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  • Writer's pictureThe Bridge Burford

The 1953 Coronation - A View From The Gallery

A local resident tells us of his experience singing at the Coronation in 1953

The Choir wearing their Coronation medals. Allan is on the far right of the front row.

At an early age my mother encouraged me to sing. In 1952 I had a voice trial for the choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, which I passed. I was then enrolled as a chorister by Sir William Harris, the choirmaster.

My parents entered me as a full-time boarder at St George’s School, which lies in the shadow of the world’s largest castle. Nineteen fifty two was the year that the choir of St Georges’s was invited to sing for Her Majesty the Queen’s Coronation at Westminster Abbey on 2 June.

During May 1953 we boys attended three rehearsals in London. The final rehearsal was on 26 May. On the day of the Coronation we were woken by Miss Wright, the assistant matron, at 4.30am and after a quick breakfast we were provided with Spangles (sweets) and a tin of Horlicks milk tablets.

When we arrived a the abbey, we changed in the Westminster School gym, where we had fun with the punchball.Mr Cleave, our headmaster, who was supervising us, gave us a small packet containing two ginger biscuits, an egg sandwich and an orange juice bottle filled with milk. We had to wait for four hours before the service began. Our headmaster advised us to hang onto our bottles in case they were needed later for an alternative purpose as the service itself lasted for three hours.

On our return to St George’s School after the ceremony we watched the end of the procession on the headmaster’s black and white television and we later listened to the Queen’s speech and that of the prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill. We then retired to our dormitory just before the fireworks.

Recently my wife and I were shown round the abbey and its triforium display which has recently been opened. From this bird’s eye view I could visualise a nine-year-old chorister near the organ loft in a specially constructed gallery for the occasion. We were seated next to a 60-strong symphony orchestra who occupied the screen which separates the choir from the nave. An electrifying experience for a young chorister. Musical highlights were the trumpet fanfaresand the singing of the “Vivats” by the Westminster School Queens Scholars as Her Majesty entered the building to the sound of Sir Hubert Parry’s I Was Glad. In particular I remember Handel’s Zadok the Priest with its explosive entry of the nearly 400-strong choir. The music before and after the service was conducted by Sir Adrian Boult and by Sir William McKee, director of music at the abbey. His beat was relayed to the other conductors, John Dykes-Bowen and Sir William Harris. We took our beat from Sir William, known to us boys as Doc H, a genial, roly-poly figure, who had been at Windsor since 1933. During the war Doc H had directed a madrigal group at the castle formed by Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, senior choristers from St George’s, Etonians, Grenadier Guards and members of the Windsor and Eton Choral Society. Sir William also taught music privately to the two princesses before and during the war.

Fortunately my mother treasured all my Coronation memorabilia, including the Coronation medal. Today when I hear Handel’s Zadok the Priest it still sends shivers down my spine and I remember being lined up in the south Cloisters before entering the abbey and hearing the news that Everest had been climbed.

Allan Ledger

A shorter version of this article will appear in the May edition of The Bridge magazine together with more stories about the 1953 Coronation.


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