Saturday, 8 June 2013

Coronation – Rehearsals, Choristers and Westminster Abbey transformed - part 2/5

Preparations were well laid – rehearsals were ongoing and rigorous ... the Abbey was enshrouded for its transformation, the choristers practised under a tough regime, the Gold Coach pulled by the white horses were given a few test runs ...
The Queen at her daily correspondence,
with the same coloured flowers as were
used in the decoration at the Abbey

The young Queen wore a replica of the Crown as she went about her daily routine - so she could become accustomed to its feel and weight.

Rehearsals – everyone was involved ... the Queen came along 7 or 8 times, the Duke of Edinburgh was Chairman of the Coronation Committee ...

A replica of St Edwards Crown

 ... the choristers took full advantage of the situation ... fed lumps of sugar to the horses, sat in the Gold Coach, tested out the Coronation Chair ... which to this day they do not admit to!  Boys will be boys ...

They even had the audacity during the Service to fire a few paper darts down upon the assembled foreign dignitaries!

All choristers were required to attend each and every rehearsal – two professional singers who had to be part of an event at the Festival Hall – they missed out on selection ... the choir master, Dr William McKay, was a tough task master!

The Gold Coach with 'model horses'
in the Stables at Buckingham Palace
They had grub in their robes ... as one chorister said that was polished off in the first few minutes of being in the Cathedral ... ham sandwiches, barley sugars and an apple – it was meant to last the 8 hours ...

The choirs were 400 strong, of which there were 180 trebles ... the choristers alive today remember the massive noise ... the fanfare at the beginning of Zadok the Priest, Handel’s Coronation Anthem, then the orchestra builds up to a crescendo when every member of the choir joins in ...

The Queen and Prince Philip being led down
the Aisle at Westminster Abbey on the
occasion of her 60th Coronation anniversary
 The choristers today remember the colour – the Abbey shone like never before ... the tv lights (the first time they’d been used in the Abbey) lit everything up ... the stone pillars, the roof, the Gold and Blue carpets to match the Abbey’s paintwork, the crimson mantles of the peers and peeresses, the silks and jewels in turbans of some of the overseas nobles and maharajas ...

Those choristers were traced and invited to the anniversary celebrations, while they clubbed together to commission a special anthem from Bob Chilcott, a British choral composer, to celebrate this 60th anniversary of the Coronation – the anthem is called “The King shall rejoice in thy Strength”.

The Royal Family's motto


Two thousand guests were invited to attend the 2013 Coronation anniversary – but in 1953 .... 8,251 guests came – how on earth did the Abbey accommodate that number of dignitaries, nobles et al?

The Surveyor of the Fabric of the Abbey, Ptolomy Dean, showed us how this was achieved, through the archival records containing those plans and documents bound in the book “The Place of Crowning: Its history, Arrangement, and Preparation for the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”.

Westminster Abbey looking up - the aisle length
and into the roof

Sir Henry Rushbury, RA, Keeper of the Royal Academy and Head of the Royal Academy Schools, was commissioned to paint the process of making the Abbey suitable for the Coronation.

The watercolours looked wonderful (sadly I cannot find any copy of these) ... and showed the different craftsmen working away, while the Abbey was temporarily converted.  500 people worked on the transformation ...

.... first things first:  the floor was covered in three inches of wood, all the statues and sculptures were boxed in – to protect the delicate parts of the Abbey ...

... then they could start on the massive seating in grand stands.  The nave had an enormous gallery cascading down from the west window; seats on the side aisles reached right up to the heads of the windows ...

... a small railway was laid up the main aisle,  with branch lines reaching out into the transepts... so that:

·        450 tonnes of steel
·        3,000 tonnes of timber
·        enough scaffolding to reach form here to Paris could be more easily moved around ...

Prince Charles looking somewhat bored!
The fitting out must have been so challenging, a terrifying process to take on inside such a renowned building ... in what was more akin to a dockyard than a Cathedral.

The Folio of the plans show so clearly where everyone was sitting, including the Royal Gallery, where Prince Charles, as a 5 year old, with his grandmother and aunt, including royal guests, were able to see the High Altar.

The peers were in the south transept, the peeresses in the north transept – their robes providing a bank of crimson, a glittering array of diamonds, the ermine trimmings giving added solemnity to the occasion ...

Crimson and ermine robes of the peers at
the State Opening of Parliament
The Plans also showed the medical centres, the vast numbers of lavatories and drinking fountains ... everyone had to be in place by 8.00 am ... and would be there for eight hours!!

Ptolomy Dean described the Coronation Chair, which has not been restored as such ... but maintained as a cherished part of Coronation history ... every Monarch has sat on it since the 13th century.

King Edward's Chair
prior to its recent tidying up

Its battered worn appearance reflects its existence over the centuries ... and if one looks carefully at the fabric ... the old patterns of painting and decoration can be seen through the later layers ...

... originally the Chair would have been a gleaming golden thing as befits a ruling Monarch of the 1200s ... but the 18th century graffiti of the Westminster choir boys remains – nothing changes with youngsters does it! ... however Queen Victoria had it painted brown?!?! – thankfully that’s mostly all come off ...

An example of the canopy over the anointing ...
but I'm not sure why Queen Alexandra was
also anointed .. but Edward VII was different!
The new crimson Canopy sets the Chair off in its present setting in St George’s Chapel ... the canopy represents the special awning that covered the Monarch being crowned ... the very secret religious part of the Coronation, where the Queen gave herself to God above all, when the anointing with oil takes place ... before she was ‘presented’ to the nation as the new Queen.

Rigorous and thorough preparations were planned and carried through for the Coronation of our Queen in 1953 ... more to follow.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Janie Junebug said...

I've read the accounts of some people who attended the Coronation. One man wrote that once one was seated, there was no getting up to move around. Was that true? Did everyone have to do without the loo all that time?


Jo said...

Funny I saw another picture of the throne the other day and thought "what's wrong with it?" I realised the Stone of Scone was missing. I don't remember when it was given back to the Scots, but the chair looks bare without it.

Tina said...

My husband wants to know how old the Queen is...was wondering what I was reading...Great, great history lesson. And yes, why brown? What's wrong with gold? I certainly can't sit in a chair without "the loo" ;-)
Tina @ Life is Good

Jo said...

Just looking at the picture of the Queen with her paperwork, I guess they still send her red boxes, but I would have thought, in this day and age, things would all have been computerised. Maybe she is like my old man who can't/won't use a computer.

JoJo said...

WOW! I love Westminster Abbey! It was my fave of all the things I saw in London on a school trip.

loverofwords said...

Tradition, I love it! We have so little of it here in the States. I did get up at 2 AM or so to watch Prince William's wedding to Katherine. I think that we miss the predictability of events, I know I do.

Chatty Crone said...

I was not there in 1953 = but I have been there in London twice. The history there is so much more than ours. It is hard to get it all - this has been wonderful.

dolorah said...

Wow, I'm overwhelmed just reading this. Can't imagine what it would have been like to be there!


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Janie .. I think it must have been an ordeal at the best of times - yes there were loos, drinking fountains .. but essentially once in situ - they remained in situ .. there'd have been very little spare space.

@ Jo - the Stone of Scone was returned to Scotland in 1996, with the proviso that it is returned to the chair on the occasion of the next coronation.

@ Tina - she is 87, while Prince Philip will be 92 tomorrow (10th June).

The Victorians loved brown paint - it was the gold of its day .. to us it's not cheerful colour is it - thankfully it seems to have worn away.

Well there were loos, but it must have been very demanding for those with weak bladders ...

@ Jo - I expect affairs of State still need to be in paper format - who knows when it will change .. the Queen is very with it and talks technology with her grandchildren .. the Monarchy has FB and Twitter accounts ..

@ JoJo - it is a quite extraordinary place to visit isn't it .. I haven't been for ages, and must go again .. I'd like to see the Chair and get a feel of how the stands were erected ...

@ Tasha - oh great, so do I. We've been lucky to have had so much recently with their wedding, the Jubilee, the Olympics and now the anniversary of the Queen's Coronation. I love the organisation, and just seeing all that history being paraded on the people of today ..

.. and you're right there are certain events that are predictable .. that fall under the arch of monarchy ...

@ Sandie - so pleased you're enjoying these postings .. and yes, we do have lots of history, much of which is reflected in these traditional events.

@ Donna - it would have been amazing to have been there .. but I can't imagine either!

Cheers to you all .. more to follow today .. Hilary

Vallypee said...

What a lively, lovely account, Hilary. I almost felt it was happening now. Brilliant!

Anonymous said...

I stopped by Buckingham Palace when I visited London, but I missed seeing the Abbey. Great post + pictures.

Murees Dupè said...

I did not know all of this information. Thank you for education me. Thank you so much for following my blog.

Diana Wilder said...

I have been so enjoying your account of the coronation. Amazing all that went into it, and the history that lies behind each feature. (Fasciating to hear about the railroad tracks...)
I am looking forward to more...
Diana at About myself, by myself…

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,

I'm ever so sorry I haven't been able to keep up. I know we both know how hectic it can be.

I've read through part one and will now leave a comment on part two.

What you have alluded to has brought back some memories that my mother has told me about. You see, the pomp and pageantry were fresh in my mother's mind. For the arrival of her son, Gary, was but a month after the Coronation.

I shall try to keep up a bit better.

Sunny wishes,


Martha said...

I must visit sooner or later, you have me captivated! Thanks for all your comments over at my place. Hope you have a wonderful week :)

Betsy Brock said...

How very fun to read! Her long rule is amazing, too! I love all the pomp and circumstance!

Anonymous said...

Love this! An insight into something I would not normally know,

even though I be Aussie!

Anonymous said...

Love this! An insight into something I would not normally know,

even though I be Aussie!

Gattina said...

That was the best (and first) TV show ever !! In my dreams as a little girl I wanted to become Queen too ! I was so impressed, I collected all pictures I could from the magazines ! The Germany in ruins, people badly needed some romance ! The only one I didn't like (and still not like) was and is Prince Philippe ! This arrogant want to be ! And I pitied poor little Charles, how boring that must have been for a little boy.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Val - many thanks .. it must have been an amazing preparation time ..

@ Milo - well that's great you saw the Palace, but I need to see the Abbey .. so will make a plan at some stage and then post about it ..

@ Murees - lovely to see you .. and so pleased you've enjoyed the read ..

@ Diana - I'm so grateful .. and so much had to happen to make the coronation such a wonderful event .. and those railroad tracks ..

@ Gary - ah ah .. you were a July baby .. so your mother had a reason to sit and watch - I think you were in Pimlico then? so perhaps she was able to get to see some of it .. interesting it's one of those memories you remember hearing about - love it!

@ Martha - well I'm obviously tempting you and am so pleased you're finding the articles captivating ..

@ Betsy - delighted .. and she has reigned long and steadfastly hasn't she .. glad you enjoy the pomp and circumstance.

@ WFFME .. great, that even as an Aussie, you're enjoying my take on the events ..

@ Gattina - I think we probably all wanted to be princesses or queens - and we (Europe) were in a right mess after the war - so romance was much appreciated.

Prince Philip has been excellent - far better than many of us realise .. I've always been impressed by him .. with his dedication .. he has a strong character and enjoys a laugh ... any youngster would be bored - and it was those times .. but he couldn't miss it!

Thanks so much everyone - see you soon .. Hilary

Linens and Royals said...

I found you through Gattina and am so happy I did. I love your Coronation posts. I love the royal family and have a huge collection of royal memorabilia. Although I live in Australia I have managed to travel to London for lots of royal events including last years Diamond Jubilee.
I look forward to more of your posts.

Laura Eno said...

That's an impressive-looking royal chair! Both the coronation and the 60th anniversary must have been magnificent to see. It's funny to see the candid shot of a young Charles looking so bored!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ L&R - good to see you .. and I noted you're very fond of all things royal .. love the collections of stitchwork, tapestries, memorabilia you show on your blog.

Fantastic you were able to come over to London for the Jubilee - despite the rain .. I expect you enjoyed yourself ..

Lovely to meet you and see you here ..

@ Laura - the Coronation is well worn for its 1,000 year history. I'm glad you've saw some of the Service, and some historical records on tv ... yes, I loved that shot of Charles - candid is a good word!

Cheers to you both .. Hilary

Juliet said...

I had no idea the choirs were so huge. But I remember vividly the weight of the crown and how she had to practice. That made quite an impression on me as a young thing.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Juliet - there were lots of choristers .. but there were only 80 out of 480 who were not acceptable for what ever reason.

I'm sure later in life I must have found out about the weight of the crown and her practising, but I'd forgotten ..

When we're young I think we all wanted to be a Queen with a handsome Prince by our side .. so we all fell into that boat.

Thanks for commenting .. Hilary