In the summer of Coronation Year I was an 11-year-old pupil in 'Ma' Walton's Prep Department at Oswestry School and we were all delighted to hear that we would be given an extended half-term holiday that would encompass the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
On 29 May we all decamped excitedly from school and headed home for a week's holiday. Home for me and my brother Bernard was a bakery and general store on the outskirts of a Lancashire cotton town set in the foothills of The Pennines.
Cotton mills of Haslingden in 1953
The day of the Coronation arrived and the town of Haslingden was buzzing with excitement. There were numerous street parties and the trestle tables, brightly decorated with red, white, and blue bunting, groaned under the strain of supporting large flagons of beer and cider. Mountains of sandwiches, pies, and a variety of cakes and sweetmeats dominated the scene as the partying got underway.
In 1953 food was still rationed after World War II, but all households were given an extra pound, in weight, of sugar, and 4 ounces of margerine to help with the festivities. There had been 8 long years of privation since the end of the war and people were determined to celebrate this happy event with a gusto - and celebrate they did, excessively in some instances, as by the end of the afternoon the more thirsty partygoers were staggering about waving bottles of beer and singing God Save The Queen! Pictures of Her Majesty were everywhere and the streets were seas of red, white, and blue as nearly all the children were waving the Union Jack.
The Coronation in Westminster Abbey
In those days few people had a telephone, let alone television, but we had a tiny 9 inch black and white TV set, in front of which there was a large magnifier designed to improve the image.
The Coronation ceremony itself began at 11.15 am and a group of about 20 people had congregated in our television room to watch the small grainy, black and white TV set as proceedings began to unfold in Westminster Abbey. Our parents had laid on food and drinks for the guests who were mainly friends from our local Wesleyan church, which can be seen on the right in the photo. I kept a close eye on the vicar who, alternately clutching and caressing the large glass of scotch in his hand, never seemed to stray far from the rapidly diminishing supply of dad's favourite malt whisky on the nearby sideboard.
I am blessed with a pretty good memory, and as the day wore on I recall that the normally reserved members of our chapel community became increasingly more affable as supplies of alcohol ran dangerously low, and at one point I thought that people might drift off if the party became dry. I need not have worried on that score as no sooner had I put that out of my mind when dad appeared carrying more beer and another bottle of his best whisky which he deposited next to the vicar. More brownie points, I chuckled to myself as I sauntered over towards the reverend who was beaming beatifically at me from behind his horn-rimmed glasses in the far corner of the room.
As I approached him he patted me gently on the head and I caught dad watching me like a hawk, and scowling, when he heard me asking the somewhat tipsy clergyman, tongue-in-cheek, if he would like another drink. He did not disappoint and quickly filled his glass. Dad was furious and said that I should not encourage him. Lying through my teeth I apologised and said I was only being polite, but in reality, I just wanted to get him a little tipsier.
Preparing for a street party, 1953
After a while my brother and I became bored and decided it would be more fun to join the nearby street party so we sneaked outside undetected and went in search of members of our local gang. We found two of our friends ensconced in the gang hut that they had built behind the chapel, munching a selection of goodies that they had liberated from one of the trestle tables before the party began. It was not long before these were gone and we re-joined the street festivities for the rest of the afternoon.
Three scallywags cooking up trouble behind Wesley Chapel. David is sporting his new 'snake belt'
Eventually we were reunited with our parents later in the evening when, tired and still hungry from an exciting fun-packed day, we returned to base only to receive a ticking off for disappearing without saying where we were going. I noticed that the vicar, ever the diplomat, had disappeared leaving just a couple of inches in the bottle of whisky. I quickly dismissed from my mind the thought of asking dad if the vicar was alright as it might provoke a more robust and painful response, having already been reprimanded twice for minor misdemeaners.
The extended holiday rapidly came to an end and we were soon back at school exchanging stories about half-term adventures. Several boys who lived in the South of England had actually visited London on Coronation Day and others had just gone to see the Coronation decorations.
The Prep Department
For weeks prior to the big event we in the long green hut that served as the Preparatory Department had been busy making posters, Coronation scrap books, and bunting as highlighted in The Oswestrian magazine Prep Notes for the Summer Term of 1953 (see below). On 19 June an added treat was a visit by all the school, whose numbers were about 160, to the Regal Cinema where we watched a re-run of The Coronation, but this time it was in colour. If my memory derves me correctly I think we all had an ice cream at the interval.
As a whole the Summer Term was a busy one for the Prep, as you can see from the above extract, and a highlight for me was coming second out of 33 in The Triangle. The start of the Autumn Term would see a transition to the Upper School where a whole new world was awaiting us.
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