West Sussex Unwrapped IV: A County Celebrates – Coronations Past and Present

With May’s Coronation on the horizon, a first for many in the country, it seems only fitting we look back through the years and see how the County celebrated the formal accession of King Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and his grandfather, King George VI.

To help mark this occasion, West Sussex Record Office and Screen Archive South East will be hosting a FREE online talk on the 18th of April. We’ll also be looking to take in records that YOU the reader create at during the long May Bank Holiday. Photographs, films, diaries or art – anything to record your feelings (positive or negative) about this time.

Sound interesting? Well then, let’s head back in time, to see what every corner of the County got up to in 1937 and 1953…

Royal Coronations on Film

Snippet from the films by Screen Archive South East, part of the series for West Sussex Unwrapped.
Please do not use any of the footage or images used within this blog for your own use without first contacting Screen Archives South East or West Sussex Record Office

Book your place on this FREE talk on EventBrite or below. If you miss it, not a problem! Check back in a couple of weeks and it will be available on our YouTube channel!

Royal Coronations in the Archives

1937 – George VI

George VI’s coronation was notable for one of two reasons. Firstly, a number of things went wrong during the service on the 12th of May in 1937: the Archbishop of Canterbury nearly placed the crown on the King back to front; one bishop stood on George’s train; and another bishop covered up the Coronation Oath with his thumb, nearly blocking the King from speaking!

Black inked invitation against an off white stiff card. Features the coat of arms of various Commonwealth nations, and the coat of arms of George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth
Shillinglee Mss 37/98 – Invitation to the Earl Winterton to the Coronation of George VI

Secondly, as George was the somewhat unexpected successor, the day had originally been planned for his older brother, David, aka Edward VIII. Edward VIII had abdicated before he could be formally be crowned, and thus the planning for his coronation went ahead, albeit with George VI now on the mugs and plates instead of his brother.

As Coronations take a long time to plan, you will occasionally run across items which have Edward’s name on the front, rather than George. For instance, the Earl Marshal (that is, the Duke of Norfolk) orders for what to wear is for Edward’s Coronation – not George’s!

Along with nobility, the clergy were also invited. Within the Diocese of Chichester collection, we hold a copy of the form and order of service for the event at Westminster Abbey.

Black elaborate border with red and black inked text. Front page reads: The Coronation of their majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Form and Order of Service Westminster Abbey 12 May 1937
Ep/IX/8/1/27 – Form and order of service for the Coronation of Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth

For those ‘normal’ people lucky enough to be invited to the main event, some guidance on what to wear was necessary. Some invites was more serious than others…

Blue text and a red border for the admittance ticket. Includes dress code for men and women, and is sarcastic in tone. The seat is high up on a tree, and men are encouraged to wear stripy socks, woman red lipstick and shorts. The tickets is described as being edible.
Ep/IX/8/1/27 – Humorous fake ticket for admittance for the Coronation of Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
Off white booklet front page tied with a red and blue and white ribbon along the spine. The front cover features a little red and blue coronet, and the city coat of arms in blue. The text, in blue and red ink, reads: Coronation of their majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Wednesday May 12th 1937 City of Chichester Official Programme of Festivities 6d.

But what about back in West Sussex? What was the County up to? Street decorations could be found everywhere; shop fronts made wonderful displays to attract customers. Within Chichester, North, South, East and West Gates were decorated with huge banners, marking the centre of the city. Admittedly they were not as grand as the constructions put together for previous coronations and jubilees (see our earlier blog for the details of those) but they were still a sight to see!

It was common to create souvenir programme’s outlining the day’s events for the public to keep, Chichester was no different in this regard!

Outside of Chichester, similar celebrations were occurring. In Storrington, huge floats were sent down the main street in a parade. Horsham had a display of the Kings and Queen of old, marching down in a procession. In Burgess Hill, school log books record the day’s events, describing the giving out of coronation mugs, singing songs, and an early finish for the children.

For the army, the Royal Sussex Regiment had their own role to play, and received a brochure with a photograph of all the men involved for their troubles.

Off white card with a dark blue and orange ribbon binding the spine. The badge of the Royal Sussex Regiment features in the upper centre of the front cover
RSR/PH/4/77 – Illustrated brochure relating to role of 4th Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment, during the procession at the coronation of King George VI

George’s reign was not an easy one, but he is often considered to have been a stabilising and reassuring presence during the tumultuous years of the Second World War. He died relatively young, with the stress of ruling cited to have contributed to his failing health. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, was only 25 when she became Queen.

1953 – Elizabeth II

You can see our previous blog and film to see one snapshot of what the County was up to that damp day in May. This time round, we’ll jump across West Sussex to see how the planning, pageantry and parties unfolded!

As with her father, certain residents of West Sussex were able to go to London for the day itself. AM 400/3 includes an admission ticket to watch the procession as it made its was down the Mall in central London.

As with George VI, much planning was required to get the day perfect. The 2nd of June 1953 was an infamously damp day, but the organisers had no way of knowing such a thing. Within special committee minutes, one can usually find Urban and Rural District Councils planning out the year ahead, discussing games, gifts and other goodies on the day for their own residents.

There were also so many souvenir programmes produced – nearly every Parish and Town in the County had their own events for local residents. The overwhelming colour scheme of these booklets was red, white, and blue!

Check out just some of our selection below:

Posters were pasted across the county, giving us the perfect overview of what each village got up to to mark the day. From Arundel to Pulborough, tea time is a common event (perhaps to make use of all the new coronation mugs?)

We have dozens upon dozens of photographs of pageants and street parties taking place across the county – from Fernhurst, Chichester, Pulborough, Duncton and North Mundham, children got involved and dressed up whilst the parents enjoyed a good spot of tea with cake.

  • Black and white photograph. Chuldren in costume representing different dominions and colonies stand on a stage. A man in mediaeval costume stands in front of a microphone reading from a scroll.
  • Black and white photograph - six rows of women and children taken on the pavement outside a building. Bunting lines the entryway.
  • Black and white photograph. A girl sits on a small throne, being crowned by a girl with flowers in her hair and long dress. They are surrounded by young girls also in long dresses holding bouquets of flowers.
  • Black and white photograph. Three children in fancy dress; one as a farmer, one as a footman/lobby boy, and another in a bonnet and large dress detailed with union flags and images of the queen. She carried a parasol and a basket of flowers.
  • Black and white photograph. Children and their parents line a table filled with sandwiches and cakes and other treats. A man stands in the centre, posing to cut a small cake.
  • Black and white photograph of the street party in Pulborough. The parish vicar, parents and children are seated enjoying cakes and biscuits that line the long table.
  • Black and white photograph. Three toddlers are dressed up, one in a hooded cloak and white dress holding a basket and flowers, a little boy with a drum kit around his neck, a red coat uniform and tall black hat; a little girl were a frilly bonnet and flouncy dress. The three children stand in a grassy field.
  • Black and white image of chilren dressed up in different costumes - naval officer, victorian gentleman, milkmaid, red coat soldier and other costumes.
Telegram reads: The Queen sincerely thanks you and the staff and girls of the County Secondary School for Girls Littlehampton for your kind and loyal message on the occassion of her majesty's coronation = private secretary

Schools once again closed early, and some, like Littlehampton’s Secondary School for Girls (formerly Maud Allen Girls’ Secondary School, now Littlehampton Academy) sent a message of congratulations to the young Queen. In return, they received a telegram from the Palace thanking them for their kindness.

There was, of course, the necessary planting of Coronation trees, such as AM 734/5/4, showing the planting of a commemorative tree within Bognor’s Hotham Park. Can you still see the tree today?

Finally, we will end on the Women’s Institute. The Queen was the WI’s longest serving member – having joined in 1943. Many WI’s at the time kept scrapbooks which provide a picture of everyday life in their villages and parishes. Angmering’s WI went one step beyond, and made a special scrapbook for the Coronation. Within this beautiful volume are collections of newspaper clippings of the day, along with photographs of cross-stitching done by members to commemorate the event. Mostly lovely of all, are watercolour drawings done of the Queen and her entourage, putting those glamorous Norman Hartnell dresses on display.

Queen Elizabeth II would go on to be queen regnant of 32 states during her lifetime, and was Queen of 15 nations at the time of her death (including Canada, Australia, Belize, Jamaica and other countries). Her reign of 70 years and 214 days was the longest of any British monarch and the longest of any female monarch in history.

2023 – Charles III

Hopefully you can see how important it is record the days events for such momentous occasions. Yes the grand parades in London will receive the lion’s share of attention, but it is worth recording and keeping what local communities and individuals did and thought – the personal matters too! 2023 is a hugely different time to 1953 or 1937; using Coronations to track changing lifestyles, opinions or attitudes can serve as markers for future generations to look back on.

Here at West Sussex, we would love to be able to hold onto and preserve your memories from this day. We would ask that, once the parties are over in May, you would think of us and Screen Archive South East as a place to care for and keep your photos, your films, your souvenir programmes, mementos or anything else you may think future generations would want to find when looking back at the Coronation of King Charles III. Keep in mind this does not need to be solely positive memories either!

If you have paper or digital records you would like to contribute please contact Jenny Mason at West Sussex Record Office. Email: record.office@westsussex.gov.uk

If you have films you would like to contribute please contact Screen Archive South East: screenarchive@brighton.ac.uk

To find about more about the Record Office collections go to:


To find out more about Screen Archive South East and watch over 1200 archive films online go to:     


Have you signed up for our free Zoom event 7pm on the 14th of April? Check out the link on our Event Brite page!

Don’t worry if you’ve missed it – the full event will be uploaded onto our YouTube channel the week after.

We’ll also have a small exhibition to view some of these records within reception and along our walls of the searchroom.

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