Manchester residents remember the Queen’s coronation, seventy years on

The coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla will be a historic first for millions of viewers in the UK. For some, however, the occasion marks the second crowning of a sovereign in their lifetime. 

The coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 was an unprecedented international occasion, becoming the only the second major world event to be broadcast globally (after the inauguration of US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which had occurred only months prior). 

The historic broadcast 70 years ago brought neighbourhoods across the United Kingdom together, as friends and relatives piled into individual homes to watch the proceedings.

Sonya Barton, 76

Back in 1953, six-year-old Sonya Barton was part of this phenomenon when her family was invited to a neighbour’s home to watch the occasion live on television.

“In those days, the television was a tiny screen inside a huge wooden cabinet. My chief memory is of it being dark in the room as we were all sitting there, watching the television!”

King Charles’ coronation will be a different affair, with over 27 million households now having access to television. As was the case in 1953, Sonya will watch the live coronation broadcast: “I am a royalist, so I’m quite looking forward to the King’s coronation. If there’s anything to do with the Royals on television nowadays, I watch it.”

Image Credit: Chris Jackson

“I do predict this coronation will be less extravagant than the last. Charles obviously wants to make the monarchy a bit more down to earth.”

Whilst she doesn’t remember too much of Elizabeth’s coronation itself, Sonya does have fond memories of school festivities and gifts.

“I was at infant school in Sheffield at the time of the coronation, and I remember we were all given a little tin of Cadbury’s chocolate. Better yet, my older sister got a pair of scissors!”

For children like Sonya, major news concerning the royal family was communicated through schools – including the death of Elizabeth’s predecessor, King George VI.

“I was at school when I found out, and a teacher came in and announced it.” Soya explains. “I don’t remember being particularly upset by the news – I don’t think you would understand at that age.

“But I do remember a lot of people around me being upset, because he had died such a young man and done great work during the war.”

Prestwich resident Sonya Barton (Image Credit: Aisha Sembhi)

There was also a personal connection between the Barton’s and the Queen’s coronation – the Dean of Westminster, Eric Abbot, was the godfather to Sonya’s brother. “He was the head of the theological college in Lincoln where my father trained, so there’s a nice personal connection between my family and the royals.”

Helen Norbury, 78

Like Sonya, Helen Norbury was a schoolgirl at the time of Elizabeth II’s coronation. “I can remember the days before at school, all the children queuing up in the hall. I did understand in a childlike way what was going on, and that something special was happening.”

At eight years old, Helen was also gifted coronation mementoes by her school. “The best thing of all was being given a tall blue drinking glass and a purple box with the Queen’s coat of arms, filled with a bar of chocolate. At such a young age, the most important thing to me was to get rid of the other stuff and get at the chocolate!

“Of course, the Queen’s coronation wasn’t that long after the war – sweets and chocolates were very rare commodities.”

Helen has fond memories of the coronation itself, recalling how neighbours and relatives travelled to her childhood home to watch the event.

“We were the only family on the lane with a television or one of few. I was playing in the garden with my cousins, and my friend Judith, and I remember my mum shouting through the window, ‘come inside now, because they’re going to crown the Queen.’

“I can remember pushing my way through this crowd of relatives, to sit in front of this little television. And I was just spellbound.” Helen says. “I think it was the music in the abbey – fabulous, beautiful music you wouldn’t usually hear at that age.

“There was total silence in that room. It was such a special moment.”

For King Charles’ coronation, Helen will instead play host to a family gettogether. “We are making a big family event out of it. Whatever your views are on the monarchy, you can’t ignore the fact that this is historical.”

“And we can’t forget that this will be a much more modern coronation.” Helen continues, “It’s a real step in the right direction.”

For Helen, a potential modernisation of the royal family can only be seen as a positive: “It’s a different world to how it was, when [Elizabeth] went on the throne. The whole world has changed.”

“It’s a good thing to embrace everyone – we all should be embracing each other and looking after each other.”

As a member of the Women’s Institute, Helen had the opportunity to visit Charles’ private home in the Cotswolds. “He has gardens from all over the world. A Chinese garden, and an Indian garden, for example. And there were these statues, or ‘busts’, of every colour and creed. It gave you a real insight into the person he was, and the King he would be.”

“We didn’t meet him that day, however, as we got off the coach we were welcomed by his head gardener and his housekeeper. They passed on well wishes – it was all just very nice.”

“Moments like that, I suppose, do make me more passionate about events like the coronation.”

Despite this passion, Helen is still a proponent of a scaled-back coronation, and a scale-back royal family altogether. “My husband Brian and I have been to every royal palace and every royal castle. And, to be honest, I think there’s too much gold, too much glitz.”

“I don’t mean we should put it all on bonfire! But I think it’s a good idea to think of some uses for these homes. That’s only a little personal thought. My mother used to say ‘the Buckingham Palace balcony is going to fall down with that lot all on it!”, which I always found funny!”

Husband and wife, Brian and Helen Norbury (Image Credit: Helen Norbury)

Michael Nicholson, 84 and Sheilah Renshaw, 81

Self-proclaimed ‘royalist’ siblings Michael Nicholson and Sheilah Renshaw grew up in Salford, and now reside in Prestwich. Michael was 14 at the time of the Queen’s coronation, and remembers it fondly.

“Our parents had just rented a television for the occasion. Not many people had televisions in those days. We had a house full of neighbours who came in, and I remember I spent the whole day watching the screen!”

Sheilah, who was 11 at the time, doesn’t remember specificities but does recall a unique excitement as she watched. “I remember being excited by the pretty dresses, and all the ladies that looked like princesses who were involved in the ceremony.”

On the coronation itself, Michael recalls memories of the golden state coach, and crowds of people cheering for the Queen. “And after years of everything being dull and dreary during the war, the coronation brightened everything up. The flags and the bunting, it was just a great time.”

Siblings Sheilah and Michael, and Michael’s wife Audrey (left) (Image Credit: Aisha Sembhi)

The monarchy has played a part in Michael’s professional life. Twelve months after the coronation, a then-15-year-old Michael joined the Royal Air Force as an apprentice and took an oath of allegiance to the crown.

He notes the subtle differences that came with the browning of a new monarch.“I noticed that all the buttons had to be changed on all the uniforms because the Queen’s crown was rather different to the King’s crown.”

Michael would go on to take the oath of allegiance twice more; once after rejoining the Air Force after a period of leave, and again after joining the police. 

Seventy years on, Michael still maintains the belief that the role of the monarchy is essential in British society. “It’s been with us for hundreds of years now, but for us personally – all our lives have been under the Crown. It makes you wonder what the alternative would be. I don’t think there is one.”

“I think as you get older, the shine wears off somewhat. I’m also a bit iffy about the modernisation of it all, to be honest. I’m a bit of a traditionalist.”

Sheilah disagrees: “I think the opposite, and I think Charles is doing the right thing. Modernising the coronation is a good way to reach the people. Not doing so would isolate certain sections of people. 

“But I’m also very much for tradition,” Sheilah continues, “I like the ceremonies and other traditional aspects of the coronation. But that particular modernisation of defending all faiths – I think Charles is in the right there.”

Regardless, both siblings are excited about the King’s coronation – Sheilah so much so that she’s purchased a commemorative t-shirt to wear on the day. 

Related Articles