Bath Voice Feature: Rob Coles of Bath recalls the Coronation year of 1953 and when the Odeon screened a newsreel film: A Queen is Crowned

Bathonian Rob Coles looks back wistfully to the year 1953 when the late Queen Elizabeth II was crowned – the first coronation to be televised live. Here Rob recalls the city back in the day:

To paraphrase Luke Kelly of the Black Velvet Band, ‘In a neat little town they call Bath’, was a place very different from that of today. Except for cycling past the Loco Sheds, Stotherts and the Gas Works to sit in my grandmother’s darkened room watching a dim television and being a bored young schoolboy I have little to tell.
In place of personal memories I have looked at the local newspapers to see what was happening locally on the day.

I immediately noticed what an all embracing event it was with not a hint of controversy or scandal. In nearly every advertisement by shops, now long gone, had a Coronation theme. Hatt & Co Beauty and Hair, and Rayner’s Fashions, both in The Corridor; Elliott’s Fashion Store in Green Street; Charles’ Shoes, of Milsom Street; Plummers’, Drapers; Evans and Owens and many more even Best Stores (HM’s Government Surplus) all included the Coronation theme.

Local press photographers including Reg Highfield, who had covered the VE day street parties must have had a busy day photographing events all over Bath and West Wiltshire. The films and prints would all have been processed in the Westgate Street, Chronicle newspaper office. No internet or camera phones, but large and heavy Speed Graphic cut film cameras. The Theatre Royal had a production of Ladies in Waiting, tickets were 2/- to 6/6. Across the road in the Palace Theatre the main attraction was Dawn White and her Glamazons, The Biggest Bevy of Buxom Beauties ever seen! The backing acts included young trick cyclists and a balancing act, tickets 1/6 to 3/6. the heading of the newspaper report – Dawn and her Girls go over big, (I think it related to the Can Can which made Dawn breathless!).

The Odeon was showing Desert Rats with the promise of the technicolor film A Queen is Crowned the following week. The Beau Nash picture house had South of Algiers, while The Scala was showing The Last Page. Turn the Key Softly, was at the Forum and Jacques Tati in Joi to Fete was showing at the Little Theatre – then only a single screen cinema. All would have been viewed through a haze of blue tobacco smoke. Twelve miles away Frank Sinartra was to appear the following week in the Bristol Hippodrome.

Lyncombe Ward pensioners watched a clear projected TV picture of the Coronation on a 4ft x 3ft screen (it wasn’t that clear on my Gran’s 12”). Special meals were prepared and the wards were decorated in the hospitals and souvenirs distributed including ashtrays for the gentlemen. Some patients were taken in motor cars to see the pageant procession through the Bath’s streets, while stretcher cases were taken on lorries courtesy of the Rotary Club.

Three oak trees were planted in Henrietta Park to mark the occasion while the Historical Pageant procession ended in Victoria Park where the Queen’s speech was to be broadcast to the expected crowds. Last minute changes were made to the plans for the Historical Pageant procession as it was feared that the music of the five bands would frighten the horses! Pratts Hotel advertised a six course celebration dinner at 15/-. There was a dance in the Pavilion with Reg Ball and his orchestra, where members of the forces in uniform were charged 3/-, while Michael Sefton’s Dance Academy in Wellsway held a party dance. Roman City Coaches ran a trip to London for 16/- returning at midnight – what a journey down the A4 in the dark! For those wanting to get away from it all, there was a 5/9d coach trip to Clevedon.

The local newspaper ran youth club reports and local sports with a great many names mentioned. Donald Candy and Barbara Crews announced their engagement and Blake of the Jupiter Inn was wished a happy birthday. There were no display ads or photos of Houses for sale, although Tilley and Culverwell were offering a Georgian 5 bed property on Bathwick Hill for £3,950; small properties were a little over £1,000 and a mid range semi in Abbey View Gardens was on Kingston and Co’s books at £2,700. The few cars advertised for sale included a 1938 Standard 9 for £185 and an ex WO Enfield for £45.

And finally it was reported that Matilda Bishop of Dafford Street Larkhall celebrated her 84th birthday on Coronation Day – maybe with a 10/6d hat from Arthur’s Stores in Westgate Street. While Mrs Elsie Ford gave birth to the first Coronation day baby in Paulton Hospital. A band of gypsies of all ages dressed in their colourful costumes were welcomed to the TV show in Trowbridge Town Hall.

In the Chronicle’s stop press it was reported by the police that there were 3,062 casualties along the route of the London Coronation procession, 114 being taken to hospital.

There has been so much change since then, and there will be no Queen Salote of Tonga who gained much fame for riding in an open coach in the pouring rain of the Coronation procession and the policemen officers lining the route who would have watched the procession rather than faced the crowds.

Yet some things remain the same. It was reported that the Salvation Army Men’s Hostel, in North Parade, will collect unwanted clothing and anything useful.