Seaford community knew how to celebrate royal events

Kevin Gordon
Kevin Gordon
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George V was a grandson of Queen Victoria and a cousin of both the Tsar of Russia and the Kaiser of Germany. He succeeded his father Edward VII in 1910 and was crowned the following year. The people of Seaford celebrated the Coronation with gusto. Church Street school was decorated and bedecked with flags, not only union flags but also specially-printed bunting showing the new King and his wife Queen Mary.

A section of this has been preserved and is on display at Seaford Museum in the school-room area. The school in Church Street also provided a float for the grand procession which marched through the town. Seaford School was given one of Mr Simmons carts which was bedecked in red, white and blue, even the wheels had colourful rosettes attached. Several girls, including the school May-Queen, all dressed in white rode in the cart. The parade, led by the band of the newly formed Seaford Boy Scouts, had contingents of soldiers, nurses and what appear to be young ladies carrying spears!

The procession passed under two “triumphal arches” The first arch was massive, stretching over the road near to where Tesco now is. It appears to have been made from flagpoles and was decorated with flags, bunting and tree branches. The second one was built by the Fire Brigade and was two outstretched escape ladders joined at the top and again decorated with flags (and firemen!)

George V was our King throughout the difficult days of the Great War but by 1935, aged 69, he was becoming frail. In March that year the King and Queen travelled to Sussex to convalesce in Eastbourne. Despite the town being known as “the Suntrap of the South” the weather was cold and wet. On the Thursday the King and Queen decided to drive over to Seaford to visit Peter Beck, their god-son. Peter was the brother of their Estate Manager at Sandringham and was a teacher at King’s Mead School to the west of Seaford.

The visit apparently took the school by surprise and it must have been a shock for the Headmaster to see the King and Queen turn up unannounced. The King went inside the school whist the Queen fed the ducks outside. The school had not even had enough time to clean up and when the King noticed a glass of beer on the dining room table, he picked it up, sniffed it and said “I don’t suppose you feed your boys with lager, Mr Shilcock?!” The school was empty as the boys were in Bishopstone at a scout camp and by the time the message could be got to them to return, the royal couple had left but not before signing the school visitors book which is now in the possession of Seaford Museum. This was actually the year that the King had his Silver Jubilee and the people of Seaford must have been proud that he had visited the town during Jubilee year.

During Jubilee Week in May, Seaford Urban District Council arranged many activities across the town with sporting and church events, dinners and parades.

A joint church Thanksgiving Service was attended by hundreds of people on the land shortly to be used for the Ritz Cinema (now the site of Morison’s) and there was Community Singing in the Salts. On the evening of 6th May there was a torchlight procession up to Seaford Head where a huge bonfire beacon had been built.

George V died in 1936 and his son Edward VIII was due to be the King. Seaford telephone exchange was built this year in East Street and the monogram of the King was duly placed above the door. As you are aware however, Edward abdicated before his coronation therefore Seaford is left with a rare piece of civic architectural decoration. Seaford Museum has a number of “Coronation” souvenirs dated 12th May 1937, when he would have been crowned had he not abdicated.

Instead, that was the day when George VI was crowned and Seaford was again bedecked in red white and blue. Clinton Place, Broad Street and the High Street was a riot of colour with flags and bunting stretched across the street. Once again the council put on a variety of sporting and civic events (this time the community singing was around the bonfire on Seaford Head) The Ceremonies in London were broadcast at the Ritz cinema, which had only opened nine months earlier. Admission was free to the public. At 12 noon there was a carnival procession along the Esplanade with decorated carts, cars and bicycles followed by a tea party for children aged between 4 and 15 each of them being presented with a Coronation Mug.

There is a huge collection of coronation mugs and royal memorabilia from throughout the years at Seaford Museum which has a number of special displays to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. There is a special “jubilee trail” for children throughout June and on Wednesday, June 6, between 10am and noon a craft event for children with a royal theme. The Martello Tower itself will take pride of place on Jubilee evening (June 4) when a fantastic laser light show will be based at the museum and the traditional beacon will be lit by laser from the tower.