DOWN MEMORY LANE: Royal occasions of 100 years remembered

South Bersted School's coronation celebrations
South Bersted School's coronation celebrations
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As one of its events to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the County Record Office is searching its photographic collections and film archives to present a special screening of royal occasions in West Sussex over the past 100 or so years.

Chichester and District is particularly represented and the story begins in 1897 when Queen Victoria had her own Diamond Jubilee.

The archway at Westgate

The archway at Westgate

Local celebrations took many different forms.

The city streets were bedecked with Chinese lanterns and local tradesmen competed with each other for the best-decorated shop windows.

But the most spectacular symbols of the day were the commemorative arches that were built on the sites of the four city gateways.

Many superb archive photographs show these were a feature of royal celebrations in Chichester from Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 through to the coronation of George V in 1911.

Royal celebrations

Royal celebrations

The one shown here is of the archway at Westgate erected for the Diamond Jubilee.

The photographer, Thomas Russell, has taken his view looking down West Street, capturing both the elaborate nature of the construction and the earnest expressions of those gathered under it for the benefit of his camera.

Taken in 1897 it hardly qualifies as ‘within living memory’ but the original photograph has special poignancy for us as it was a gift to the county archives from Bernard Vick.

Born in Chichester in the first world war, he worked for the County Surveyor’s Department at County Hall for more than 40 years before retiring in 1981 and volunteering his time, five days a week, for another 20 years at the Record Office, transcribing and indexing historic documents.

A true Chichester character, he died in 2004 and will be remembered with great affection by his many friends in the city.

Royal visits

As well as celebrations of royal events, visits to the county by members of the royal family are also featured in the county archives.

The visit to Bognor of George V and Queen Mary in 1929 is well documented.

The King had been desperately ill with septicaemia and pleurisy but now it was felt his removal to sea air would assist his recovery.

Resorts of distinction held their breath awaiting the call.

In the words of local historian Gerard Young, when the selection of modest Bognor was announced as the favoured place of convalescence, ‘a gasp of incredulity swept through the council chambers of the South Coast’.

To be precise it was to Craigweil House in Aldwick that he came, staying for more than three months, and leaving the town with the suffix ‘Regis’ as a permanent legacy.

While the King quietly convalesced, Queen Mary adopted a higher profile, bringing the monarchy closer to the people then ever before.

She attended Sunday morning service in local churches, popped into F Woolworth’s bazaar in Bognor, and astonished the residents of Chichester with her impromptu visits to antique shops.

The visit of the King and Queen enticed photographers and film cameramen to the area.

Among their work are pictures of three-year-old Princess Elizabeth, destined herself to become Queen, on a fortnight’s holiday with her grandparents at Craigweil.

On May 15, 1929, sitting beside Queen Mary in the royal car, the King was recovered enough to leave Bognor for Windsor.

A film of the occasion shows the streets adorned with flags and bunting, crowds cheering and flag waving, as the convoy processed along the seafront.

More than 2,000 people waited by the Western Bandstand where a banner across the roadway proclaimed ‘God Speed’.

Film

There are still older residents of Bognor now who remember when as children they lined the streets on that historic day.

The film survives in the Harry Guermonprez collection and will be shown as part of the Jubilee event at the Record Office.

George V and Queen Mary were popular monarchs and a few years later, in May 1935, towns and villages across the county celebrated their Silver Jubilee in style.

We are so fortunate that here again in our film archive we have marvellous footage of the day’s events in Chichester.

This was shot on 16mm, partly in colour, by the Cine Camera Club founded that year by the local branch of the British Film Institute.

The film begins with PC Mewett standing at his usual position by the Cross as the mayor, Alderman Charles Allen, civic dignitaries and representatives of virtually every organisation in the city process to the service of thanksgiving in the cathedral.

We then see the mayor and corporation of St Pancras marching from the Unicorn in Eastgate Square to deliver dinners to the residents of the Dears Almshouses in the Hornet.

In the afternoon there were sports on the recreation ground in New Park Road watched by a crowd of hundreds and the camera then pans around the floats at the Cattle Market making ready for the parade to Priory Park.

It lingers over the Spanish Galleon that won a prize for Shippam’s Social Club.

Queen Elizabeth II

The present Queen has made many visits to West Sussex during her long reign.

Her first official visit to Chichester was on Monday, July 30, 1956.

Streets had been decked with flags, bunting and decorative shields only for weekend storms to bring them down.

At evensong on Sunday appeals were made to church congregations for volunteers to repair the damage, which they duly did.

With the Duke of Edinburgh she was received at Priory Park by the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Norfolk, who presented the mayor of Chichester, Leslie Evershed-Martin, the mayoress, and the town clerk, Eric Banks.

Thousands of Cicestrians packed into the park as speeches were broadcast from a dais erected beside the Guildhall.

Later, the royal party visited the museum, St Mary’s Almshouses and the cathedral.

Crowds lined the streets throughout the visit and afterwards there was open-air dancing in the park.

Images taken by Chichester Photographic Services of Whyke Lane and amateur cine film of the day are preserved at the Record Office.

These and illustrations of other royal events in Chichester, Bognor and the wider county will be screened at the Jubilee event at the Record Office, a reminder of our royal links and a trip down memory lane for many.

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Have you got a memory or photograph you would like to see featured in Down Memory Lane?

You can email your story to vintage@chiobserver.co.uk.