Coronation Celebrations


1936 had been a bad year for the country.
In January, the Prince of Wales had acceded to the throne of England as King Edward VIII and then in December, having declared his love for a woman called Wallace Simpson, had abdicated.
It had been a roller coaster ride since the great sadness of losing King George V; the whole country had had their spirits raised by the prospect of the reign of Edward, only to have them dashed by the abdication crisis.
The ‘Fontmell Magna and West Orchard Parish Magazine’ was published every two months and, writing in the January/February, 1937 issue, Charles Pigott Edmonds, the Rector, referred to a ‘Pastoral Letter’ from the Bishop of the diocese, which had been read in every Church on the first Sunday in January. The Rector stated that the letter followed very opportunely on the Archbishop’s ‘Recall to Religion’.
He stated how, ‘Religion is looked on as old fashioned, repressive and joyless’. One cannot help thinking how his words seem as appropriate today, as they did in 1937. He went on, ‘Yet, is it not true to say, that there is less real happiness amongst us than there used to be? There are more amusements, and distractions, and we have become terribly dependent on them to escape the dullness of a life, which has lost its purpose and meaning’.
The words of the Bishop and the Rector, may have been a reflection of the feelings of gloom and despondency throughout the country in those early days of 1937.
These were thought provoking words and now they had the Coronation of King George VI and his beautiful Queen Elizabeth to look forward to and, along with the rest of the country, the people of Fontmell Magna were going to celebrate the in the best way they could.
On February, 12th, a parish meeting was held in the school and it was unanimously decided to have a parish celebration ‘to commemorate the Coronation of Their Most Gracious Majesties, THE KING & QUEEN’. Everyone was asked to contribute to the cost and all were invited to join in with the festivities.
It was also decided that a permanent memento of the Coronation year should be established, ‘i.e., a Village Playing Field, where our children, young men and women, and also the elderly people, could take their recreation and pleasure’.
It was proposed to decorate the village, especially that part of the main road between the Post Office and The Crown Inn. A procession was planned and the route was flanked with scarlet painted ash poles, which formed an avenue linked by garlands.
In the March/April edition of the Parish Magazine, it was stated that preparations were in hand for the commemoration of ‘Coronation Day’. Strong Sub-Committees had been formed to deal with the various events of the day, which were to be much on the same lines as those of the ‘Jubilee’ in 1935, beginning with a Church Service of Thanksgiving at 10.00a.m. in St.Andrew’s Church. The magazine asked people ‘to keep in mind a permanent Memorial, viz: the purchase of a Playing Field, which is so much needed in the Parish’.
There can be no doubt that the Bell Ringers would have played an important part in the celebrations. In the March/April Parish Magazine, the Rector wrote, ‘Our Ringers are making History! No less than six have qualified as Change-ringing members of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers (founded 1882). We have to congratulate the following, H.A., D.C. and A.Woolridge, I.E.Smith, H.Hayter and E.Toomer’.
And so the great day arrived.
The Rector bought 150 copies of the Service for 10.00a.m. on Coronation Day and there were ‘hardly any unused!’. In the May/June edition of the Parish Magazine, he wrote, ‘I shall not soon forget the sight of that congregation on a week-day morning, or the sound of those many voices in the Hymns. It was a good beginning and ushered in a wonderful day, a day made all the more joyous by the weather with which Fontmell, unlike so many places, was favoured’.
After the service, the celebrations began in earnest and all assembled at the Cross Tree where the great procession was formed.
Fontmell was said to be famous in the locality for its flower garlands, which were built on hazel frames and embellished with flowers and greenery by the individual parishioners. These magnificent garlands or ‘Top Knots’ were carried in the possession, which included a choir, maypole dancers and the Springhead Morris Dancers. The procession set off and circled the village via Church Street and Lurmer Street.
‘A Maypole – beautifully made – stood, probably, in much the same spot where the old maypole stood centuries ago. The children danced smoothly and easily’.
It was said that the procession ‘made a picture, which turned the wrath of impeded motorists into praise and admiration!!’
The Cross Tree and all the village was decorated and, when the procession arrived back at the Cross Tree, everybody, including the ‘Parson and Doctor’ joined in the dancing around it.
Then, during the hour of the King’s crowning, the scarlet ash poles were surmounted by ‘Top knots’.
At the Crown Inn crossroads, a huge corn garland was suspended high ‘in some wonderful way’, it was shaped on a wheel and many coloured ribbons fluttered from it; ‘it was perhaps the feature, but the whole village was aglow with carefully thought out decoration’.
It was reported in the Parish Magazine, that a party who had driven from Coventry, said that Fontmell was ‘The most beautifully decorated of any through which we passed’. Another party said that, ‘We wanted to write to the papers of what we had seen passing through’.
The afternoon programme began with Coronation Day Sports in Jerry Close, a field which was ‘kindly lent by Mr_Chick’ and was/is situated behind Blandford’s_Farm (where the school football pitch is now situated). The sports were preceded by Maypole Dancing by the children. The children’s sports began at ‘2.20 p.m. sharp’, with a 50 yards Handicap race for children under 5. The eight races ended with the ‘Thread-Needle Race’ for children under 14. Adult Sports were made up of six races including a ‘Slow Bicycle Race’, a ‘Pillow Fight’ and a ‘Ladies’ and Gent’s Wheelbarrow Race’.
Afterwards, teas were held in relays in the school and tea was delivered to all the aged and infirm who were unable to leave their homes. The school room and tables were ‘gaily decorated’ and ‘There was a general sense of Good Fellowship and the true Holiday Spirit!’
After tea, a play was performed by the children, followed by another play by the grown-ups, called ‘The Bear’s Nest’.
Festivities came to a climax at 8.00 p.m. when all listened to the King’s speech on the ‘Wireless’ and then drank to the Rector’s toast, ‘The King’.
A bonfire had been built at Fore Top on Fontmell Down and, at 9.30 p.m., some 60 able bodied persons made the steep climb to the bonfire, which was ceremonially lit at 10.00 p.m. Torches were lit and a procession set off around the top of the down, eventually descending by way of the lynchets, back to the Cross Tree.
The ‘Old Cross Tree’ was described as ‘the witness of many a celebration in by-gone times, but never one more carefully prepared for, more successfully carried out, or more thoroughly enjoyed. Hats off and 1st Class Honours to all who contributed to such a day, whether by gifts, thought or work’. At the Cross Tree, a great circle of people was formed and all waited in silence for the Church to strike midnight, when the torches were extinguished and all sang ‘God Save the King’.
The end of a great day in Fontmell Magna’s history.

Author: David Hardiman