We are very lucky to have a dedicated team of Archives and Local Studies volunteers; this piece was written by one of them –
In 1937, as the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth celebrated the Coronation of King George VI, Fulham’s local newspapers found plenty of enthusiasm among local residents. Despite the harsh economic climate houses were festooned in red, white and blue, and many communities organised street parties. Interestingly. as the Fulham Chronicle noted, ‘it was the humbler folk that made the grander display of patriotism’. Walham Avenue’s banner read ‘POOR BUT LOYAL’
On the day of the Coronation (Wednesday 12 May) Fulham Borough Council laid on a fete at Hurlingham Polo Ground with a multitude of activities and free amusements, especially for children. ‘On the occasion of the Coronation,’ declared my father (Cllr Morgan Phillips), who was organising the event, ‘we hope to bring some colour into the lives of the people of this borough’.
He and his committee had arranged for colour but not for good weather. To quote the Chronicle:
‘On Monday the ground was soft but with two good days it would have been in excellent trim for the great celebration. And then came Tuesday’s deluge. Lorries bringing the required goods and appliances began to churn the ground at the entrance in Peterborough Road. It was not long before the workers were ankle deep in mud. Consequently the lorries had to remain outside and everything had to be carried from the entrance to wherever in the field it was required.’
In spite of the difficulties the fete was ready on time. The first event was a donkey race, the two jockeys being my father and the Fulham Mayor, Alderman Chris Lancaster. Two decades later my father recalled it for me:
‘Unfortunately the two donkeys provided were used to walking together and did not understand the concept of a race. When prodded one would bound forward then wait for its partner. My main anxiety was to stay in the saddle during these periodic leaps, especially with hundreds of children watching. The race ended in a dead heat and I dismounted with relief.’
I did not attend the fete, which took place two years before I was born, but my sister Gwyneth, then six years old, presented a bouquet to Mrs Lancaster the Mayoress. It was one of Gwyneth’s first public appearances but she never suffered as I did from shyness. She later became an MP under her married name Gwyneth Dunwoody.
The children’s races occupied much of the afternoon and the Mayor awarded 150 prizes before the rain fell once more. There was enough free food for 15,000 youngsters and though some were deterred by the weather the attendance including adults exceeded 30,000. A torrential downpour finally brought the proceedings to an early finish, which meant that the firework display was postponed.
The street parties were held on various days right up to Whit Monday 17 May. Fulham Court raised £100 (perhaps worth £3000 today) for its outdoor celebrations. No fund-raising was needed for Tamworth Street, where Mr Albert Moss paid for everything from his own pocket. Mr H Shell provided all the refreshments for Cassidy Road, including an enormous cake that took him ten hours to make.
For Whit Monday the Council had arranged the crowning of the May Queen in Bishops Park followed by a fancy dress parade involving hundreds of children. My father had better luck this time. The Air Ministry correctly promised a dry afternoon and there was no rain on the parade. As the winning fancy dress costumes were announced my father and his committee noticed the disappointed faces around them, and rushed to the pavilion to buy chocolates so that every entrant would receive a prize. Though there was a shower at 5 o’ clock the fine evening allowed the firework display to go ahead at last.
The 12 May had originally been earmarked for the Coronation of Edward VIII, and some of the decorations had been recycled with GR painted over ER. Edward still had his supporters. One Brecon Road house displayed his picture in the window with the message ‘Good luck, old comrade’. And the poor but loyal inhabitants of Walham Avenue organised yet another street party, this time to celebrate the wedding of Edward and Mrs Simpson on the 3rd June – by which date Fulham was experiencing a heat wave.
Most of this information comes from the Fulham Chronicle, which is available on microfilm in the Hammersmith & Fulham Archives at Hammersmith Library. The photographs show the cover of the souvenir programme; my father greeting the Mayor at Hurlingham Club; the donkey ‘race’; and the Betty Jordan of Kimbell Gardens being crowned as May Queen.
Photographs of the celebrations were collected for an album to be stored at Fulham Central Library. This album appears no longer to exist. Perhaps it was damaged because the individual pictures were later copied and placed in archive files. This means that people can check the index of the Archives to see if their street’s celebration is featured.
Morgan Phillips, Archives and Local Studies volunteer