Westminster Abbey
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

: Seated on the Coronation Chair Queen Elizabeth II

© PA Photos

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(c) Westminster Abbey
Seated on the Coronation Chair Queen Elizabeth II © PA Photos

On 6th February 1952 Princess Elizabeth was watching wildlife in Kenya when her father, George VI, died. She immediately returned home, now as Queen Elizabeth II. Planning for her coronation was soon underway and Tuesday 2 June 1953 was as the date for the ceremony.

On 1 January 1953 the Abbey was closed to the public and preparations to transform the church began. A 200-strong labour force began building the 'theatre', tiered seating for 8251 guests, staircases, and the annexe.

Meanwhile in Glasgow 31 blue and gold carpets for the nave and 'theatre', totalling an area of 2964 square yards, were being made, and in Bradford 4000 yards of velvet was been woven to cover 2000 chairs and 5700 stools.

In Braintree, Essex, it took ten weeks to weave by hand 20 yards of purple velvet for the Queen's coronation robe. 1500 yards of silk for the hangings that would adorn the Abbey, and material for the peers' robes was also made. As a gift from the Queen to mark her coronation five blue and gold silk copes, incorporating images of a lion and a unicorn on each, were made for the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. The four Canons wore their copes at the service, whilst the Dean wore a cope made for Charles II's coronation.

By 20 May the construction works were finished and daily rehearsals, often attended by the Queen and the Royal Family, began.

The first full music rehearsal with the 60-strong orchestra and 400-strong choir was held just one week beforehand. The sheer size of the orchestra and choir made it impossible for all to see the Director of Music's baton movements so two assistants were employed to relay his instructions.

On 29 May the final full rehearsal was held. On 1 June the priceless Coronation Regalia were brought to the Deanery in preparation for the ceremony. By dusk that night the processional route between Buckingham Palace and the Abbey had already attracted half a million people.

After sixteen months of preparations Tuesday 2 June finally arrived. The Abbey opened at 5.00am and by 5.30 reporters and cameramen began to take their positions in the Abbey. By 7.00am the guests began taking their seats.

The Abbey’s choristers, who had been woken at 5.00am, breakfasted and assembled for a final practice. Hidden in their cassock pockets were a few small sandwiches and barley sugar sweets for sustenance.

At 10.15am the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh left Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, bound for Westminster. The Queen entered the nave of the Abbey at 11.20 and was crowned at 12.34. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh left Westminster Abbey at 2.53 and rode in the State Coach through the streets of London before returning to Buckingham Palace.

: The completed Coronation
The completed Coronation 'theatre'
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(c) Westminster Abbey