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Street parties, gifts and cramming round one little telly - one Sunderland man’s memories of the Coronation

Billy Button has kept his official Sunderland programme of the 1953 Coronation
Billy Button has kept his official Sunderland programme of the 1953 Coronation

William Button will never forget the Coronation, even though it was 65 years ago.

He got an invitation to two street parties in a day – and he was only five-years-old!

One of the winners of the best decorated house Coronation competition in Sunderland. This one was in Stoney Lane, Southwick.

One of the winners of the best decorated house Coronation competition in Sunderland. This one was in Stoney Lane, Southwick.

What a day it was for the Silksworth lad, who still recalls the streets being packed with revellers as Princess Elizabeth was crowned as Queen.

He got to go to parties in Seaham Street and in Hill Street with his auntie, Isabel Towel.

Meanwhile, his mother Miriam Button and grandmother Mary Walker were both in London watching the Coronation live.

But he and Auntie Isabel were also having a great time.

I can remember the party in Hill Street. They made a big thing of it. There were tables right down the street. I got to go to two street parties with my auntie

William Button

There were gifts for the youngsters. William remembered: “We all had to stand in a line and we were given this book. It was a magic painting book and you put water on it.

As soon as the water was applied, the pictures would take shape.

“I had never seen one and neither had the other kids,” said William.

“You should have seen their faces when you put the water on. It was marvellous.”

A Coronation party in Sunderland.

A Coronation party in Sunderland.

Sunderland had parties galore on a glorious day. “I can remember the party in Hill Street. They made a big thing of it. There were tables right down the street” said William, a Silksworth lad all his life.

Another great memory was everyone coming to his aunt’s house because she was the only person in the street with a television to watch the Coronation on.

“It was packed. Not too many people had televisions in those days.”

William also remembers Sunderland producing an official programme which came out in advance of the big day. It listed all the Coronation events happening in Sunderland. “It was a shilling,” he remembered, and added: “I have kept it upstairs all these years.”

It’s a fascinating read after all this time.

One section gave the reader a full breakdown of what would happen at the Coronation in Westminster Abbey, and who would be sitting where (archbishops, gentlemen at arms, maids of honour and so on).

It was a magnificently detailed account of what the people of Sunderland could expect to see on the box. But it wasn’t just about what was happening in London. The programme had a complete breakdown of what was happening on Wearside as well.

There was a Best Decorated House competition where you could win up to £4. There were six contests (two for the north and four for the south side of the river).

The programme gave details of the plans to give out pencils and beakers to every schoolchild – pencils if you were over 11 and beakers if you were under.

And then came the finale – a wonderful 24 hours of sheer unforgettable history.

It started the night before the Coronation, and there was loads to keep you entertained.

Miss Sunderland was going to be crowned during a dance at Seaburn Hall. The winner would represent Sunderland in the Queen of Durham contest.

There was a fireworks display and a bonfire at Tunstall Hills – and all that was the night before the big day.

Then came the big day itself.

There was a band concert, held by the Highways and Civil Defence Band and Sunderland Constabulary Band, in Cliffe Park.

There was a Coronation ball at Seaburn Hall and tickets were a snip at 7 shillings and sixpence.

To round off the day, there was a fireworks display from Roker Pier at 11pm and a bonfire to be lit at Fulwell Quarry at 11.30pm.

And just to make sure Sunderland got full value out of the celebrations, there was even something the day after the Coronation.

Sunderland it was planning a Youth Organisations Parade and demonstration in Barnes Park.

Another part of the programme re-lived the day Her majesty paid a visit to Sunderland and opened the Eye Infirmary. The programme described the Princess as being “graciously pleased with the reception she received.”

The article described her as a young person of great charm, character and person.

William went on to be a site facilities co-ordinator at Littlewoods for 40 years and see lots of other events and changes in Sunderland. But he’ll never forget the time he went to two street parties in one day.

What are your own Coronation memories? Email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk