Long to reign over us

Photographic print of the Queen treated to look like an oil painting, 1953, at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire. Inv. no. 290938. ©National Trust Collections

As the Diamond Jubilee weekend approaches, I thought I would take a look at some of the objects in the collections of the National Trust that relate to the 1953 Coronation.

Silk crêpe handkerchief, c. 1953, at Killerton, Devon. Inv. no. 1363609. ©National Trust Collections

They provide a narrowly focused but vivid snapshot of early 1950s cultural and social trends in Britain.

Blue jasperware Wedgwood teapot designed by Arnold Machin, at Sizergh Castle, Cumbria. Inv. no. 997887.2. ©National Trust Collections

Some of the items show modernist design elements, although in a muted, decorous way. Others are unashamedly traditionalist.

Wedgwood commemorative mug, c. 1953, at Greenway, Devon (Agatha Christie’s holiday home). Inv. no. 122026. ©National Trust Collections

They span the entire spectrum from cheap throwaway items to beautifully designed objects made from durable materials.

Chair of a type used by those attending the 1953 Coronation in Westminster Abbey, which could subsequently be purchased by the attendees (echoing the earlier practice of giving surplus royal furniture to courtiers as perks of office), at Chirk Castle, Wrexham. Inv. no. 1170796.1. ©National Trust Collections

But they all seem to include heraldic elements, befitting the highly symbolic, even hieratic nature of the occasion. Style Court has just done a nice post about Arnold Machin’s iconic silhouettes of the Queen.

Book of matches, Bryant & May, 1953, at Sissinghurst Castle. Inv. no. 802872. ©National Trust Collections

And the early television set reminds us that in 1953 Britain had only fairly recently entered the broadcast media age – there was debate around whether the coronation should be broadcast on television at all, and when it was decided to do so many people bought TV sets especially for the occasion. Perhaps we are in a similar transitional moment now, as interactive media supplement or take over from broadcast platforms.

1950s Bush television, at 20 Forthlin Road, Allerton, Merseyside (Paul McCartney’s childhood home). Inv. no. 2030421. ©National Trust Collections

More Coronation memorabilia can be found on the National Trust Collections website – with thanks to Philip Claris for highlighting a selection of them.

This also reminds me of the upcoming conference at the Courtauld Institute, London, entitled Art and Its Afterlives, looking at how the meaning of works of art and other objects changes and reverberates long after their original creation.

12 Responses to “Long to reign over us”

  1. style court Says:

    Emile, this is terrific. Fun to see yet another silhouette, and I actually like both the jasperware and the sturdy commemorative mug a lot. Thanks for the NT Collection link, too. I’m anxious to see more. The absence of Union Jacks is interesting. The emblem really morphed into a fashion trend in our era, I suppose. Or maybe that started back in the 1960s.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, in my rush to get this post out I somehow forgot your recent mention of Machin’s silhouettes – I have added a link.

    And that is a very interesting point about when the Union Jack started to be used as a style and fashion icon. Your suggestion of the 1960s seems right, but it would be fascinating to be able to track that.

  3. style court Says:

    Oh gosh, wasn’t hinting for a mention! Just fascinated. Tracking the UJ as fashion icon would be a great project. The Met’s Anglomania catalogue might be a good jumping off point.

    Thanks again. Loved the ribbons and medals over at the database.

  4. style court Says:


    It’s also fun to compare/contrast the portrait you shared at top with printer Annie Little’s recent take on one of the vintage images:

    http://www.vandashop.com (Jubilee range)

  5. style court Says:

    Here’s the artist’s page:


    Check out the king and queen pillows.

  6. Andrew Says:

    I watched the BBC4 documentary about the 1953 Coronation this evening – http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01jcf5h/The_Coronation_of_Queen_Elizabeth_II/

    I had not previously understood the scale of the preparatory works in Westminster Abbey. It was closed for 6 months to triple its capacity from around 2,500 to over 7,000 by adding stadium-style tiers of ranked seating!

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, trust the V&A to come up with ‘design’ bunting – great. And as you say the Annie Little print shows the strong graphic power of those 1950s royal postage stamp designs. I also rather like to solar-powered corgi in the V&A shop – as you may know the Queen has a little troupe of them (live ones that is). And the rainhood and the Vivien Westwood boots are of course a nod to the Queen’s predilection for country pursuits – although her own outdoor clothes are much more sensible :).

    Andrew, many thanks for that link – I missed it but will watch it on iPlayer. Presumably the novel introduction of TV cameras was another major complication in organising the ceremony in the Abbey.

  8. Andrew Says:

    Indeed – there was great concern that the cameras should not be intrusive, and the powers-that-be seemed to think that close-up shots would be disrespectful. The BBC demonstrated an outside broadcast camera with a wide lens which was acceptable, but one cameraman at the ceremony switched to a telephoto lens of his own accord. The cameras were hidden away in boxes created as part of the construction works, resembling hides for birdwatching.

    There some images of the tiers of seating inside the Abbey here – http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/royals/coronations/elizabeth-ii – and I think you can just make out some of the boxes for the television cameras, under the upper decks of seating.

    A large temporary annex was constructed at the entrance to the Abbey, and scaffolding for seating along the processional route. Given the continuing demand for new houses in the post-war period, and a shortage of building materials, there was a directive that as much as possible the materials used for the temporary works should be reused.

    It seems to have gone like clockwork – no doubt due to the lengthy planning and repeated rehearsals – despite rain on the day.

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, that’s fascinating, particularly with regard to the tensions between what was then considered respectful and disrespectful – reflecting I suppose the age-old tension between rulers needing to be visible but also suitably distant.

    Perhaps that could be called ‘royal wabi’ (very loosely interpreting that Japanese aesthetic term): how ‘distance’ (either physical or social) makes the monarch more ‘visible’ (i.e. charismatic, iconic) 🙂

  10. KDM Says:

    Fantastic – delightful items.

  11. James Morgan Says:

    I was fortunate as a teenager to watch the coronation live, here in the US! I still revere her and her long reign. God save her ever!

    Monarchist Jim of Olym
    Olympia, WA USA (I wish we were still a colony!)

  12. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Keith, James, thank you.

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