PETER Freeman, an uncompromising Welsh Labour MP and, what’s more, a strict vegetarian, was far from impressed by plans for local councils to roast an entire ox to mark the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.

Upon learning that, nationwide, there had been some 50 applications or enquiries about roasting an ox, he lodged a Commons motion that described the custom as “medieval and objectionable ... obscene, indecent, disgusting, and contrary to public dignity ...”

Nevertheless, people were determined to mark the Coronation at Westminster Abbey, on Tuesday, June 2, in all sorts of joyous ways. It had been a mere eight years since the war had ended. Britain was in many ways still recovering from that desperately ruinous conflict and was still coping with the hardship of rationing and shortages. The royals, and the young new Queen, who had after all lost her father only the previous year, were highly popular. Who could blame people for getting out the bunting, staging street-parties and enjoying the pageantry?

All over the country, people flocked around newly-purchased TV sets to watch the pomp and the splendour of the ceremony. In February it had been reported that demand for TV sets in Scotland had been lower than other parts of the country. There were, in December 1952, just 41,700 TV licences in Scotland. But there as in the rest of the UK, sales picked up in the two weeks before the Coronation.

A Coronation Commission, comprised of the royal family, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and other notables, had for various reasons firmly opposed the very idea that TV cameras might be allowed into the Abbey. In the end, as the Queen’s biographer, Robert Hardman, reported in his 2022 book, Queen of Our Times, a “passionate campaign by a united media”, egged on by MPs, resulted in a rethink.

The Herald: The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh en route to the AbbeyThe Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh en route to the Abbey (Image: free)

In Scotland, a legal challenge was unsuccessfully mounted to have the Queen proclaimed Elizabeth I (not II) of Scotland, as Elizabeth I of England had not reigned in Scotland. In addition, some people were infuriated by the cypher “EIIR” that appeared on Royal Mail post-boxes north of the Border. A number of such post-boxes were vandalised; one, at the Inch housing estate at Liberton, Edinburgh, was blown up at 10pm on February 12 in an explosion that could be heard nearly two miles away. At a bus stop 60 yards away, on the Gilmerton Road, a man instinctively pushed his wife into the shelter of a stone wall. The post-box had previously been daubed with paint and had had explosives shoved into it.

In June, two nights before the Coronation, two shop windows in Renfrewshire bearing the cypher were smashed. One of the shop-owners found a letter purporting to come from the Scottish Republican Army.

A man in British Columbia wrote to the Herald in late May to note that there had been “several unpleasant incidents” relating to the Queen’s designation in Scotland. He added: “The Queen’s title is dictated by world usage. The Scottish contention is known, perhaps admitted, but the world outside does not care a hoot about it.”

The Coronation remains one of the biggest events in British history to have been reported by the Herald in its 240-year history (though it was not, of course, the first such event to have been covered).  The event in the Abbey was heard and seen by millions of people on radio and television – some 277 million people worldwide are estimated to have watched it.

READ MORE: The long road to the M8 in Glasgow

Among them was a young boy named John Rutter, who in later life would become a distinguished composer and conductor. Writing in The Spectator two weeks ago he said: “I’m one of the shrinking band of those who remembers the 1953 coronation. We got the day off school and watched it on my parents’ nine-inch black-and-white television set ... it seemed awfully long but I loved the music.”

“This is the way history should be made,” Christopher Small began his Coronation report in the Herald the following morning. “In Westminster Abbey today the cliche has fallen for once into its precise place – no other words could express its meaning better; for a Coronation is history itself, at once epitome of the past and solemn setting-forth towards the future. The birth of the new reign reproduces in antique survivals the whole evolution of royalty, like the embryo which retells the story of its race, but it is not less a new, unique event.”

It had been an afternoon of steady rain. “Outside, the day was dark and tempestuous. The abbey seemed alone a shining shell of light and colour. The golden effulgence of nine great candelabra hanging over the theatre of Coronation, the vast sea of golden carpet below lapping to the very foot of walls and columns, the blue, silver, and gold of damask hangings made a place fit for its occupants, the congregation, displaying all the magnificent variety of ceremonial dress, rising tier upon tier almost to the vaulted roof.”

In towns and cities across Britain, the ceremony prompted much public celebration. In Glasgow in the evening, streets were roped off and transformed into spacious dance-floors for thousands of high-spirited citizens. “Overcoats were worn by the dancers as protection against the cold, biting wind,” the Herald observed, “but one-man bands, accordions and drums, and records played over radiograms and relayed by loudspeakers ensured that the night’s celebrations went with a swing”.

The Herald: File photo dated 2/6/1953 of Queen Elizabeth, wearing the Imperial State Crown, and the Duke of Edinburgh, dressed in uniform of Admiral of the Fleet, as they wave from the balcony to the onlooking crowds at the gates of Buckingham Palace after theFile photo dated 2/6/1953 of Queen Elizabeth, wearing the Imperial State Crown, and the Duke of Edinburgh, dressed in uniform of Admiral of the Fleet, as they wave from the balcony to the onlooking crowds at the gates of Buckingham Palace after the (Image: free)

Happy scenes unfolded in floodlit George Square, in Knightswood, the Gorbals, Maryhill and Govan. At Mair Street, near Paisley Road West, an energetic band of women, operating from a one-roomed tenement house on the ground floor, conducted a running buffet, serving tea, sandwiches and cakes to merrymakers. A bonfire was lit early in the evening in Blackburn Street. A boxing match took place between Jackie Marshall and “Puddin” Fraser in McLean Street, where the sundry entertainments even included yodellers.

Three hundred children enjoyed the city’s biggest party, in Rolland Street, Maryhill. “Under a myriad twinkling lights and festoons of flags and bunting, hundreds of people gathered, some to dance to the music provided by two bands and others to enjoy the spectacle. Every window was filled with onlookers and the merrymaking continued till an early hour”.

It was the same story across Scotland. Twenty TV sets were switched on at Dundee’s Caird Hall for the benefit of local people. A grand procession took place in Aberdeen, while, at the city’s Market Cross, Wendy Wood, the Scottish Nationalist, proclaimed a “republic of Scotland”. Shortly after a 21-gun salute had been fired from nearby Castlehill to mark the crowning of the Queen, Ms Wood read out, to a small but appreciative crowd, a declaration addressed “to the Scottish nation and all freedom-loving peoples throughout the world”.

In Edinburgh, Charles L Warr, minister of St Giles’ Cathedral, and Dean of the Thistle and of the Chapel Royal of Scotland, had taken no chances on the eve of a special service that was staged at the cathedral.

Mindful of the recently vandalised post-boxes, and seeing a constant procession of people entering and leaving the church, he decided to ask the police to investigate “every nook and cranny” of the place.

“With all this coming and going of workmen and officials,” he later wrote, “who might not have slipped into St Giles’ and concealed themselves? It was quite possible that some fanatics of extreme Nationalist views might have done so and be waiting until the church was finally closed to come out and wreck and disarrange the whole interior.”