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Coronation Memories

Articles > Barking & Dagenham


John Blake

I was only five years old at the time of the Queen’s Coronation, but I remember it vividly because it was the first major event in my life. The previous year I remember Joyce Gold, our near neighbour, calling my mother, also Joyce, through the  letterbox with the words: "Joyce, Joyce the king is dead". Despite my young age, I knew from the urgency in her voice that something dreadful had happened. In the days following the king’s death I remember my mother squatting on the floor to compile  a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings.

At the time we were living in Limbourne Avenue, a prefab estate which had been named after the ill-fated warship adopted by the people of Dagenham during World War II. The estate largely consisted of ex-servicemen and their families. The prefabs were  clustered around a central green and it was here we children of the estate gathered to celebrate the Coronation in style. There had been house-to-house collections (years later my father told me that the cash vanished and all the neighbours had rallied  round to save the day and even the local ice-cream seller gave his wares for free) and every prefab had been raided for tables, chairs, crockery and cutlery. All the prefabs were decorated with golden crowns and makeshift bunting. Many of the kids were  in fancy dress although I was not.  Most of the families were very poor and so the street party (and the Coronation itself) was a welcome relief from the post-war austerity. One lady who helped the party along was the local midwife, Nurse Robson, who  had delivered many of the estate children including my brother Jim. Once we had all been safely tucked up in bed the adults had their own party, with parents taking it in turns to check up on us.

I was attending Beacontree Heath infant school at the time and we all received a commemorative book Royalty in Essex, a cup, saucer and spoon. I still have the book and I am sure there will be many people who have copies as they were  issued to every child in Essex. All of us kids also received a ticket for a free ride at the Coronation Funfair in Central Park – I still have that ticket as my parents could not afford to take us. One thing we did attend was the massive firework  display in Central Park which ended with a huge memorable tableau depicting the Queen.

On Coronation day itself the whole family sat glued to the TV set recently acquired by my grandparents to watch the ceremony –one family member was absent from that gathering around the small flickering screen and that was my aunt Doris who was  away performing with the Dagenham Girl Pipers.

John Blake April 2012

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