, of course, the rector, the Reverend Garood), the Committee gave itself the powers to co-opt more if necessary! 

Early on there was some dispute over the contents of the planned coronation repast – dear old Albert Bush, (later author of Memoirs of a Miller’s Son), argued that there should be a ‘meat tea’. Bearing in mind that strict rationing was still in operation, particularly with regard to meat, a compromise was proposed by the Rev Garood that “a meat tea should be provided for everyone IF the funds allowed.” 

Coronation Minutes Book 1952
Coronation Minutes Book 1952
Coronation Committee May 1953
Coronation Committee May 1953

It was unanimously agreed that envelopes would be distributed to each household for financial contributions which would be collected on a monthly basis, preceded by the delivery of leaflets to explain the plans to villagers. To raise additional money a Sub Committee was set up to organise a series of fundraising events – starting with a social evening, jumble sale and whist drive. “Mr Dean expressed the desire that the enthusiasm which the people had shown would not lessen as we drew nearer the Coronation.” 

Clearly the enthusiasm did not diminish – by May 1953, just a month prior to the big day, a very impressive £160.1s.1/2d had been deposited in Barclays Bank in Harleston. (Apparently the equivalent today of around £4500!) A whist drive gave a profit of £8.6s, the darts tournament raised £9.19s.6d and a dance at Mendham on Easter Monday netted £12.12s. 

Committee members had made decisions to organise a fancy dress competition and a sports day with Mr Dean kindly hosting those events in the meadow next to his home. He was also donating a whole pig, much to the delight of Albert Bush who immediately volunteered to arrange for it to be cured at a cost of £2.00 for ham sandwiches all round on the day. All children under 15 in the village were to receive a Coronation mug – two were considered but one was found to be an ‘unofficial design’ and therefore unacceptable, so 66 mugs with the another pattern were purchased instead. It was also agreed that £15 was to be spent on prizes for the sport day and that the baby born in the village closest to Coronation day would receive a silver souvenir spoon.

Needham Coronation Party Receipts
Needham Coronation Party Receipts 1953

Remarkably all the receipts for purchases made in relation to the celebrations have survived so we know that  Mrs Weatherby purchased large and small flags, garlands and pennants £2.19.6d; another volunteer went all the way to Jarrolds in Norwich to buy 300 paper plates, 100 jelly dishes and 250 serviettes. 100 invitations were printed at a cost of 6s 2d. Ropes were repaired on two swings. And Denny & Son in Harleston sold 100 pencils for 3/6d. Most items for the celebration tea were bought at the village shop – including four dozen jellies and 6 bottles of salad cream. Twenty cut (sliced) loaves were bought from Youngs the bakers at Harleston for the sarnies.

The big day began on 2nd June 1953 with a church service led by Rev. Garood, the lesson being read by Harold Dean, and all the village children under 15 were handed their souvenir mugs. Despite the unwelcome showers only one race at the sports had to be cancelled – the ones that went ahead included an obstacle race for boys 8-15; an egg and spoon race for under 8, high jump for girls under 15, an adult tie legged race, plus a men-only and women-only tug of war. The winners of the fancy dress competition included Diane, Faith and David Spinlove whose family lived in one of the council houses in Brook Lane; the fancy apron prize for the catering team was won by village stalwart Mrs Brame.  Fortunately, we have photos of the committee members, children in fancy dress and the school hall all decorated and ready for the afternoon tea party. 

According to the subsequent report in the local paper: “an excellent tea was served in the gaily decorated school room… in the evening games, competitions and community singing were enjoyed. The Queen’s broadcast speech was relayed.

Needham Coronaton Lunch 1953
Needham Coronation Lunch 1953
Needham Coronation Cutting
Needham Coronation Press Cutting June 1953