From reminiscing about the Coronation to the day the Royals came to tea, Sarah Freeman talks to those with special memories of the Queen and I.
There has recently been a new addition to Mary and Joe McCann’s collection of royal memorabilia.
On a shelf in their living room cabinet, just beneath a row of commemorative plates, sits a framed portrait of the Queen. The photograph was on the front of card sent by Buckingham Palace to mark the couple’s Diamond Wedding earlier this year and it now has pride of place alongside pictures of their son Neil and grandchildren Rebecca and Sean.
Mary and Joe married in Bradford in March 1952, a month after the death of King George VI and the Queen’s accession and the following year as newly weds without their own television set they headed to a nearby hotel to watch the Coronation ceremony broadcast live.
“It was a wonderful day,” says 83-year-old Mary. “Not many people had a television back then, so there was a real crowd of us gathered around the screen. It was the first time we had seen anything like that on television and it did feel quite an honour to see her being crowned.
“In those days, people had more respect for the Royal Family than I think they do now. Having just got married, Joe and I were starting a new chapter of our lives and with a new Queen the whole country felt a sense of optimism.”
The Coronation in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953 with all its pomp and ceremony was far removed from Joe and Mary’s own lives. Their wedding at St Patrick’s Catholic Church had been a modest affair and that summer they were still living with Mary’s parents, saving up the £100 deposit needed for their own house.
However, having married in the same year the Queen ascended to the throne, their own anniversaries have always coincided with the major landmarks of the Royals and the McCanns, who now live in an Anchor retirement home just a few streets away from the social club where they first met. Mary worked at the flats as a home help until her retirement 23 years ago and the couple will be back in front of the television for next week’s Jubilee celebrations.
“We’ve never lived anywhere where they had street parties, but we’ll always watch a royal occasion,” says 85-year-old Joe. “It’s part of this country’s history and for Mary the Royals have somehow always been part of our lives.”
In the years just after her Coronation, the Queen faced a packed schedule of tours both home and abroad and it was hoped the Royal party’s arrival in towns and city across Britain would help boost post-war morale.
In 1954, it was the turn of Sheffield as the Queen and Prince Philip visited the city’s Cutlery Works. As head of the works, Billy Ibberson was responsible for making sure the tour went smoothly, but as an amateur filmmaker he also brought his cine camera to work that day.
The footage was a private memento of Billy’s brief brush with royalty, but next week it will be seen by millions as part of two part series The Queen and I. The programme throws a spotlight on the ordinary people who have found themselves curtseying and bowing in front of a royal party and for Billy’s sons it provoked a trip down memory lane.
“We were aware the film existed and we must have watched it when we were little, but we hadn’t seen it for years,” says 66-year-old Henry, who now lives in Shropshire. “When my father and mother died, we handed the footage to the Yorkshire Film Archive and didn’t think much more about it, until someone contacted us about this programme.
“I was eight years old when the Queen came to Sheffield and I remember being pretty excited. There were crowds lining the streets and everyone was waving Union Jacks. Television was only in its infancy then and I think it was the first outside broadcast the BBC had ever done, so to have actual footage of the Queen was something quite special. My father loved making films, but that day he probably had his best subject of all.
“When I saw the footage again what struck me most was just how close up he got, it just wouldn’t happen these days because of security concerns. You can clearly see the Queen being handed a commemorative penknife, engraved in gold, which had been made at the works. The film really is in fantastic condition and it would be nice to ask the Queen, if she remembered that day as much as my father did.”
This was to be a very different reign. While previous monarchs had been viewed largely at a distance by the British public, the Queen and her advisors were determined that those she met shouldn’t just be local dignitaries and politicians.
In 1957, Hull had been earmarked for a royal visit and one house in particular singled out for a rare visit. Mike Inglis was just two years old, but the day the Queen stopped by for cake and tea at his home on the city’s Bilton Grange housing estate has passed into the family’s folklore.
“My parents would tell the story of that day for years to come,” says Mike who returned to his childhood home with his aunt Enid for the series. “My mother cleaned the house from top to bottom. It was spotless and of course, she made sure she’d baked some buns ahead of their arrival. When they arrived they walked all around the house and when Prince Philip came into the kitchen he pulled back the little curtain underneath the sink. I’m not sure what he expected to find, there was only a drain behind, but I suppose he was just curious.
“It’s a special thing to have the Queen visit your house, no one else’s. I used to tell all the kids at school that the Queen had been to ours for tea.”
For children the biggest honour was being chosen to present a bouquet to the royal party, but there are some who remember key events for very different reasons. A few months before the Coronation, John Halstead’s father splashed out on a television to ensure the family had front row seats at their home in Huddersfield.
“It was a polished two-tone wooden case with a slightly flickering black and white 12ins screen and my parents decided to organise a sort of community viewing. They borrowed stacking chairs from the local church hall and invited all the neighbours to come and watch. My mother used to tell me all about the day and how, together with her best friend, she spent most of the time making sandwiches, filling vacuum flasks and handing round cakes to the “audience” which had packed into our lounge.”
Unfortunately John missed out on the celebration. A week before the Coronation he was taken to an isolation hospital suffering from a bout of Scarlet fever and German measles. “Apparently I was covered in an impressive array of both large and small red spots,” he says. “Scarlet fever was highly infectious and a very serious disease at that time, although I had no idea how ill I was. To add insult to injury, the day after the Coronation was my eighth birthday and I was stuck in the isolation hospital. As a consequence, there were not many presents; those I did get had to burnt when I was released to avoid a spread of the infection. Mum and dad had to talk to me through the windows of the ward and... sadly no birthday cake. All in all, my memories of that time could be better.
“Still there was a good side. I was given a celebration teaspoon by the hospital, together with the standard issue glass tankard and copy of the New Testament which were given to all my classmates at junior school. Once I eventually got out of hospital my mother took me to see the whole thing at the local cinema – in colour and on a much, much bigger screen.
“The first week of June 1953 also sticks in my mind for another reason – news of Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing becoming the first people to conquer Mount Everest was broadcast on the morning of the Coronation They actually reached the summit 4 days earlier on May 29; no video phones then – quite a difference from the 24/7 instant access to news we now take for granted.”