The Joy of Cranleigh – Walking Cranleigh: A 1953 Coronation Walk

by Joy Horn

Main Photo – Cranleigh Today: the final episode of the History of Cranleigh

This walk starts at the junction of Mead Road with Bridge Road, where the local procession celebrating the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II assembled at 3.30pm on the big day, Tuesday June 2nd 1953.  It is a short walk of three-quarters of a mile, following part of the procession’s route, and is well supplied with seats along the way.

Map showing the start (left) and end (right) points of the walk

Many organisations entered displays in the procession, some mounted on flat lorries. The Village School (officially the Church of England Primary School) portrayed Cranleigh’s history in eight episodes. Individuals mounted small displays on bicycles or towed them on car trailers. Several hundred people were milling around this area on that day, and the parish church’s ‘Over Seventeens’ club was responsible for marshalling them all into an orderly sequence.

The brass band, recruited for the occasion

At the head of the procession was a brass band, recruited for the occasion. The players acquitted themselves well, and many people hoped the band would remain in existence. Cranleigh had had a popular Brass and Wind Band from the 1890s to the Second World War.

We follow the procession’s route from Mead Road to the High Street, past the Church of England Primary School (now the Arts Centre), still the only local primary school in 1953. Every child had been given a commemorative teaspoon.

At the parish church, next to the school, the Coronation celebrations had started on the previous Sunday with a united service at 4.00pm. It was attended by so many people that it had to be relayed to an overflow congregation in the churchyard. The Cranleigh Choral Society joined the church choir to sing Handel’s rousing anthem, ‘Zadok the priest’.

A fearsome army of Saxons, prepared to fight the invading Danes in 851
(Cranleigh History Society, Claude Blogg Papers)

The Village Hall, on the left along the High Street, was open on Coronation Day for schoolchildren to watch the Coronation on television from 10.15 to 5.30. The next day a tea was given for 1,000 children, and on Friday June 5th Old Age Pensioners enjoyed a tea and entertainment here. Shops and businesses on either side of the High Street were decorated with flags and patriotic window displays. The procession was cheered by crowds lining the route.

Harry Edwards of the Evangelical Church, whose display echoes the words of the Coronation Service, when a Bible was presented to the Queen

The procession went past the war memorial and right around the Common and the cricket field, but this walk breaks off near the Fountain for people to observe various other places connected with the Coronation – perhaps while sitting on a bench or enjoying a coffee.

David Mann & Sons Coronation window display (photo by Bernard Grover)

At the Fountain a stage had been erected for the prize-giving presentation by Walter Gabriel alias Chris Gittins, star of The Archers, the highly popular ‘everyday story of country folk’, broadcast daily on the BBC Home Service. The C of E School was awarded first prize for their ambitious entry in the procession competition. Other awards were for the best-decorated garden (day and night categories) and the best shop window display.

The Church of England Primary School from the air, about six years after the Coronation

From near the war memorial, we can look along the Common. The former Regal Cinema stood on the left, near a small roundabout in the Guildford Road, where the Pavilion House  block of flats now is. The day after the Coronation, a cinema show was given to all elderly folk ‘presenting their Old Age pension books at the door’.

Coronation mugs and beaker (courtesy of Brian and Pam Cheesman)

The Common had a fun-fair all afternoon on Coronation Day. At 7.00pm Square Dancing began – still a novelty then, and very popular, despite the rain that fell steadily. At 9.00pm there was a break to listen to the Queen’s Speech, and watch the draw for a television set (the ‘must-have item’ of the day). This was followed by an evening dance, to the music of the Merrymakers, until the torchlight procession from Pitch Hill came through the village to light a spectacular bonfire on the Common. 

Farrow’s (now Nationwide), next door to Cranleigh Pharmacy. Sales of TV sets were booming on account of the Coronation, and 27 million people in the UK (out of 36 million then) watched the service on television

This must have been somewhat dampened by the rain, but everyone was in a jubilant and patriotic frame of mind. It will be interesting to compare Cranleigh’s Coronation celebrations this month with those of 1953.

The Cranleigh History Society meets on the second Thursday of each month at 8pm in the Band Room. The next meeting is on Thursday May 11th, when Michael Miller will speak on ‘A Postcard from Cranleigh’. Visitors are welcome.

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