THERE surely can be few people with the claim to fame belonging to Stanley Roocroft, long-time resident of Gayle, near Hawes, and distinguished musician.

Aged 14, he was one of 32 choristers brought together from churches and cathedrals scattered across the British Isles to form a choir for the Queen's Coronation amid the splendour of Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953 – and then in 2005 he once again found himself in exalted company as he received an MBE from Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace.

Immaculately prepared, as ever, the Queen remarked that they both had special memories of the day as she presented him with his medal.

Stanley received the accolade for services to the community across North Yorkshire – and what service it has been. After a long career running school music departments and rolling out instrumental programmes in cities across West and South Yorkshire, he "retired" in 1991 – but not for long. He worked for Yorkshire Rural Community Council on a project assessing childcare needs in remote communities, a role that swiftly expanded from an initial one day a week. Later, he became a community development officer for North Yorkshire, helping secure funding for a range of projects, finally retiring properly aged 70 in 2007.

Outside of work, his musical passions and boundless enthusiasm have seen him take on many community roles, including president of Wensleydale Tournament of Song, musical director of Hawes Operatic Society, and a music adjudicator for the British and International Federation of Festivals for 45 years. He is also a sought-after conductor for choirs and brass bands, having got drawn into brass music while first studying, and then working, in Wakefield, where he met his future wife, Barbara. This New Year's Eve, they will celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary.


Stanley Roocroft, pictured as a chorister

Stanley Roocroft, pictured as a chorister


THE family have lived in their beautiful beckside home in Gayle since 1975, and, reflecting on the Coronation over a cup of tea and delicious homemade shortbread biscuits, Stanley says he and his fellow choristers were well aware of the importance of the occasion, but adds "we were doing a job".

Where his musical ability comes from, he is not quite sure, although a grandfather was a violinist, and his father and uncles all sang. His journey to the bright lights of Westminster Abbey began in the choir of the parish church of St Silas in Blackburn, near where he grew up. When auditions came up to sing in Blackburn Cathedral, he took himself off without telling his parents – getting caught out when they went to the church service where he should have been singing. "I had to explain that yes, I was singing, but at the cathedral," he says. "That was the first that they knew I was accepted in the cathedral choir."

By the time the Queen's Coronation came about, he was a senior chorister, and had already performed in Westminster Abbey, so was put forward by his musical director as one of a 32-strong choir made up of boys from cathedrals and parish churches across the country.

"He asked to see me and my mother and father after a service, and I thought I was in trouble..." he says.

Four weeks of intensive choral work preceded the service, with the boys staying at Addington Palace in Surrey.

As well as the musical preparations, there were also practical considerations ahead of the big day – the boys' matron sewed extra pockets for snacks into their choir robes to sustain them through the day, where they were positioned high on scaffolding in the organ loft, opposite the heraldic trumpeters.


The Queen at Westminster Abbey for her coronation on June 2, 1953

The Queen at Westminster Abbey for her coronation on June 2, 1953


From their perch, the boys had possibly the best view in the house of the arriving guests, and Stanley recalls that the statuesque Queen of Tonga stood out – literally – in her full ceremonial dress. Minutes before the Queen's arrival, laughter broke the tension when the congregation stood expecting the new monarch, only to see the aisle was actually occupied by Abbey cleaners giving it a final once-over.

As the Queen processed in, the choirboys had the strictest of instructions not to take their eyes off the conductor of music.

"We had to ensure that we gave the best that we could – we were doing the job we had in the service," Stanley says.


A press write-up focusing on the coronation choir

A press write-up focusing on the coronation choir


Afterwards, on the journey back to Addington, as the excitement faded, he concluded that the choir had done well – an opinion that was confirmed a few days later when he received a typed note – addressed only to "Roocroft" – from musical director Willie McKie thanking him, and saying: "The performances were wholly worthy of the greatness of the occasion."

A fortnight later, shortly after singing at a service at St Paul's Cathedral, Stanley's voice changed. A high treble no longer, he then sang bass in the cathedral choir instead.

After school he attended Bretton Hall College of Education for specialist teachers of music, art and drama, where he met Barbara. They married while working at Wakefield Cathedral School.

New interests flourished during their time in Wakefield, with the couple involved in various musical and drama productions and Stanley taking up the French horn. Being in the heart of brass band country, he also began conducting. Jobs followed across West Yorkshire, with Stanley running music departments, and setting up brass, woodwind and instrumental tuition for schools, before he began working for the city of Sheffield, rolling out instrumental musical throughout schools and organising music for all civic occasions – all while keeping his hand in musical direction for stage shows, several involved in national tours.


Stanley Roocrofts coronation medal

Stanley Roocroft's coronation medal


His MBE came in the 2005 Queen's birthday honours, and later that year, while queuing at Buckingham Palace ahead of the investiture, he was taken to one side and asked by excited Royal staff whether he could point out himself on a huge mural of the Coronation hanging nearby.

Then came his encounter with the Queen – another truly special day providing wonderful memories for Stanley, and Barbara, who accompanied him. The double honour is also clearly a huge source of pride for their children, and grandchildren. As the nation pays tribute to the Queen's remarkable 70-years of service, how many people can claim to have shared such remarkable experiences?


Stanley Roocrofts MBE, awarded for services to the community across North Yorkshire

Stanley Roocroft's MBE, awarded for services to the community across North Yorkshire


Stanley Roocroft's account of the Queen's Coronation

"IT was four o'clock in the morning of Tuesday, the second of June, when the Archdeacon of Maidstone passed through the dormitory calling "Wake up boys, this is the day!"

"For four weeks previously, I, along with thirty-one other boys from different parts of the British Isles, but all members of choir affiliated to the Royal School of Church Music, had practised daily the wonderful music for the Coronation service and at last that great day had arrived.

"None of us did justice to the large breakfast set before us – we were too excited.

"At 5.45am, we left Addington Palace for London. At Victoria Station we were given our admission tickets for the Abbey, and we robed in the Abbey Gymnasium. There, each member of our party received a packet containing sandwiches, chocolate, sweets and an apple, together with a buffet ticket enabling him to obtain a meal when the service was over.


The cover of the special edition Radio Times produced following the coronation

The cover of the special edition Radio Times produced following the coronation


"At 7.45 we lined up in the cloisters and proceeded into the Abbey. As I entered my heart seemed to be in my mouth, so great was the excitement.

"We had a three hours' wait, but the time passed quickly for, from our seats above the Theatre, we watched the magnificently-robed peers and peeresses coming up the nave in procession to their places just below us.

"A few minutes before eleven o'clock, the processions of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret entered the Abbey, and we knew that soon we should see the most important procession of all – that of Her Majesty, the Queen.

"It would be superfluous to described the ceremony which followed, and which was seen or heard by so many. I can only add that amongst all the glitter, splendour of robes, jewels and wonderful music, a strong feeling of the Divine Presence amongst us during the Coronation Service was real.

"When the ceremony was over and most of the Royal guests had departed, the choirboys made a hurried exit to the buffet where we made up for our scanty breakfast.

"We returned to Addington Palace and watched a firework display, which brought to a close an event in my life which I shall always remember."