History of Coronations

Coronations have been celebrated since, quite literally, biblical times. The first recorded English Coronation was described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when King Edgar was crowned at Bath in AD 973. The traditional English ceremony was directly inspired by the coronations of kings of Israel and kings of Judah in the Bible. Indeed, the rousing Coronation anthem ‘Zadok the Priest’ describes when King Solomon was declared king and is a musical setting for verses straight out of the Bible in 1 Kings 1:38-40. It was written by Handel for George II’s Coronation in 1727 and has been used at them all since.

Coronation 1953

Many older folk remember the Queen’s Coronation on June 2, 1953. Margaret from Chesham still has the scrap book which she made of it when she was a girl, her copy of the souvenir programme and the mug she got from the school. As part of a national network, beacons were lit at high points in the Chilterns, at Whiteleaf near Princes Risborough, Combe Hill near Wendover, and Beacon Hill, near Ellesborough. In Chesham there was a whole afternoon of events in the Park, although some people decided to go up to London to join the crowds.

Going up to London

Doug from Ley Hill told me that when his mother Daphne was 16, she and two girls she worked with went up to Piccadilly and waited all night in the rain. To help keep up the morale a few military bands were marching and playing during the nights, or perhaps they were practising for the big day. One of the bands was the Royal Air Force central band. About 8 months after the coronation Daphne met Terry who she went onto marry, and she found out that he had been drumming in the RAF central band during the night, and so she had seen him before.

Televised Coronation 1953

At the time of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, televisions existed but few owned them. They were small screens, there was only one channel and it was in black and white. Mary Clow recalled they had friends on a nearby farm who had bought a television set especially to watch the Coronation. Straight after breakfast they went over to join them in front of the small square box, placed high up on top of a bookcase, so everyone could see the flickering black and white picture. She remembers watching it whilst the grown-ups popped corks, and the children ate lots of snacks.

Coronation Medals

Those fortunate to be invited or involved in the Coronation received a Coronation medal. Mr Smith from Chesham told me that both his parents were invited to the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. They were unable to go but received their medals, which he still has in their original red boxes. On the front is a side view of the crowned Queen and on the reverse side is the motif E.R. with the phrase “Queen Elizabeth II Crowned 2nd June 1953”. The band is red with two blue vertical stripes. His father was entitled to wear it with his war medals.

Coronation 2023

Roll forward 70 years and the traditions continued. In Chesham you could go to the Elgiva to watch the Coronation live on their screen. This was followed by crafts for children. On Sunday there was a High Street Coronation Celebration between noon and 6pm with music, market stalls and fairground attractions.

Ley Hill is also well known for its great community events and so it was to there that I went for the Coronation. The village beacon was turned into a crown with British flags from it.

Events on the Common

Like the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, it also rained in 2023. However, whilst some stayed at home, other families gathered on the Common under gazebos and wrapped in blankets with their flasks of tea, they waved Union Jacks and watched the Coronation on a big screen to recreate the community spirit of 1953. Kids watched in wonder at the fairytale carriages and gasped as the king was crowned. Picnics then came out and people ate sandwiches and chatted. One family had made a Union Jack cake which they ate and shared.

Maypole Dancing

An old tradition is maypole dancing which for many years was done at Ley Hill School and performed at fetes and events. After a few years absence, the tradition was restored, and school children did maypole dancing outside the Crown, led by Mrs Rennard. Boys and girls from Ley Hill School danced to make ribbons make patterns around the pole which had a crown at the top.

Village Hall

Then there were events in the village hall, with a bouncy castle much enjoyed by the children. The Brownies and Guides put on craft activities. In the village hall there was a display of art done by children from Ley Hill School, and you could buy a Coronation mug, tea towel or bag, and local girl Amy sculptured crowns and swords out of long balloons for the children.

Over the stage was a banner which read “Long Live the King and Queen”. It looked like from another era, and it was. It had previously been used for the Coronation of George VI in 1937. Mrs Peterson said it belonged to her mother and had been kept until it might be ever needed again.

Choir Concert

Music was provided by a band playing outside the pubs. At 3:30pm the chapel choir put on a Coronation concert in the Methodist chapel with music from the last 70 years, starting with the rousing Zadok the priest. Unlike the choir at Westminster Abbey which sang some things in Latin, this was all in English. The chapel was full and there was standing room only.

United Service

The Coronation is essentially a religious service, so on Sunday local people gathered on Ley Hill Common by the beacon for a village open air service. It was led by the Anglican vicar Darren and the Methodist minister Andrew with music from the chapel music group, and afterwards back to the chapel for refreshments. Everyone agreed it had been a great Coronation. Miriam, aged six, said: “It was great fun and brilliant.”