Remembering the Coronation through Wills’ employees’ eyes

Heaton History Group member Michael Proctor is currently clearing his mother in law’s house after she had to move into care earlier this year and came across some interesting records from the WD & HO Wills factory. He writes:

Both my mother in law, Jean Jobbins, and her late husband, Ern, worked for WD & HO Wills in Bristol, before moving to Newcastle when they married in 1950 to help set up the Newcastle factory on the Coast Road. They were among a number of key workers who made the move north in order provide the new factory with the essential skills to get off the ground.

Wills Factory Exterior

Wills Factory Exterior

Ern was a store keeper and Jean worked in the lab, doing quality control work on the product. In line with the times, Jean gave up work after they married to set up home in a council house on Newton Place, High Heaton, so never worked at the Newcastle factory, but Ern continued to work there until his retirement.

Among the treasures I found were a number of bound copies of the Wills’ staff magazine. Sadly they all dated to the early 1920s, while Ern would still have been a schoolboy and Jean wasn’t born, so it’s anyone’s guess how they came by these treasures. As the Newcastle factory opened in 1950, the magazines obviously don’t mention it. What they do though is paint a vivid picture of life for Wills’ employees. There are reports on a whole range of sports and social activities, works outings, children’s parties and births marriages and deaths as well as diverse range of articles penned by Wills’s staff including accounts of foreign holidays and articles on the development of banks in Glasgow and the history of No 53 Holborn Viaduct (in three parts). The articles complement what we have been told about life at Wills’ Factory on the Coast Road by former employees, Olga Jackson and Laura Young.

Wills Factory stage in the canteen

Wills Factory stage in the canteen

What I also found though was a special edition of the magazine produced to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953. Interestingly, the report of the coronation is written primarily through the stories of employees of WD & HO Wills who took part in them.

WillsCoronation1

Willsneedlework

The report of preparations for the day and the actual event is told by D Tuckwell and NK Hawkes from Bristol and A Anderson from Newcastle, all members of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, whose role on the day was to line the route of the procession. They can be clearly seen in the pictures of the procession. Not surprisingly, with a name like A Armstrong, I’ve been unable to identify the individual, but their accounts of the weeks leading up to the event and the coronation itself make interesting reading. The story is told primarily by NK Hawkes.

On our arrival at Chatham Barracks on Sunday 24th May, it was made obvious that there was no time to be lost in preparing for “C” Day. Our training during the next seven days consisted of “square bashing” and “Operation Coronet”, which entailed such things as standing perfectly still for what seemed days and presenting arms to an old Ford car with a crown on top and, on one occasion, to a corporation dustcart. In spite of many comments, we found all of this to be to good purpose.

We moved to Clapham Deep Shelter on Sunday 31st May, and at dawn on Monday about 5,000 naval ratings were disturbing the peace of Clapham preparing for a full scale rehearsal. Leave for ratings in the afternoon found us in London inspecting the Coronation route, in particular the places where we would be standing the following morning. Already potential spectators were four deep along the route, making themselves as comfortable as possible in the inclement weather. The genius of some was amazing to see. Lean-to shelters, made of paper, waterproofs and so on, gave little protection from the weather, but everywhere one felt the mounting excitement as the hours ticked slowly by. And so to bed!

The dawn of “C” Day found us “ship-shape and Bristol fashion”, ready to em-bus at 6.30. From Clapham we moved in convoy to the Victoria Embankment. On taking up our positions for route lining duties we were cheered by a mass of thousands of schoolchildren waiting eagerly to see their Queen.

Now the hours of work at Chatham paid off. The correct salutes and acknowledgements were made in their proper order to the Lord Mayor of London and his Lady, to all fifty cars of the foreign representatives, to our Prime Minister and those of the Dominions, to the Princes and Princesses of the Blood Royal, and the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, looking radiant and happy, and finally, to the person all those children had waited so long to see, our Queen, with her escort of Household Cavalry.

After the Queen passed on her way to the Abbey, we reformed and marched to new positions in Whitehall. Then the rain began – and did it rain! With a 20 mile an hour wind behind it the rain swept down Whitehall damping everything but the spirits of the waiting thousands. We, and they, stood in silence listening to the impressive ceremony being relayed from the Abbey. Raincoats were soaked through, hats were ruined, but no-one moved to seek shelter, which for some was no more than yards away. In this setting we ate our dinner, an operation which was executed with something of the clockwork precision that had been apparent throughout the proceedings.

The Abbey ceremony over, the marching columns of British and Colonial troops began to move. Swinging down Whitehall accompanied by massed bands, the colours of the many different uniforms blending together, they made, en masse, an unforgettable sight, one that made all the hours of preparation and standing in the rain more than worth while. How the crowds cheered. We took officers’ sword movements as our words of command as it was impossible to hear shouted orders above the noise.  The columns seemed endless, but all good things must come to an end, and the passing of the Golden Coach, bearing a radiant Queen and her proud consort, made a fitting finale to what, to us all, will be a day always in our memory.

WillsCoronationLondon1

WillsCoronationLondon2_edited-1

The cheering died away, and as the last horse and rider disappeared from view we reformed for our march back along the Victoria Embankment. What a different picture we presented now, in rain-soaked uniforms white with Blanco from our caps that had become mere shadows of their former selves, and with spotless white fronts now blue with dye! But for all that we were a proud and happy party because we had shared in what must surely be the greatest day in our generation, the day of the crowning of Elizabeth II.

The commemorative magazine then goes on to report on the Queen’s visits to Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Spithead review and reports on how the coronation was celebrated in Glasgow, Swindon, Bristol, Southern Rhodesia and Newcastle, where Wills had factories.

The report from Newcastle was written by a Mr DF McGuire, who I’ve identified as Donald F McGuire of 22 Glastonbury Avenue, Jesmond. Interestingly, my wife remembers Don McGuire, who was a senior member of the Personnel Department at Wills’ as he gave her several summer jobs at the factory. He is perhaps better remembered as the founder of the Friends of Jesmond Dene and is commemorated in a plaque by the visitor centre.

His account of the Newcastle celebrations follows:

In this brief account an attempt has been made to show how the Geordies demonstrated their loyalty to and affection for the Queen.

For a week and more before Coronation day, street and house decorations were being put up, transforming normally dull streets and houses with their unaccustomed colours. Great commendation must go to the Transport Authorities for their specially decorated buses, resplendent in gold and emblazoned with coats of arms, which caused great joy in the juvenile population.

The weather, alas, seemed determined to put an end to such frivolity, and Coronation Monday brought grey skies, cold winds and rain which increased in intensity during the day itself so that all outdoor parties and functions had to be hastily moved under cover. There is no evidence, however, that this in any way spoiled the enjoyment of those taking part. The large bonfire on the Town moor was coaxed into life before a large crowd, and the official firework display was not wasted.

WillsNewcastleCoronation

WillsNewcastleCoronation2

Smiths Crisps Coast Road

The Building that is now Crossling’s on the Coast Road, decked out for the coronation

On Saturday 6 June, the main event, the Lord Mayor’s show, was held in summery weather and was witnessed by a crowd estimated at half a million people. The Show took the form of a historical pageant illustrating the various aspects of English life in the four centuries separating the reigns of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II. Some of the more outstanding exhibits were: – the Elswick Battery Field Gun of South African War fame, accompanied by veterans from that war – the enthusiastic rendering of Tyneside’s own anthem, the Blaydon Races, sung by appropriately costumed race-goers in the most ancient of vehicles – the soldiers of Marlborough and Wellington and the Dragoons, the well designed tableaux entered by local industrial concerns, and the mechanical exhibits of the Public Utility Services.

One must not, of course, fail to mention the Service contingents whose bearing and turnout, conspicuous in the marching Wrens, were up to the high standard now taken for granted. The whole procession was one that will long be remembered not only by the Young Elizabethans who witnessed it, but by some Older Georgians and Elderly Edwardians as well.

The Wills’ magazines provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the company’s staff. The earlier magazines will shortly have a new home with the Bristol and Bath Family History Society, where they will be a valuable resource to local history researchers, but the Coronation edition will be staying with me as a fascinating record of the event.

Can you help?

If you know have memories, anecdotes or photographs of the Wills Factory or of the  Coronation relevant to Heaton , we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor of Heaton History Group.

 

 

 

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