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“The King is Dead. Long live the Queen”

King George VI visits Sheffield, after the Blitz, to speak to the people personally.
Copyright Newspaper Press Agency


At the age of ten years, seventy-six years ago, Elizabeth Alexandra, Mary Mountbatten-Windsor began her apprenticeship in the duties necessary to become our future Queen, with her grandparents King George V and Queen Mary. By 6th February 2012 she had faithfully served us, as Queen, for 60 years, a reign only surpassed by Queen Victoria who reigned for 63yrs and 216days. To my mind she is the best statesman this county has and her extensive reign, even in the worse of times, she has never let us down and has also been a constant rock on which we can depend. Even when confronted with challengers like American’s ex-President George W. Bush, who winked at her and then couldn’t remember the date when his country became independent, and had to rely on her to help him out.
The accession to the Throne of Queen Elizabeth II was a happy occasion for this country. But by its nature was accompanied by the deepest public and private sorrow.
On 23rd November 1948 it was reported in the media that King George VI was extremely ill and in March the following year he underwent extensive surgery to improve his blood circulation and therefore save his foot.
Then in May 1951 he again became very ill and it was discovered that the King had lung cancer. Despite risks to his heart, on Sunday 23rd Sept. he underwent another extensive operation, this time to remove his entire left lung. The King was to have five such operations in the few years prior to his death.
Before his illness, it was planned that he should tour Kenya, East Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Now it was evident that this was impossible and one dismal, cold, January day in 1952 he waved his daughter and son-in-law off to fulfil this obligation in his place. The Queen was never to see her father again.
During this tour Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were invited to spend some time at a lodge, built into a fig tree, where wildlife could be observed and photographed. This was the infamous Treetops attached to the Outspan Hotel, Nyeri, Kenya where, on the 6th February 1952 Prince Philip was to inform his young wife of the tragic death of her father, at the age of fifty-six from a coronary thrombosis, and that consequently she was now Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of this realm, and its Territories, Head of the Commonwealth and Empire, the Defender of the Faith. A tremendous responsibly for someone of just twenty-five years old.
King George VI had not been born to be heir to the throne and as such was not instructed in statesmanlike ways or matters, but when his brother abdicated in 1936 he had, despite being of a weak disposition, having a terrible speech impediment, plus great reservations on his part, came to the fore and the man who some, quite unkindly, referred to as “the stuttering, knock-kneed Prince George” lead his country through the unparalleled dangers and difficulties brought about by the Second World War.
But it was the King’s vulnerability and his fight to overcome it that made him beloved of his people. This is verified by an account of the last visit made by the King to this area on 9th February 1944 when, unlike some members of the aristocracy, when visiting Elsecar Colliery he had eaten his meals with the rest of the men in the pit canteen, laughing and joking with them. He then went on to Hickleton Main Colliery where he walked among the ‘black-faced colliers’ shaking them by the hand and telling them how pleased he was with them, also what an important part they were to the war effort.
Now the man who had led us through the adversities of the Second World War was dead and the South Yorkshire Times in their edition on 9th February 1952 stated that “South Yorkshire heard the news of the death in stunned bewilderment. People obviously felt a deep sense of personal loss in the death of a popular and unostentatious monarch”.
So high was the King placed in the affections of the people of this area that on the Wednesday following the announcement of the King’s death that the cinemas of Mexborough closed and the public houses here remained closed until the Friday after. Various shops in the town draped their windows with black crepe and they closed the following Monday for two hours. All W.V.S. activities were curtailed until after the King’s funeral. Also all Mexborough & Swinton Conservative Party socials were cancelled until March. Two minutes silence was observed on Saturday at 2pm by the collieries of both the Don and Dearne Valleys, where every piece of machinery stood silent and every man stood with his head solemnly bowed. Whereas on the Tuesday, at Mexborough Rotary Club Luncheon, the members stood in silent tribute and their President read out a letter of condolence from the Rotary Club of Arnhem, Holland.
As with numerous monarchs before, the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II was proclaimed to a huge crowd in Montagu Square. The Proclamation was not read out, as in years gone by, to the chiming of a hand bell accompanied by the voice of the Town Crier. This time the Proclamation was read out by a council dignitary, County Councill9or G.M. Hanson JP Chairman of Mexborough Urban District Council, who stood on a dais draped with the Union Jack with his wife to one side of him and Mr. S.H.E. Crane the Council Clerk on the other. The ceremony was opened by Mexborough Military Band playing a fanfare, personally composed by the Band Master Mr. F. Tupling, this was followed by the playing of ‘Abide With Me’ the proclamation was read, ‘God Save the Queen’ was then played, for the first time, and then the crowd, who had remained silent throughout the whole proceedings spontaneously broke out into three cheers for the new Queen.
At Swinton the Queen’s Accession to the throne was read out by Coun. J. Randerson on the Monday outside the Council Offices. Whereas at Wath 300 people thronged around the Town Hall and to the fading chimes of the Parish Church Clock at twelve noon on Saturday Councillor A. Beatie read out the Proclamation. Pupils of Wath Grammar School purchased trees in order to line the new Festival Road and two of these were dedicated to George VI and Queen Elizabeth II.
In the towns of our area, while the Proclamations were being read the Union Jacks, which had been flown at half-mast, were placed at full-mast and then returned to their former position following the ceremony. Among the many Union Jacks seen flying at half-mast in Mexborough at the time an unusual one was seen, this was situated at Mexborough Fire Station and was said to be the official flag of the West Riding County Fire Service.
The King’s funeral ceremony took place on Saturday 16th February 1952. His coffin was taken in solemn procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, where a service took place, attended by the monarchy of Europe and beyond. He was taken to Windsor Castle where a private service was conducted in St. George’s Chapel, and it was here that he was laid to rest.
The Queen had been very close to her father and was so grief stricken by his death that it was 10th April 1952 before she felt capable of undertaking any public engagements, she spent her time closeted in her private apartments reading up on documents and affairs of state. It was sixteen months before she was crowned.

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II 1953

Coronation Celebrations in Mexborough. Joyce Thompson, rides in the carriage, enacting the part of Queen Elizabeth I, heralding in the ‘New Elizabethan Age’ Taken on Main Street, passing the Co-operative buildings. The top of Hartley Street can be seen in the distance.


For too long Britain, particularly the north which had been so bombarded during the 2nd World War, had laboured under the shadow of that war, and was quick to embrace with open arms arrangements to celebrate the coronation of its new and young Queen. This was to start a new era and a new beginning for all ‘The New Elizabethan Age’.
The main festivities arranged by our Urban District Council were to begin in the morning of the 31st May 1953 with a service at St. John the Baptist Parish Church, followed in the evening by a huge open-air service on the Cricket Ground. The next day Mexborough Chamber of Trade was to present the Chairman of Mexborough Urban District Council with a splendid, gold bejewelled Chain of Office. A vast Coronation Ball was planned for the Empress Ballrooms, which was to extend from 8p.m. to 1a.m. the following morning. Coronation Celebrations were to last for a full week and the height was to be a pageant, the theme of which was to be Tudor, reflecting the ‘New Elizabethan Age’ by mirroring the old. It was to commence at 1.30p.m. on Saturday 6th June at Highwoods and proceed through the streets of Mexborough culminating on the Athletic Ground.
But “the best made plans of mice and men…..”. The morning of the 2nd June 1953 dawned terribly and was followed by a deluge of rain, wind and temperatures more reminiscent of bleak midwinter rather than flaming June.
In London at 10.20a.m. wrapped in waterproofs, the crowds who had been waiting patiently in the rain for hours to witness the magnificent gilded Royal State Coach, pulled by eight white horses leave Buckingham Palace. Rather than being driven four were mounted as Postillions, each wearing gold braided jackets and velvet caps, accompanied by Footmen and Yeoman of the Guard. Inside sat the Queen wearing a white silk gown embroidered with emblems from the Commonwealth. With her sat Prince Philip in full dress uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet.
The Queen’s arrival at the abbey was heralded by a fanfare of trumpets. Then the first of the phases of coronation, ‘the recognition’ then commenced. The archbishop and all the great offices of state went to the east, west, and north of the abbey and shouted “Sirs, I here present to you Queen Elizabeth your undoubted Queen” to which the response came “God save Queen Elizabeth”.
The signing of the “Pledge of Oath” then followed. This states that the Queen is subject to the law and must rule by it. The communion then began by the Queen being anointed with Holy Oil and dedicating herself to the service of the people for her whole life. She then, bereft of her splendid gown and wearing only a simple white ‘shift’ was guided to the Coronation Chair containing the Scottish Stone of Scone. After sitting, a canopy of gold cloth was held over her by four Garter Knights, the Archbishop then placed his thumb into the Holy Oil and anointed her hands, breast and head. The Scottish Moderation then presented her with the Holy Bible.
The Queen the received all the emblems of sovereignty, the vestments, spurs, jewelled sword, the orb, ring, royal sceptre and rod of equity and mercy.
The supreme moment of the coronation service had now arrived; the Archbishop firstly dedicated the Crown of St. Edward at the High Alter, then standing before the Queen he gently placed it on her head. At the precise moment all princes, peers of the realm, nobility kings of arms, etc all shouted “God Save the Queen” replacing their coronets as they did so. Trumpets sounded, bells pealed and salvoes of cannon fire could be heard from the Tower of London and St. James Park, announcing to the world that the Queen had been crowned.
She was then enthroned, by the Archbishop, bishop and peers lifting her onto the Raised Throne, there to be given homage by her subjects. The first to do so were the Archbishop and Prince Phillip who in turn knelt at the Queen’s feet and placed their hand between her’s stating “I swear to become your leageman for life and limb, and of earthly worship and faith and truth I will bear unto you to live and die against all manner of folk. So help me God”. The steps of the throne were then ascended, by the nobility, and the Kiss of Oath and Fealty of the Realm, in order of seniority, paid homage.
After putting aside her crown , sceptre, and rod, the Queen and her husband received the Holy Sacrament and the Queen and all her nobles, went to St. Edward’s Chapel where on emerging it was seen that she had changed into the white silk embroided, emblazed gown she had arrived in, with this she also wore a Royal Purple Robe, and wore the Imperial Crown which was much lighter in weight, she held the sceptre in her right hand and the orb in her left.
At 3.05p.m. the vast procession containing 10,000 infantry and cavalry from the British Isles and the Commonwealth left Westminster Abbey to return to Buckingham Palace.
At Last, after six and a half hours away the Queen was to return to Buckingham Palace and on mounting the balcony she was saluted by a fly-past of the RAF. The vast crowds chanting “We want the Queen” summoned her repeatedly to the balcony, throughout the night. Then as ‘Big Ben’ chimed midnight the Queen made her final appearance to deafening cheers.
This had been the first coronation of a new age, and one with a difference, as for the first time in history the populace could witness the whole proceedings as if they were there themselves. The decision by our Queen to request of the Coronation Commission that they should change their minds and allow the coronation to be televised was an inspiration as it saved the day for many due to the weather.
My grandfather, after trimming Mexborough with flags, buntings, and lights, set about doing the same with the street where he lived. He was also one of those, who for the first time, was the proud owner of a G.E.C. television set, with an eight inch screen, purchased from the Mexborough Urban District Council Electrical Showrooms at the junction of Adwick Road and Bank Street, especially for the occasion. As the deluge of rain descended, friends, relations, and neighbours, all bringing home-made confectionary, put additional coal on the open fire, gradually removed the furniture from his small living-room and converted it into a tiny cinema, with the aid of dinning-room chairs brought from their homes.
The youngest patients of Montagu Hospital were also among those who viewed it all on T.V. This was followed by re-enactment of the coronation as ten year old Patricia Wood of Conisbrough was crowned on a throne draped in white satin.
Denaby, having newly installed electric light it to its best advantage as the headgear and manager’s office sported a floodlit crown and message. Not to be outdone, the Miner’s Welfare Institute also had a floodlit crown and many other patriotic symbols could be seen illuminated in the windows of houses throughout the village. Every hall, club, institute and public room was taken up by a street party where splendid teas were provided for the young and old alike. Despite the atrocious weather a twenty-minute film was made by Mr. R. Smith of the celebrations held at Swinton, which was shown at the Roxy Cinema in the town.
In Mexborough many braved the elements to hold celebrations in church halls, school rooms and even garages. These were taker, in the pouring rain, to people unable to attend celebrations. Pubs and working men’s clubs came to the fore as, Those that were able, went indoor to drink copious toasts to the new Queen in ‘Coronation’ Brew’, which was stated to be “too strong and too much”. Jean Bart and her soldier escort braved the lashing rain to lead a parade from Victoria Street to Roman Terrace School, on Wath Road, where celebrations had been diverted indoors. The South Yorkshire Times stated, “Mexborough was equal to the weather and celebrated the crowning of its sovereign with true South Yorkshire enthusiasm”.
Mexborough’s week of coronation celebrations was brought to a climax by a Period Pageant the Saturday following the coronation and the weather couldn’t have been more different as hundreds of people who came to watch the procession and attend the pageant were bathed in brilliant sunshine.
The procession made a colourful spectacle bedecked as they were in medieval costume. At Post Office Square the York Herald and the Standard Bearer, both from Wentworth Pony Club, after a fanfare of trumpets. Rode forward to ask permission to enter the town. The Chairman of Mexborough Urban District council , the sunlight shining on his gold bejewelled new Chain of Office, then cut the red tape spanning the road, allowing them to pass.
With much clattering of hooves the procession continued on its way headed by a carriage surrounded by pike-men and carrying Queen Elizabeth I and her ladies-in-waiting. The lady who took the part of this illustrious lady was later to be known to us all, as she became our beloved Chairman Joyce Thompson, who sadly died a few years ago.
To a fanfare of trumpets the climax of the day arrived, “The Tableaux of Eight Reigns”. It covered eight hundred years of history and took in the various kings and famous characters of each century. First onto the stage came King Alfred, followed by Richard the Lionheart, John of Gaunt, Henry V, Archbishop Cranmer, Samuel Pepys and finally Elizabeth I (Joyce Thompson). The central throne remained empty throughout carrying the symbols of sovereignty.
Finally the last moment arrived and the combined choirs of infants, juniors and secondary schools sang and Mexborough Military Band played “Long Live Elizabeth” specially arranged for the occasion by Fred Tupling, director of the band.
The last act came when the Union Jack was broken from the flagstaff. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
Info From:

Photos: George VI’s visit to Sheffield following the blitz. Sheffield Archives website
Joyce Thompson as Elizabeth I. Our own archives
The South Yorkshire Times 9th & 16th Feb. 1952 June 1953.
The Country Life Book of the Silver Jubilee by Patrick Montague-Smith

Copyright. This newsletter may not be reproduced, in part or in its entirety, without the permission of Julia Ashby