Friday, 31 May 2013

Coronation Rehearsal... June 1953

I interrupt the flow of wartime letters to fast forward to 1953, as the 60th anniversary of our Queen Elizabeth's coronation is on Sunday. Here are two letters. One is from Tom Critchley to his sister and brother-in-law and the other is from his wife, Annie, to their niece Mollie Platt. She describes the Coronation rehearsal in 1953 at which her son Tom was officiating as a Gold Staff Officer.


My dear Mary and Harry,

Thank you for the magazines, they arrived yesterday. When we get some real photos of Tom, we will let you have one, his friend Henry, who works for U.G.B. took them, but hasn't yet suppled the prints – except for single copies of each snap.
We had Biddy over this way last weekend, she didn't come up to see us, she hadn't time, but we took her back to Euston. She rang up Tom to say what time she would arrive on Friday night. Tom and Margaret were playing tennis. Mr Robinson took the message and mucked it up, so Biddy arrived on her own, with no-one to meet her.
She got up early on Saturday morning, queued up for the abbey & St James, got back to Langton Avenue about 4, went to see Carol and Barbara in a dancing show & then went off with Tom and Margaret to see the lights, getting home about 1 on Sunday morning. She left on the 4.10 train. I guess she was tired.
Margaret says why doesn't Mollie park her luggage at Euston and stay overnight, or longer, with her on her way back instead of putting up at an hotel? We would offer too, but Annie is getting a bit beyond it, she has trouble with her legs, circulation and arthritis the doctor says.
I don't know yet when we shall be going to St Helens. I have written to Seth & asked him when it would suit them to put up with us. I had wondered if it would be possible to make it coincide with your return from Barmouth or with Biddy's next visit to Tom –  she talks of going there again later in the year. We will see what Seth says, it will probably be our last journey north & we ought to meet if it is possible. As one gets older car driving becomes more of a strain, one quite envies Ron and Tom and the way they drive about London. They each had cars in London last Saturday night. Ronald had been to Bromley, intended to come back over London Bridge, missed his road, found himself in Chelsea and got tied up in the West End traffic and sightseers. He says it took him one and a half hours to get across London. Tom took his car with Biddy, after doing the city, he intended to park at his usual place at the Home Ofice, but could not get nowhere near and had to wander about for ages following a stream of traffic.
I should have been even more white and wrinkled than I am after such a do.
Ronald had a good do at the Review, he got home about 5.30am. After the Queen had done her round a launch took them round the fleet, then after dinner they saw the illuminations and fireworks. Getting ashore at Southampton at about 2.00am.
So far we have had a very poor summer, not enough sun and rather too much rain, there never seems to have been a time when one could have said "The garden wants rain". Perhaps thats why the roses have been so wonderful, I have never seen them anything like so good and they came early.
By the way if Harry is short of room in the garage, here is a tip which I use. I have a tennis ball suspended from the roof & when the bonnet , cap, mascot, call it what you will, touches the ball, I am there.

Love from us both,


PS Annie hasn't yet found energy to write, our woman who comes has been on holiday last week and this week, she (the woman) intended going to Ascot on three days – they are the folks with money, our hard earned money. When we go away, she still comes in and gets paid for it, as well as her own holidays. Did we tell you we met Mrs Bennett in Southsea on our way back from the Isle of Wight? She is decidedly the worse for wear, not so well as when we saw her last year. we had coffee and cakes with her in a restaurant. She said she was going back there for lunch, but I strongly suspect she had sandwiches with her to eat where we left her on the green near the esplanade.

And here is Annie Critchley's letter their niece Mollie Platt.

My dear Mollie,

I wish you were here so I could talk instead of write. You say you would like my impressions of the coronation rehearsal, but really I don't know where to begin.
Up to the night before, I was undecided about going then Margaret and Tom came up & Tom told me he had to be in the Abbey by 7.00am, so I felt I couldn't manage that and definitely said I wouldn't go. before they went home I decided I would have a taxi, if Margaret would come with me. (my doctor had told me I must not go alone). Tom said he would see me in the abbey and to my seat. The door I had to go in by was a very old, very small door by the peeresses place. Thanks to Margaret we refused the efforts of the police to disgorge us at door no. 8 and were safely delivered at door no. 9. There was a long covered way and umpteen blokes in gorgeous uniforms at the entrance & Margaret asked if she could take me right to the abbey & they were all most obliging & I was glad she was with me as there were  two or three very old worn steps down & then up. However, it was all right & as soon as I got inside I saw Tom. He had put a big "reserved" card on a seat to which he conducted me.
The peeresses were not in their robes, but several of them were there in ordinary clothes – the first two rows had been reserved for personal friends of the Queen & the Earl Marshall – the latter's four little girls were a few rows in front of me, & the countess of Harewood just behind.
It was rather bewildering at first with the colours of the admirals, generals, heralds, knights of the garter & what not, and, of course, the heavy uniforms of the Kings at Arms. The latter were standing by a pillar just exactly opposite & I was looking at them and thinking how wonderful they were to stand so still when Lyon King at Arms fell with a crash, just at the moment when the Queen was conducted from Edward's chair to the throne. One thing sticks in my mind – the unceremonious way one man took his shoulders & another took his legs and they hurried him out. Another was going to help, but the Earl Marshall put up a warning finger. However, I see poor old Lyon King at Arms was able to officiate at Edinburgh.
Some of the things that I specially enjoyed were the scholars of Westminster School who have the honour of being the first to acclaim the new sovereign – this was in latin & they wore traditional costume.
The whole ceremony was very medieval – I felt as though I was back in pre-Tudor times, when church, and nobles were everything & the "common man" nothing at all – it really was all church & state even M.P.s were nothing – all crouched together in one section of the tiers which reached right up to the top of the high windows almost. Of course Churchill was much in evidence in his "Garter" robes.
Also I was very impressed by the dignity of it all. Such Pageantry & yet everyone seemed to know just what & when to do things. I must say the archbishop of Canterbury was splendid. He is an old man too. The beginning of the service when he brought the Queen (or rather her deputy) to our side first & said "sirs I here present unto to you" etc etc – and we said "God save Queen Elizabeth". Then he asked her if she would do this & that & her well-spoken replies.
Another part that was rather touching was when the royal red robe was taken off and she was in a very simple white linen gown – somehow she looked so lovely and young.
Needless to say the placing of the crown on her head was most thrilling, as was the homage. As the crown was placed on her head all the pages were waiting beside their respective peer with his coronet & when the peers all raised their coronets & placed them on, it was a most dazzling sight. I think Uncle Tom told you about the 2 small pages who came & sat by me and chewed gum – from the sublime to the ridiculous!
I hadn't realised before that one earl, one marquise, and baron etc represented all the earls etc – when the Earl Marshall (as the senior one) put on his coronet all the earls called out together – then followed the marquises, the viscounts, all in their order – talk about feudalism!.
The train bearers were in their robes & looked lovely, I felt very amused at the Lord Chancellor, who had to put his coronet over his wig. He did look odd!
I think I had better stop now and listen to the cricket.
As England has the usual bad luck of losing the toss, I'll write a bit more.
Oh, please thank whoever is responsible for the "illustrated" which arrived safely yesterday.
Tom was not the only lucky one. Ronald, as you perhaps know is at the "Crown Agents for the Colonies" His works deals specially with the Falkland Islands. They sent a ship, the "John Briscoe" to Spithead for the review and the Governor of the Isles sent Ronald a ticket to go aboard the John Briscoe. So he went down to Southampton where a launch took him to the ship. It is a research ship, which has been to the Arctic. Needless to say, Ronald had a wonderfull time – lunch on board , saw everything, including the illuminations and firework display arriving home at 5.00am next morning, & getting a puncture at Hyde Park Corner of all places, on the way home.
Poor little Bobby is at Great Ormand Street Hospital being operated on today for those fingers – he will probably be in for a week – Ronald went to see him yesterday – he cried a bit, but the sister said he had been very good.
Betty's mother & her husband are supposed to arrive next Thursday.
Biddy paid a flying visit to Tom's last week-end – arrived about 10.30pm Friday & went back 4.00pm on Sunday. She went to Westminster abbey & St James palace by herself on Saturday. The children were taking part in a ballet display in the afternoon to which she went. Then at night they all (except Carol) went to see the illuminations.
You will be counting the days now till you go to Switzerland. I hope you have a lovely time. Have you booked at the Russell Hotel yet? Tom says if you  like to go there you will be very welcome – the children would of course be delighted – it is quite easy to get from Euston to Whetstone, & you could leave your luggage at the left luggage office at Euston. Perhaps though, you may have heard from them. I told them what you intended doing & they at once said "she could come to us". I would like to ask you to come here, but I'm not much good these days.
We haven't quite made up our minds about St Helens yet sometimes I think we're better at home, but Uncle Tom certainly wants to go to Shanklin again in October. On Sunday we are supposed to go to tea with some people from Finchley we met there.
This letter is growing as long as Mrs Lockhart's. I wrote her a fortnight back after keeping hers 5 months and have already had a reply. They hope to come and see us in August again, just for the day of course.
Now Mollie, after this great effort, please don't keep me waiting 5 months.
We re waiting to hear definitely when Uncle Seth & Co are going away, before we settle anything about going. He asked me how I liked washing dishes next day after being at the abbey but I say I would rather wash dishes every day than go to the abbey every day.
Margaret looked very nice with her evening dress, wrap and veil. She is buying the stool on which she sat. She couldn't see anything of the actual ceremony but had a good view of the various processions & and didn't find the time long.
the earl marshall did a wonderful job. He seemed to think of everything. there was even a small room where you could go for repairs to your finery – neeedlewoman in attendance.
This letter will be getting overweight if I carry on much longer. I am without Mrs Ryan, who is on holiday, but I'm afraid the work is waiting for her when she comes back on Monday.
Now for some more cricket!
Love to your mother, father and yourself & hoping to see you somehow, somewhere before too long.

Auntie Annie,

Excuse awful writing and rambling letter.
PS My dear husband has just come home & informs me that he wrote from Brimsdown this afternoon, so what a lot of energy I've wasted! Have you been able to see the show in Glasgow today? We saw the Edinburgh do on TV.

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