- An array of cold platters laid out for a celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, 1953. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Above the ermine and the coronets, in the public stand, it is raincoats and headscarves, cups of tea and cigarettes (and one grey topper), a fragment of the multitude that waits to cheer the Queen. There are naval officers from America, the boy in the kilt, the man in the duffle coat.
(Illustrated, 13.6.1953, p.15)
We arranged that we should meet at six and have breakfast together. As I did not expect to leave the Abbey before 2.30, it seemed very important that it should be a substantial meal. While the bacon sizzled in the frying-pan, I began the complicated business of getting dressed. I had reached the stage of being fully rigged in black velvet – about halfway – when Peter [Hiley] arrived, and we sat down together at the kitchen table to breakfast.
(Lord Kilbracken, Illustrated, 13.6.1953, p.26)
The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (1926- ) took place on 2nd June, 1953. Her father, King George VI (1895-1952) had died on 6th February, 1952 and Elizabeth immediately acceded to the throne. On September 9th, 2015, she will claim the title of longest reigning monarch in British history, surpassing her great, great-grandmother, Queen Victoria’s (1819-1901) record reign of 63 years and 7 months.
There are no plans in Briton to publicly celebrate this historical landmark which is a great shame. However, I have perused my own collection of vintage ephemera to bring you a taste of 1953 Britain. If you want to read more about life in 1950s Britain then have a look at my other blog, Come Step Back in Time. A few years ago I wrote a series of articles about this decade, make yourself a cup of tea and settle down for a long, but nevertheless interesting, read. For those of you wanting a short read, thank-you for stopping by here.
- 1950s Britain – Part One;
- 1950s Britain – Part Two;
- 1950s Britain – Part Three;
- 1950s Britain – Part Four.
The 2nd June, 1953 was also an important milestone in the history of British television. That year, 1.1 million new television licences were issued. For those who did not wish to line the procession route in London, there was an alternative, watching the spectacle unfold on a black and white television set in the comfort on your own home, surrounded by friends and neighbours.Embed from Getty Images
- Charles and Elizabeth Hudson watching television with some of their twenty children and six grandchildren, in their eight-room Victorian house in London. Original Publication: Picture Post – 6758 – Mother Of 20 Children – pub. 24.9.1953.
For those unable to pile into a neighbour’s living-room to watch, there was also the option of viewing proceedings in a public setting. Of course, this was at a time long before giant screens were erected in civic squares or on commons live-streaming major, London-based, events to the picnicking masses. In 1953, 1.5 million, collective, television licences were issued, enabling the public to watch in hospitals, village halls, schools etc.
In 1953, there were only 2.7 million television sets in existence (either owned or rented) but somehow 20.4 million people managed to watch the event. Sadly, the expected post-coronation surge in television set purchases, failed to materialise. On Tuesday, 2nd June, 1953, BBC TV opened earlier at 9.15am with the test card to enable viewers to adjust their aerials in time for the main broadcast.
- Full BBC broadcast listings for the coronation can be found in the Radio Times archive, click here:
- The exterior of a Lyons tea shop along Piccadilly, London, 2.7.1953. The shop window has been decorated to commemorate the coronation. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
“What about the food?” I hear you cry. Well, despite rationing, food played a central role in the whole coronation day experience both for the public and civic dignitaries, including the Queen. Magazines printed recipe advertorials and were crammed full of colourful advertisements for tv-friendly snacks such as sweets and chocolates. The coronation provided advertisers with the perfect opportunity to promote a whole range of products with a healthy dose of patriotism, this was feel-good consumerism gone wild in an age of austerity.
In June 1953, Britain was still struggling to get back on its feet after World War Two. Many food items were still rationed including sugar, butter, cheese, margarine, cooking fats and meat. Sweets, eggs and cream had only just come ‘off ration’ in February, March and April respectively (hence the ‘big-push’ to advertise by sweet manufacturers in June). Sugar did not come ‘off ration’ until the September.The coronation provided a welcome boost to the morale of post-war Britain, the 25 year-old Queen became a beacon of hope for its future.
The late, great Marguerite Patten (1915-2015) showed the housewives of Britain how to rustle-up gourmet treats, using limited ingredients, in her regular tv cookery slot on BBC’s About The Home. A two-part, coronation special, of About The Home was broadcast in May (21.5.1953 and 28.5.1953), helping to prepare the nation for the big day. Marguerite demonstrated how to create light bites, such as melon cocktails and salmon mousse, suitable for eating in front of the television. I would even go as far as to suggest, that 2nd June, 1953 witnessed the birth of the tv dinner!Embed from Getty Images
- Marguerite Patten (left) supervises pianist Geraldine Peppin as she stirs a pan on the BBC television show, Designed For Women, April, 1948. Marguerite began her broadcasting career at the BBC in 1947 and presented the first cookery show on the channel. Original publication: Picture Post – 4543 – ‘Never Include A Man’ – pub. 17.4.1948.
In 2002, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee year, Hamlyn published Marguerite Patten’s Coronation Cookbook. The book covered recipes from four coronations of the twentieth century (Edward VII, George V, George VI and Elizabeth II), aimed at family celebrations and catering for street parties. Although rare to find second-hand at a sensible price, it is possible to source a copy if you look hard enough. I have seen a copy 3 year’s ago for less than £20, didn’t purchase it and bitterly regret it now but keep scouring antique bookshops, boot sales, retro fairs and charity shops, you might get lucky.
- 2nd June 1953: Members of the Women’s Institute enjoying a picnic in the grounds of Chilham Castle during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Original Publication: Picture Post – 6557 – The WI – pub. 1953 (Photo by Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
In 1953, celebrated British Food Writer, Ambrose Heath (1891-1969), published a bumper crop of his cookery books:
- Biscuits and American Cookies (1953)
- Dishes Without Meat (1953)
- Good Poultry and Game Dishes (1953)
- Herbs in the Kitchen (1953)
- Kitchen Table Talk (1953)
- Small Meat Dishes (1953)
- Home-made Wines and Liqueurs (1953)
Another well-respected British television chef, Philip Harben (1906-1970), gave a private dinner party in honour of the coronation, at which he served a turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with five or six other smaller birds.
- TV chef Philip Harben shows viewers how to prepare a French onion soup, from his kitchen in St John’s Wood, London, 24th October 1953. Original Publication : Picture Post – 6775 – Picture Post Television Preview – Onion Soup A La Harben – pub. 1953 (Photo by Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Coronation chicken, a British BBQ and buffet staple, is an invention of chef, Rosemary Hume (1907-1984). Hume created the recipe for the official banquet lunch to celebrate the coronation. The recipe appeared in the first edition of The Constance Spry Cookery Book (1956). For more information about Hume’s coronation chicken recipe, Andrew Crowley (Telegraph 23.5.2012) has written a concise introduction which also includes a reprint of the original recipe. CLICK HERE.
- British floral artist Constance Spry (1886 – 1960) decorates the Queen’s table at Lancaster House, London, ready for the coronation banquet being held there by the Foreign Office in honour of Queen Elizabeth II, 5th June 1953. (Photo by Ron Case/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
There were many official dinners hosted in honour of the young Queen during the week of her coronation, including the one held by the Foreign Office (pictured above) on 5th June. On 3rd June, 240 top individuals (and the Queen!) sat down at the banquet tables in Buckingham Palace for another feast, the menu included the following dishes:
- clear turtle soup;
- filet of sole;
- rack of lamb;
- green beans with butter;
- new potatoes;
- asparagus with sauce;
- box of Queen Elizabeth strawberries;
- assorted sweets.
Fun Recipes From June 1953
Jolly Jelly Ring
Set fruit in jelly ring mould. Turn out when firm. Make creamy, richly-flavoured Bird’s Custard. When cool, spoon into and around the jelly ring.
Chocolate Flag Ships
Melt chocolate and spread in boat-shaped paper cases. Leave to harden, then remove paper and fill boats with cold extra-thick Bird’s Custard. Let the children make the paper flags – they’ll love it!
Celebration Custard Slices
Make 1 pint extra-thick Bird’s Custard, while still warm beat in 1 oz margarine. When cold spread between flaky pastry slices. Decorate tops with icing and chopped jelly sweets. Good? They’re glorious!
- 20th June 1953: Children enjoying a street party at the York Estate Buildings, Tavistock Street, London, to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)