Royal History: A close look at George VI’s Coronation Programme
By Sarah S Pipkin, on 5 May 2023
Colin Penman, Head of UCL Records, writes about a newly uncovered item in the UCL Records collection.
In the timely way that these things can happen, I recently came across an official souvenir programme for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in May 1937:
As this is the last time there was a coronation of a king and a queen consort –Charles III’s grandfather and grandmother – it has been interesting to compare the occasion with Saturday’s event. The procession and liturgy are very similar, these things changing little over time. There will be new music and prayers, and the much-publicised ‘Homage of the People’. But some elements of the ceremony date back to before the Norman Conquest, for example the Presentation, when the king is ‘presented’ to the four points of the compass.
The programme itself is quite a lovely thing, a lavish 36 page quarto booklet with decorative embossed card covers, glassine protective sheets, and nice watered-silk end papers. It seems to be bound with cord rather than staples – you can see it here at the centre pages, which show the route of the procession:
Interestingly, on the right hand side, just above the compass, is the ‘Site of New Waterloo Bridge’, not completed until the middle of the Second World War, largely with women’s labour. We can compare this route with a London Transport map which can be found in the Gaitskell papers in Special Collections, showing the route of Queen Elizabeth II’s procession in 1953:
Not much between them. King Charles, on the other hand, will simply travel up Whitehall and down the Mall to get back to Buckingham Palace:
Image from gov.uk
The programme for George VI’s coronation includes a coloured, embossed title page:
and another showing the emblems of the king’s Dominions, which definitely wouldn’t look so crowded in today’s equivalent:
This is followed by a poem by the Poet Laureate, John Masefield, very much of its time: ‘Make wise the councils of the men who sway / The Britain here, the Britains far away’. There is also an interesting essay on the ceremony itself by the Garter King of Arms, the full order of service, and a genealogical table showing the king’s descent from William the Conqueror. The latter can’t compete for splendour with UCL’s own MS ANGL/3, a giant 15th century roll, 10 feet long, showing the supposed lineage of the kings of England all the way back to Adam – you can see a video about MS ANGL/3 online. However, the lineage in George VI’s programme is presumably more accurate.
I don’t know how or why we ended up with this item. It was found in a box of uncatalogued College archive material, where it obviously doesn’t belong. It’s accompanied by a card from the Vicar of St Peter, Vere Street, and a copy of his sermon, so perhaps there’s a clue there:
I have no information so far on Minos Devine, but hope to find a connection to one of our existing collections. If not, this will be an interesting addition to our London History collection.