From the Darlington & Stockton Times of June 6, 1953

THE main story in the D&S Times of 69 years ago this weekend was headlined: “Bishop discusses “sheep” with North Riding Young Farmers.”

It concerned the Bishop of Whitby attending the young farmers’ annual conference in Thirsk which was “an epitome of rural life”, and His Grace explained that “sheep” was becoming a way of life and a pointer to an economic future based on homegrown produce and homemade products.

Another major story was the D&S reporting how on Tuesday it had rained for most of the day so people had stayed inside to watch TV although those children who had ventured out had been showered with souvenir mugs in village halls.

Because, of course, on June 2, 1953, Queen Elizabeth II had been crowned in Westminster Abbey and the nation had rejoiced in the rain. It was, said the D&S, the worst early June weather for 25 years, due to the wet, the cold and the wind. At Middleton St George aerodrome, gusts regularly were recorded at 40mph and one reached 50mph when the normal wind speed for the time of year should have been 15mph.

“In rain-swept Wensleydale, most of the people spent the morning of Coronation Day listening to the radio or watching TV, either at home, in schoolrooms or hotels,” said the D&S.


On the palace balcony on June 2, 1953. The Queen made her sixth and final balcony appearance shortly after midnight on Coronation Day

On the palace balcony on June 2, 1953. The Queen made her sixth and final balcony appearance shortly after midnight on Coronation Day


The television was a new innovation for the Coronation. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had informed Elizabeth on July 10, 1952, that her advisors were unanimous in their wish to keep TV cameras out of the abbey – the heat from the lights would exhaust her, they said, and they did not believe it appropriate that millions of ordinary people should watch such a solemn, regal occasion while drinking tea in their front rooms.

Elizabeth courteously reminded him that it was she who was being crowned and that she felt that her new subjects should have the chance to see the ceremony.

She won the day.

There were only about 350,000 television sets spread among Britain's 50 million population. They were huge contraptions, although the screens were rarely bigger than 14 inches. And, of course, they were in grainy black and white – three temporary transmitters, including one in Newcastle, had to be built so that the whole population could pick up the images.

Those people who had televisions invited their neighbours, and sometimes their entire villages, round – all Spennithorne, for example, was huddled around two sets in the big houses. Durham Urban Council ensured that every village hall in its patch had its own set, and while Yorkshire wasn’t so generous, places like Aysgarth Methodist schoolroom were somehow equipped with their own apparatus. In Richmond, 50 old people were taken to watch the ceremony beamed onto a set in the YMCA.


Children were showered with souvenir crockery on Coronation Day. I received my coronation cup, saucer and plate set in 1953 from Perrone School in Catterick Camp, says Josephine Power, sending in a picture of her set. My future husband received

Children were showered with souvenir crockery on Coronation Day. "I received my coronation cup, saucer and plate set in 1953 from Perrone School in Catterick Camp," says Josephine Power, sending in a picture of her set. "My future husband received


“The hours passed surprisingly swiftly for TV viewers,” said the D&S columnist Spectator, to whom the concept of binge watching a series like The Crown was completely new. “Taking their seats at 10am, they were quickly absorbed in the panorama presented, and when the brief mid-day interval arrived, the buffets, provided by kindly hosts, were at hand. The scenes and incidents of the afternoon procession were captivating, so much so that the viewers were surprised to find at 5pm they had been occupied for approximately seven hours.”

Spectator, who appears to have been just watching flickering pictures, concluded: “The day was certainly a triumph for TV and one is assured that the sound broadcasts were impressive too.”

It was the weather that turned people on to TV. “In the hill country of upper Teesdale, where three counties rub shoulders, the people braved the rain to celebrate in homely fashion with ham and tongue teas, fancy dress parades and games in the village schoolroom,” said the D&S. “The roads winding through the dale, and across the moors, were almost deserted and the flags hung in bedraggled folds from the windows and chimney stacks, but behind the scenes, in the isolated farms and the demure front parlours of village streets, the festivities were going merrily.”


Pigeons being released to celebrate the coronation in 1953 from Northallerton

Pigeons being released to celebrate the coronation in 1953 from Northallerton


Far more than Coronation Chicken, the slightly spicey dish of chicken and curry powder which had first tickled the nation’s tastebuds as Jubilee Chicken in 1935, ham and tongue were the cold dishes that everyone was eating in 1953.

Whenever anyone ventured out into the rain, they were showered with souvenirs. In Richmond, children were presented in the town hall with beakers and spoons; in Thornton Watlass, children were given sweet-filled mugs; in Harmby, 45 children were presented with mugs in a loft at the Manor House, while in Crakehall, children were given a medal, a hanky and a new sixpence coin and the over 65s receive a tea caddy containing ½lb tea.

In Northallerton, two babies born on Coronation Day – a boy to Barbara Taylor of RAF Topcliffe and a girl to Dorothy Hodgson of Patrick Brompton – were given special silver spoons.

Among the bravest people were those in Thoralby, a village near Leyburn with a population today of 145, where a tea went ahead for 200 people who consumed two hams, four tongues and 28lb of beef.


Sawa Rebrow has his haircut on Coronation Day 1953 at Fearby

Sawa Rebrow has his haircut on Coronation Day 1953 at Fearby


“The ancient game of wallops was played on the Thoralby high road,” said the D&S. “Adults taught children how to throw the sticks. Some missed the ninepins entirely but four-year-old Kenneth Bell, wearing red Indian dress, knocked down four pins at one throw.

“Other events included a lady’s ankle competition, a 'grinning through the horse collar' competition, and a bread and treacle race.”

Do they still look for lady’s shapely ankles and play wallops in Thoralby? Does anyone recall the rules of wallops?

Another curious event took place in Northallerton, where “steady rain throughout most of the day could not dampen the enthusiasm of the people”. Three leading, mackintoshed members of the urban council took it upon themselves to release three racing pigeons bearing messages of good will. Where Northallerton’s birds ended up is not known, but the pigeonmen did receive a similar message carried by the same mode of transport from the mayor of East Retford in Nottinghamshire.

In Fearby, near Masham, the star of the celebrations was Sawa Rebrow, a Ukrainian farm worker who lived at Healey. He had not had his hair cut since February, and had been taking bets about whether he would make unshorn through to Coronation Day.

Jack Gowland, a barber from Leyburn, arrived to perform the honours.

“The ritual was marked by a number of surprises, the first being the emergence of a couple of sparrows when Sawa’s trilby hat was removed from his head,” said the D&S. “This prompted Mr Gowland to investigate further and in the end he found, deep down in Sawa’s thick black hair, a nest containing four eggs.”

Mr Gowland called for sheep shears, which he theatrically sharpened on a grindstone. When they proved ineffective, electric horse clippers were deployed and they made “appreciable inroads into Sawa’s superfluity of hair”.


A man dressed as Winston Churchill inspects Sawa Rebrows haircut at Fearby on Coronation Day

A man dressed as Winston Churchill inspects Sawa Rebrow's haircut at Fearby on Coronation Day


The D&S said: “Sawa’s first action on leaving the barber’s chair was to sample some beer from a barrel set up by Arthur Stillborn, landlord of the Black Horse Inn, Fearby.”

The day ended with beacons. They were supposed to be 1,400 of them across the country, fired to coincide with the ignition of one in Hyde Park, London, by the Chief Scout. At East Witton, the villagers decided the “atrocious” weather was too bad for them to bother with their bonfire, “but some brave folk ventured up Penhill to light the beacon there and by 10.15pm, it cast a deep red glow over the sky”, said the D&S.

The D&S’ coverage of Coronation day concluded: “Like twin balls of fire hanging in the sky, one on each side of Darlington, the beacons at Cleasby and Houghton Bank last night were the bright spots that made up for a dull day. Rain had fallen almost continuously throughout the day causing most outdoor events to be cancelled or postponed. It stopped almost promptly at 10.30pm when the beacons were lit, and the black the haze left by the rain made each beacon appear like a red sunset.”