Coronation Day; up and down for the National Anthem; a civic reception; Swifts at Staines; a night visit to London; orchids and seabirds; Dad gets under two minutes – just; Wimbledon again – and the Americans should enjoy it more.
On May 28th 1953, Jane and Gran go to the Winchester County High School Open Day, and after the school has been inspected, the visitors are treated to a “delightful concert by members of the school”. This includes ballet by Kay Lardy, “who has recently won a scholarship to Sadlers Wells”; a pianoforte solo, “admirably executed by Mary Sales”, and a violin solo, “played with great sensitivity and from memory, by Janet Ashford. A trio of very talented children”, Gran writes. They are driven home by the Ashfords as the sun is setting.
There is another minor hint at provisions for a family dinner on May 31st, presumably a Sunday, when Gran is in a tizzy because:
Having lost a day somewhere this week I imagined today was Saturday and had quite forgotten to get any vegetables for dinner, so I had to dash round to Mr Woods in Park Road and see if he had anything. He had – cauliflowers, which were some of the nicest I have ever had. On the way to his nursery I heard a Whitethroat singing…
And she is unkind again to Eastleigh, where, that afternoon, she “unfortunately” had to play in a tennis match:
What a deadly, dismal, dirty place is Eastleigh – even the gay flags and bunting for Coronation Week could not disguise its squalor and ugliness. It never seems to be clean and impressions on emerging from the railway station – itself one of the dirtiest I know – are depressing in the extreme.
Of May, she writes:
The flowers have been beautiful and several days have brought me great pleasure, almost happiness in spite of all. Next month, D.V. will see our own young Queen crowned, and I pray that she may find her path through life strewn with the roses of joy, love and happiness, and that, through her unselfish dedication of herself to her country’s need, she may be rewarded by seeing this dear England once more renewed and prosperous. God bless her.
And on June 1st:
Tomorrow is Coronation Day, and I must be about early since I want to do a large arrangement of flowers under the oak tree in honour of our Queen. I have collected together a goodly show in red, white and blue, Miss Bainbrigge having helped with Arum Lilies and Iris siberica in a lovely shade of blue. I hope the weather will be kind, but I am afraid it means to be showery, and the cold, high wind persists.
Gran quotes a prayer by Joyce Biddell on June 2nd, and follows this with:
Thus I prayed on waking this morning before rising at a quarter past five to arrange my flowers for Queen Elizabeth, and before the day was over I was so full of emotion and pride and of colour that I was almost beyond speech. I was glad it was an oak tree beneath which I worked – it seemed fitting to the occasion – it was symbolic of that dear England whose young and beautiful Queen was about to be crowned, that England that I love so well, and never have I been so proud to be British than today.
And I quote Gran’s description of this, for her, very special day, in full because it illustrates a patriotism and unquestioning regard for royalty that may have been common in the 1950s, not long after a war which drew the population together under the figurehead of the Royal Family, but which must seem incongruous to most people today. She continues:
I worked steadily with the flowers for about an hour, alone with my thoughts, and watched for a time by a small Corgi dog from the paper shop, whom, I surmise is in the habit of visiting my garden early in the morning, since he was making straight for the gateway when he saw me on the bank. Whereupon he stopped dead in the middle of the road and stared in amazement for several minutes before turning away. I must say the flowers looked really lovely when I had finished. I had previously covered a round, galvanised container with Sphagnum moss, and given it a false handle which I had covered in red, white and blue with a large bow on one side, and this I now filled with the flowers, putting tall fern fronds fanwise at the back first. For red I used Valerian, Wygelia and Pyrethrums, for white, Philadelphus, stripped of some of its leaves, Arum Lilies and wild Ox-eye Daisies, and for blue Iris siberica in two shades, Columbines and Cornflowers. The Philadelphus in the garden has never been finer nor more massed with bloom and this I used generously at the back, the taller flowers graduated towards the front, where I massed the Pyrethrums, Daisies and Cornflowers.
I put a shield-shaped Union Jack on the tree, from which a white ribbon fell straight to the ground behind the flowers, and the red and blue crossed twice round the tree and it, finishing in the front in a bow. To complete the effectiveness I draped the railings along the front of the bank at the bottom with the red, white and blue ribbons also. Later I was rewarded for the time spent by little Janet Ross, who lives two doors away, who told her mother that my decorations were, “the bestest Coronation decorations I have seen anywhere”.
After an early breakfast I went to the special service at Compton Church. I went alone, since Jane had to represent her School in the procession to the Cathedral in Winchester. A Turtle Dove was cooing in Hocombe road as I cycled along…The flowers in Church were also in our national colours, those on the Altar being large, scarlet Poppies, double white Lilac and spikes of Delphiniums. Geums were used in place of Poppies beneath the memorial. My emotions were already highly pitched when I reached Church and the playing of Handel’s Largo on the organ before he service began did nothing to steady them for me. Mr Burdett, our Rector, opened by reminding us that our National Anthem was intended for a prayer, and that it is a pity that it has now deteriorated into something which is often used merely to mark the end of some performance or other.
Today we would start our service by singing it – as a prayer, following the hymn, “All creatures that on earth do dwell”. He then said that first we must thank God that we had been given so good and so beautiful a Queen and secondly we must ask His blessing upon her, and we should remember also our little Church with pride and gratitude for here was celebrated, among the several preceding Coronations, such events as the victory at Agincourt, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada, in the reign of the first Elizabeth. How small and insignificant such a realization made me feel! All those centuries ago, yet still the little Church stands, solid and inviolate as ever.
The Service then followed the order recommended for use in all the Churches of England on the Sunday preceding the Coronation. It was a privilege and a pleasure to attend it.
After I reached home again we spent the rest of the day almost glued to the wireless, since the Coronation at Westminster Abbey was broadcast and an account of the processions commented upon with such enthusiasm and detail that one could almost see the colours and pageantry of it all.
Barry and Jock came to lunch and tea since they have no wireless at their flat, and, of course, we had the added pleasure of Julian. We seemed to spend a great deal of our time jumping up and down, since we stood up every time the National Anthem was played, which was when the Queen’s procession passed each successive vantage point along the Coronation route. Once, as we stood, I stole a glance at Barry’s face and afterwards I said to him, ”Do you know, I am proud today for the first time and almost glad, too, that you are in the Air Force this year?” He replied, “I was feeling the same about it just then”. Later he said, “Do you realize, Mother, that I hold the Queen’s commission?” It made us both feel quite differently about his Service period.
We listened to the wireless until after the Queen appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, when the cheers from the mighty crowd which had gathered at the gates were unbelievable and must have filled foreigners with amazement. Nowhere but in England could such a wholehearted demonstration of affection and loyalty be heard.
And she ends her entry quoting in full the poem by John Masefield, the Poet Laureate, which begins:
“This Lady whom we crown was born
When buds were green upon the thorn
And earliest cowslips showed;
When still unseen by mortal eye
One cuckoo tolled his “here am I”…”
Working at Fowler’s a couple of days later, a new Carnation catches Gran’s attention –“a brilliant magenta, named after Richard Dimbleby, the B.B.C. commentator”.
On June 5th, after an afternoon spent with strawberries outside at the Pinewood Gardens, and with tomatoes in the greenhouse while it rains, Gran surprises us by enjoying a social evening:
This evening I attended as a representative of the Southampton Natural History Society, a Civic Reception at the Guildhall, Southampton, and was presented to the Mayor. I had accepted the invitation with some trepidation, such functions being, as a rule, quite outside my usual activities, but in the end, thoroughly enjoyed it.
It was an event to celebrate the Coronation, with a large portrait of the Queen as a centrepiece, incidental music, exhibition ballet, the singing of patriotic English songs and a comic turn. Of the dainty refreshments served at nine o’clock, Gran notes, “soft drinks were provided without comment for those who, like myself, preferred them”.
Gran and Jane join a night-time coach tour of London, leaving on the evening of the 8th and arriving back at Kingsway Post Office at 5 o’clock the following morning. Twelve pages of detailed description of the congestion, the landmarks, the views, and the lights and Coronation decorations of the Metropolis are written. It is still daylight as the coach passes Staines on the way in, and what Gran notices there stir pleasant birding memories for me, the reservoirs there being regular haunts of mine during the early 1970s:
…there were more Swifts around a reservoir…than I have ever seen at one time. There must have been hundreds, hawking flies over the water, since only one side was visible from the road, and the reservoir itself high above it.
In May and June each year, I remember, it was hard to walk along the causeway of this reservoir without risk of inhaling some of the millions of black flies that formed clouds along it. Thousands of Swifts would harvest these creatures, tearing past, just inches away from birdwatchers’ heads, their wings audibly scything the air. It was fantastic!
June is a busy month for outings for Gran, two of which are with B.N.A. members. She leads a trip to Cheesefoot Head, particularly to look for orchids on the 12th– and she finds several of the much sort-after Man Orchids there for the group. The next day, she is driven down to Durleston Head near Swanage, by brother Norris to join members from the Guildford and Aldershot Group, and she is particularly delighted to see Fulmars, “…one of the loveliest and most graceful birds I have ever seen”, she writes, and she is equally delighted with other seabirds that are not familiar to her – Razorbills, Puffins and Guillemots.
On the 23rd, she takes the bus to see the family’s entomological friends, Hugh and Mary Robinson and their children, one a new baby, at Farringdon, where she relates this charming story:
Small Gaden, aged four, soon showed me his moths, which, he explained, “are those that Daddy does not want for the museum, but I only keep the prettiest ones – I could not keep them all”. He proceeded to tell me the names of them all, interspersed with such remarks as, “That is an Orange Moth – Daddy got it at Ham Street. This is quite a beautiful Hart and Dart”. Once, when he could not remember, I said, “It’s a Swift isn’t it?” He immediately said, “yes, an Orange Swift – you remembered one half of the name and I remembered the other”. A most engaging little boy and not in the least precocious in spite of his knowledge…
Towards the end of the month Dad has been running for the RAF, and Gran is pleasantly surprised as he makes a quick visit – she always loved it when people, as she would say, “blew in”:
A Song Thrush is singing in the garden though it is nearly ten o’clock. Barry has just rushed in! The other members of his team, who have been running at Uxbridge, are staying the night in London, but he seized the opportunity to come home for the night, calling in here for a drink of Ribena and to borrow my bicycle. He ran second in the half mile, but broke his two minutes, doing one minute, fifty-nine point eight seconds! He was highly delighted but stayed only long enough to tell us the news.
The post on the 26th brings a letter from Kew Gardens:
…confirming that the plant I found outside Hampton Court on June 17th, [during a visit to Kingston] was, indeed, Purple Viper’s Bugloss Echium plantagineum, a native of Southern Europe, which according to Bentham and Hooker has been found in Jersey and near Penzance, in Cornwall. It must be admitted that the plant I found might be an escape…
I remember Gran writing a few years ago, that she hoped to be able to visit Wimbledon for the tennis at least once in her life, but here she is, in 1953, about to go for a third time! Jane is going too. Gran writes on June 28th:
I have to rise at five-thirty the next two mornings, for Jane goes to Wimbledon tomorrow, and on Tuesday Mary Harding comes with me for her first visit. I hope it will be a memorable one and that the weather will be kind.
Tennis news told “regretfully” by Jane, on the 30th, is, Gran writes, “the Australian favourite for the Men’s singles at Wimbledon, Ken Rosewall, had been beaten by a Dane, K. Neilsen, which result makes the winner now an open question”. Frank Harding drives Gran and Mary to Eastleigh station to catch the 7.20 to Waterloo.
They arrive and are comforted to find themselves quite far along the Wimbledon queue, which rapidly builds behind them, and they note the usual entertainments, and also various items on sale; strawberries:
…at the fabulous price of four shillings a punnet, which three girls, who were deluded into buying one, found worked out at two pence each fruit, dark glasses at various prices and an alarming and lurid “weekend novel” which was given free to entice people to buy it weekly. One glance at it was enough for me, but, Mrs Bailey, of the Southern Railway Club, said not to throw it away, it might be useful to sit on or to keep the sun off our heads!
They cannot get seats for Centre Court, but are amongst the first three-hundred in the queue offered seats at Court No 1, where, at two o’clock, play begins:
…a Ladies Single between an American and a Hungarian, which was a sparkling display by the loser, the Hungarian, but a rather tired and bored, though extremely efficient, display by the winner. The more I see of Wimbledon, the more I think it is a pity that the better the players, and the best are often Americans, the less they seem to enjoy the game, and that the game itself seems to lose its charm when it becomes a grim business. Stroke perfection is, I know, a joy to watch, but how much nicer if the face relaxes into a joyous smile occasionally. The Americans seldom smile but often win, the British smile often but they seldom win, yet I like them better for it.
The Austrian, Huber, was a downright comic but a clever player withal, and though we saw only a few games of his Mixed Double before leaving for our train, he certainly proved himself to be a curious addition to the sacred precincts of Wimbledon. Red-headed, and wearing a constant crooked smile, he once even poached so alarmingly that he collided with his partner, knocking racquet and ball out of her hands, and, whilst she retreated to the back of the court, leaving them on the ground, he darted hither and thither alone and eventually won the point. Whereupon he gallantly picked up racquet and ball, patted his partner’s shoulder with an engaging smile and the game proceeded. How it ended I do not know but serious tennis must have been an impossibility!
The Men’s Singles final takes place on July 3rd. Gran’s favourite does not win, and she relates this as well as another disappointment:
Hurrying home to hear part of the commentary on the final of the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon, I forgot, and came past the oakwood [which she had intended to avoid because of the destruction there]. To my horror the men were clearing the plot where the Wintergreen grows and had felled the beautiful Silver Birch among whose roots the best clump was in flower. Burning was in progress…what a sickening sight it was. More disappointment awaited me, for the American, Victor Seixas was winning against Kurt Neilsen, the Dane, and I had so hoped for the first Danish win at Wimbledon this year. Still, Seixas is the best sport among the Americans, and does, at least, appear to enjoy the game for its own sake.
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 1)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 2)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 3)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 4)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 5)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 6)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 7)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 8)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 9)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 10)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 11)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 12)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 13)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 14)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 15)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 16)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 17)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 18)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 19)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 20)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 21)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 22)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 23)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 24)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 25)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 26)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 27)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 28)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 29)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 30)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 31)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 32)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 33)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 34)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 35)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 36)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 37)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 38)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 39)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 40)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 41)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 42)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 43)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 44)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 45)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 46)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 47)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 48)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 49)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 50)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 51)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 52)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 53)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 54)
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