Brighton’s Royal Revels: Coronation Day in Brighton

Herald, 16th May 1953
Herald, 16th May 1953

With jubilee celebrations planned around the country, staff at Brighton History Centre have been finding out about life in the city at the time of the Queen’s Coronation. Using cuttings from local papers and ephemera from our collections, we have created a table-top display that, we hope, captures the spirit of the day.

It seems the people of Brighton and Hove celebrated the events of 2 June 1953 with great enthusiasm. Newspapers reported all sorts of initiatives to commemorate the occasion, including concerts and balls, Coronation cake-making and fancy-dress parades. And despite a disappointingly damp day, streets across the city were festooned with bunting and filled with people.

Perhaps the most striking of the public decorations was a giant model of the Imperial State Crown. Measuring 17 feet high and 12 feet wide, it was displayed on the roundabout in front of the Aquarium where, according to the Sussex Daily News, ‘its facets take on an adamantine brilliance and its mundane traffic island site acquires the aspect of a cushion for a royal diadem.’

Princes News Theatre screenings of the Coronation, Herald 13th June 1953
Princes News Theatre screenings of the Coronation, Herald 13th June 1953

In the days before a TV could be found in every home, following the ceremony was not straightforward. In the weeks leading up to the big day, retailers such as Lambert & Whistlecroft of Western Road, Hove, urged the public to make the most of the occasion and buy their own set.  ‘The Coronation is very near, but there is just time to have your television installed – if you hurry…’ stated an ad in the Brighton and Hove Herald on 9 May.  700 people made alternative plans and booked seats at the Gaiety Cinema, where the Coronation was screened live; others gathered in public places, such as Moulsecoomb School, where three TVs had been installed, or on the seafront, where the BBC coverage was broadcast via loudspeakers.

Our display will show what was on at the theatre and the cinema (Agatha Christie’s The Hollow and Niagara, with Marilyn Monroe, among other things), what was on offer in local restaurants (‘continental’ dishes such as spaghetti Bolognese) and what the stylish women were wearing (beautiful tailored suits and dresses, or more comfortable ‘television loungers’). Fans of 1950s fashion can also admire the Swoonsuit, a fabulous five-piece ensemble that transformed from promenade dress to bikini. Designed for Brighton Corporation, it was worn to mark the opening of the summer season by local showgirl Janet Ball.

If you were married in Brighton in June 1953, your photograph may have appeared in one of the town’s papers; come and have a look! A film reader has been reserved for those who wish to see how events were reported at the time.

The Mayor of Brighton's invitation to Westminster Abbey
The Mayor of Brighton’s invitation to Westminster Abbey

The display runs in the History Centre from 1 May – 30 June. And if you’d like to learn more, Senior History Centre Officer Paul Jordan will be giving an informal talk about Brighton in Coronation Year at 11am on 30 May and 6 June. For further details and to reserve a place, please call 01273 296971/2.

Kate Elms, Brighton History Centre

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