The Coronation

The Coronation of 2 June 1953 is a long way away now, in a vastly different world and culture. True, a major war was going on, but the Korean armistice was to begin in July, after a final Chinese offensive on 10 June, and the Cold War was fully active in Europe. National service was a central experience for young British men, and end of empire conflicts such as the Kenyan and Malayan emergencies were ongoing. It was a sombre world for some, but World War Two was slowly falling further behind, and the last vestiges of rationing were passing. Confectionery rationing had ended in February, and there was a young Queen to dote on.

Some Shetlanders were in London for the event. Sir Basil Neven-Spence, the Lord Lieutenant, the Lerwick Provost George Burgess, and Captain M.M. Shearer from the Territorial Army, among others. Some of the Shetland diaspora were in the crowds, and some might have watched on TV. The Coronation was a watershed in British media as more people followed it on TV (20 million) than on the wireless. Shetlanders in Shetland didn’t get the chance, as television only got here in 1964.

Coronation excursion to Vementry 26 June 1902

It seems to have gone well enough without TV. Parades, church services, sports events, concerts, dances and bonfires were the means. Spurs football club got going early and selected their own Coronation Queen on 29 May. She was Mona Nicolson of King Harald Street, getting a silver cup and a fiver for her efforts. Five pounds wasn’t too bad a prize in 1953, a weekly wage of nine pounds per week was common, and in Shetland it was certainly lower.

The weather wasn’t good for the events planned for Monday 5 June. Outdoor sports got drenched in heavy rain. It was Shetland in June, after all, and most places had a backup plan for children. Lerwick had free film shows and a puppet show in the Garrison Theatre. Things went better on the actual day of the Coronation, Tuesday 6 June, and in the evening Lerwick held three balls. The town buzzed with social activity.

Children playing on swing in Fraser Park, Scalloway. Taken on the day of Queen Elizabeth's Coronation.
Scalloway bairns at Coronation picnic 1937

The Territorial Army held a “Military Ball” in the TA Hall, there was another in the Grand Hotel, and the official Coronation Ball in the Town Hall. The archives hold a body of material for that one, including a list of invitees, and a programme. Baillie W.K. Conochie provided a radiogram so the attendees could hear speeches by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Queen herself. Dancing began Shetland fashion, with a Boston Two-Step, and stretched over twenty-five dances, including a couple of eightsome reels, along with a couple of quicksteps and a tango. It would be nice to know if there’s a programme out there with partners annotated against the dances.

Invitation to the Coronation Ball in the Town Hall
Invitation list

Lerwick held a bonfire on the Staney Hill, Sandwick had one at the Whirlie, and Cunningsburgh at the Scoo. The Reawick Wart saw a bonfire 26 yards round, aided by Jack Priest and his tractor, and ignited by the local Coronation Queen, Diana Anderson. Uyeasound lit up a fire at the Standing Stone. North Unst made Shetland’s most ingenious effort, not just a bonfire on Saxavord, the island’s highest point, but a dance as well. There were still some wartime military buildings on there, and one of them got done up so North Unst could dance into the night – which they did.

Woman preparing a bonfire for the light up for Queen Elizabeth II Coronation

The new Queen was to visit Shetland three times, beginning in 1960 as the first reigning monarch to visit since King Haakon in 1263. Some Shetlanders didn’t favour her Coronation – somebody pulled down some of the Lerwick decorations. James G. Peterson, proprietor of Grantfield Stores, and organiser of Lerwick’s monarchical beautification, said those people deserved a word of censure. Provost Burgess said all the councillors would agree with him. The weather was a far bigger problem for the celebrations than dissent, though. Shetlanders went out for the Coronation, and had a pretty good time.

Related Posts

Shetland Museum and Archives launches series of ‘Thursday Lates’ heritage talks

Evenings celebrating Shetland’s rich culture and heritage will begin next month as Shetland Museum and Archives launches its ...

Read more

Be My Valentine

It’s that time of year, Valentine’s Day, the 14th of February. In the Shetland Archives Catalogue references to Valentines are ...

Read more

Old style islands courtships

We’re warming ourselves up to the idea of Valentine’s Day. Some might say Shetlanders are not renowned for being romantics and ...

Read more

Shetland Museum celebrates Lerwick Up Helly Aa 2024

The Shetland Museum & Archives was full of activity last week as we celebrated Lerwick Up Helly Aa with a series of fiery events and ...

Read more

The Eyjarskeggjar

The images of Up Helly Aa go like this – the burning longship, arms and armour, and bearded men. The present Jarl Richard Moar has ...

Read more

A Fragment of Viking-Norse Life

One of the results of years of peat-cutting in Shetland is that occasionally interesting objects are revealed. So it was the case in ...

Read more

Shetland Amenity Trust’s heritage sites open for this year’s Up Helly Aa

The fiery season will soon be back and Shetland Amenity Trust is putting together a series of events as well as offering extended ...

Read more

Shetland's War Memorial - constructed by William Horne

Shetland’s War Memorial on Hillhead is now one hundred years old, and was rededicated with a ceremony on 6 January. The memorial ...

Read more

Christmas in Shetland - 1923

1923, like many of the years between the wars, was not a good one. The Shetland Times year end report spoke of a poor herring fishing, ...

Read more

Research project commissioned to encourage locals to grow more aets!

Shetland Amenity Trust has commissioned a research project with two local straw makers to understand more about the growing of ...

Read more

‘Logical Confusion’, a retrospective exhibition of Mike McDonnell opens at the Shetland Museum

An ambitious new exhibition dedicated to the artistry of well-known local artist Mike McDonnell opened this weekend at the Shetland ...

Read more

New poetry book - ‘Love in Human Herts’

‘Love in Human Herts’, a new publication celebrating Vagaland’s finest poetry has been launched today by the Shetland Amenity ...

Read more

The funny story behind some of Lerwick's street names

In the 1880s Lerwick was changing rapidly. As the great herring fishery of that era developed, there were new streets, and potential ...

Read more

Film celebrating the achievements of Johnnie Notions launched by Shetland Museum and Archives

A new film which brings to life the incredible story of 18th century inoculation pioneer and Shetland crofter Johnnie Notions has been ...

Read more

Keep a look out for Skeklers this Halloween

We had a great time at our recent Skeklers Hat workshop with local artist Eve Eunson in preparation for Halloween.

Read more