How Chichester celebrated the Queen's Coronation in 1953

Chichester has marked all coronations and jubilees since 1800 in fine style with the city en fête with events, street decorations and parades.

For the coronations of King Edward VII in 1902 and King George V in 1911, replica arches were erected on the sites of the four gates and commemorative mugs were commissioned by the mayor of the day, bearing his name as well as the monarch’s, and given to schoolchildren at vast tea parties held in Priory Park. In all cases, nicely printed souvenir programmes were produced by the Corporation for sale to the public.

When King George VI died on February 6, 1952, his death and the accession of Queen Elizabeth II was proclaimed, as was customary, at the Cross by the mayor, Alderman George Purchase, to an assembled crowd of some 500 people.

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For the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II over a year later, on June 2, 1953, the mayor and Corporation planned a celebration for Chichester but those celebrations were destined to be much lower key than previous occasions and, unlike the royal visit three years later, it has largely been forgotten by Cicestrians.

The 1953 coronation mug. The only thing to identify it with the city was the backstamp CITY OF CHICHESTER underneath.

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A Coronation committee was set up under the direction of the mayor, Alderman Frank Worley, and chaired by Alderman George Purchase, which first met on July 16, 1952. A design competition was staged for the street decorations and a first prize of 10 guineas was awarded to R Lewis Reynish.

The sum of £1,000 was agreed for the decorations and 2,000 souvenir coronation programmes would be printed and put on sale at 6d (equivalent to 2½p).

The committee’s initial, ambitious, ideas had to be quickly scaled back as this was still the era of post-war rationing, and when they reported back to the full council, heated debates broke out between the councillors as to how much should be spent.

An advertisement in the Chichester Observer of May 16, 1953, by T F Lummus. As the coronation was to be televised, dealers were quick to encourage the take up of television (still a minority activity) so that the event could be watched at home.

It was finally agreed that the event would be funded by a 3d rate on householders (equivalent to 1½p) to raise £2,150 to fund the celebrations.

In May 1953, councillor Alice Eastland was elected the city’s first female mayor, with the added honour of being Chichester’s Coronation mayor. She was also one of the mayors invited to attend the Coronation service in Westminster Abbey.

As the day grew closer, the Coronation committee chairman addressed a public meeting urging support, at which he is reported in the Chichester Observer as having said: “I do appeal from the bottom of my heart to the people of this city to take advantage of what we are providing and to enjoy themselves... but it is not anything like what we had at our disposal at the coronation last time in terms of purchasing power.”

This last, rather desperate message confirmed that it was indeed to be a utility affair.

The souvenir programme was criticised as its austere nature made it disappointing as a souvenir, with nothing to identify it with the city. Attempts to locate a copy of the programme have been unsuccessful, so presumably they were so underwhelming they were thrown away.

The day was marred by rain and a cool north-east wind but events duly began at 8am with a 21-gun salute followed at 11.15am by a television relay to the cathedral of the coronation service for those unable to watch it at home.

In the afternoon, children’s sports took place in Priory Park, attracting a crowd of 800, and more than 200 children aged up to 15 took part in races competing for £25 of prize money.

At 6.30pm, a carnival procession comprising 30 vehicles wound its way around the town led by the City Band.

Poor Miss Chichester – Miss Margaret Dummer – froze on the back of a lorry, unsuitably dressed for the weather.

Instead of the intended children’s tea party in Priory Park, street parties had taken place across the city and all Chichester children had been given a coronation mug – a mug that was very much plainer than previous examples had been.

In the evening, the cathedral spire was floodlit by three searchlights provided by the Territorial Army and the building was also floodlit internally.

At 9pm, the Queen’s message was relayed live to the Recreation Ground, followed at 10pm by a firework display. There was dancing from 8pm to midnight at the Barracks while some 400 made their way to the top of the Trundle, where a bonfire, built by the Boy Scouts, was lit promptly at 10pm starting a sequence of bonfires across the Downs.

Smaller events also took place in the surrounding villages of Birdham, Bosham, Chidham, East and West Wittering, Funtington and West Stoke, Hunston, Lavant, North Mundham, Selsey, and Sidlesham.

On Thursday, June 4, the mayor, Alice Eastland, planted a coronation tree in Jubilee Gardens and on Saturday, June 13, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, made a visit to Chichester, during which he dedicated a new coronation window in the Cathedral.

The coronation window was the result of an appeal to the mayors of Sussex; situated in the south quire aisle and designed by Christopher Webb, its four bays contain the arms of the ten boroughs of the county.

• This article has been written in conjunction with The Novium Museum, which supplies a monthly feature for the Chichester Observer’s Retro page.