Marking the Coronation

Events Jun 2, 2022

During a recent visit to the Oxfordshire History Centre I was reading through a collection of papers about how the Festival of Britain was celebrated in Bicester when I came across a newspaper cutting about the Queen’s coronation in 1953. I assume it came from the Bicester Advertiser, but haven’t been able to check yet. Whatever the source though, it does make for some interesting reading.

How will the town and people of Bicester commemorate the Coronation on June 2nd next year, of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II? That was the main question at a well-attended public meeting held at the Wesley Hall, Sheep Street, on Wednesday evening.
The meeting was convened by the Bicester Urban District Council, and the Chairman (Councillor Mrs Davies) presided, supported by members of the Council and representatives of many different organisations in the town.
One of the most favoured suggestions of the evening was that Coronation Year be used as an opportunity to lay plans for a town hall in Bicester.
With regard to a programme of events, a period of celebration was favoured rather than a single day. Suggestions for inclusion in a programme included the planting of trees, a fireworks display, a free public tea, swimming gala children's sports, cricket, bowls, tennis, a united open-air service, and open-air dance, torchlight procession, a dinner and entertainment for the old residents of the town, the issuing of souvenirs to school children, and a competition for the best decorated shop and house in the town.
Mr S.G. Hedges (Methodist Sunday School) suggested that the planting of trees in the town by schoolchildren would be a lasting act of commemoration. He further suggested that the children should combine to buy the trees themselves.
The Rev. P.H. Foster (Methodist Minister) said it would serve a great need if public seats were provided in various parts of the town.
Councillor Ian Goble (Vice-Chairman) said that the present Oxford by-pass, known as New Road, would be an ideal situation for tree-planting and the road could be named after the Queen.
Major L. Coker, in connection with this suggestion, said he would willingly give one hundred young horse-chestnut trees for the proposed scheme.
Mr E.F. Bagwell outlined a concentrated programme which he suggested for Coronation Day itself. There would be a united open air service at The Garth followed by sports and fancy dress, a free tea, an evening of dancing, and the roasting of an ox.
Mr J. Plater said he considered that one day was not long enough in which to celebrate. He suggested that a longer period should be planned.
Mr A.J. Evans, JP, secretary of the Bicester Chamber of Commerce, said that the Coronation should be made memorable for the children and older folk. A varied programme of sporting events could be organised to suit all tastes.
Mrs B.J. Jackson suggested that a children's pageant might be included in the programme.
Mr S.G. Hedges, considered that walking facilities in and around Bicester could be improved, and that local walks could be made more attractive. He suggested that Coronation Day itself could end with a grand torchlight procession round the town.
Mr M. Alley offered the free use of his P.A. equipment for anyone needing it.
The Rev. P.H. Foster said he personally thought it was about time the townsfolk considered providing themselves and the town with a suitable community or town hall. Bicester was sadly lacking any centre where people could gather for social events and next year's Coronation might well be used as an occasion to take a firm step forward in the provision of a town hall.
Several speakers supported this suggestion, and Councillor Fred Smith said he thought a considerable sum of money could be raised by way of free of interest loans from residents and business people in Bicester. "If you want anything, get it first then pay for it afterwards," added Councillor Smith amidst laughter.
The chairman said she heartily welcomed the Rev. Foster’s suggestion.
Councillor Goble said he too would welcome a town hall but wondered whether the financial burden would be too great.
A vote was taken and resulted in favour of a period of events being organised culminating in Coronation Day itself.
Mrs Davies said that a meeting of those who volunteered to serve on a committee would be called in the near future at The Garth. She thought that there should be one main committee with various sub-committees to arrange individual events.
The Chairman brought the meeting to a close and thanked the representatives and members of the public who had attended.
Major Coker proposed a vote of thanks to the Chairman for the excellent way in which she had conducted the meeting, and this was greeted with loud applause.

It is always interesting to see reports like this where they talk about creating a Town Hall, because it obviously never happened and each time it gets suggested it is always the cost that becomes the biggest obstacle.

Aerial view of Market Square in 1953 showing the bunting and decorations hung ready for the Coronation celebrations.
Aerial view of Market Square in 1953 showing the bunting and decorations hung ready for the Coronation celebrations.

As well as the planned activities, it is also interesting to learn more about the naming of Queen’s Avenue and the tree planting. I’ve known for a long time that the road was renamed for the coronation, and found out a few years ago that the trees that originally made it an avenue were planted by various groups in the town. But it wasn’t until reading this that I found out that Sid Hedges and Ian Goble originally put forward the ideas, and that Major Coker supplied the trees.

The image at the top of this article is of one of the commemorative plaques that used to mark each tree that had been planted and named who it was planted by. Sadly some of the trees have long since gone and been replaced, and, of those still there, most have lost their plaques. But I’m sure there are still many residents in the town who, as children, were involved in the planting and can still remember which tree was theirs.

One of the plaques, marked "Presented by 17th Bn RAF" has almost been completely covered by its tree.
One of the plaques, marked "Presented by 17th Bn RAF" has almost been completely covered by its tree.