Wednesday 12th May 1937 saw the coronation at Westminster Abbey in London of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The date had been chosen for the coronation of King Edward VIII who had become king on the death of his father George V in January 1936. Although Edward VIII’s abdication in December resulted in a new king and queen on the throne, the coronation date of 12th May was retained.
In Solihull, the event was marked by a three-day carnival, which ran into the Whitsuntide weekend, and many of the villages now in the borough held their own celebrations.
Solihull Coronation Carnival was the eighth annual carnival held in the village, and the bunting-bedecked streets were crowded with visitors from all over the Midlands. It was billed in the Birmingham Gazette of 13th May 1937 as “a real whizz”, and newspapers in the run up to Coronation Day announced the following events:
- Thursday 13th May – a fire brigade display in Malvern Park at 7.30pm and a search-light display by the 45th Royal Warwickshire Regiment Anti-aircraft R.E. (T.A.)
- Friday 14th May – a walking race at 7.30pm from the Barley Mow in Solihull to the Red Lion in Knowle and, at 9.30pm a “stupendous firework display” in Malvern Park.
- Saturday 15th May – billed as “The Great Day” and including an Historical Empire Pageant with the crowning at 2pm of the Carnival Queen, Miss Gwendoline Timbrell (19) from Olton. Carnival Chairman, Councillor W. E. Wright was to take the part of King George III for the occasion. There was also “a mammoth decorated procession”, a jazz-band contest in Malvern Park and a torch-light procession.
Nine jazz bands took part in the competition in Malvern Park, and Stirchley Belvedere Band were declared the winners.
Throughout the week an “Old English” Fun Fayre was also taking place in Malvern Park and apparently on the Saturday “there was merriment until a late hour.”
The photograph at the top of the page shows the staff of T. P. Davis, bakery, on Solihull High Street. The fancy dress costumes suggest that they are likely to have been in the decorated procession.
In the surrounding villages similar events took place on a smaller scale.
- Balsall Common’s celebrations began at 2pm with a children’s fancy dress parade, headed by a band and setting off from the Picture House by way of Station Road and Balsall Street to the Central Schools where judging took place. All children of school age in the district were presented with a Coronation mug and sporting events on the playing field for children up to the age of 14. Between 4-5.30pm tea was served to up to 150 children and 450 adults (all adults attending were requested to take along their own knife and fork). Concerts by the band were held throughout the afternoon and evening. Sporting events for adults followed the tea, including a 20-minute football match restricted to those not belonging to any football club. Dancing on the green followed from 8.15 to 9.45pm and the outside celebrations concluded with a bonfire and fireworks in the adjoining field, kindly lent by Mr Chattaway, at 10pm. From 10.30pm until 2am a dance and carnival evening took place at Balsall Institute.
- In Barston there was a united thanksgiving service at the church, sports during the afternoon, a sumptuous repast for all in the evening, followed by a dance.
- Colonel C. J. H. Wheatley of Berkswell Hall lent his park for the festivities at Berkswell. After a service at the parish church there was maypole dancing in the park, afternoob tea, and sporting events for children and adults. Events concluded with a bonfire and fireworks.
- At Bickenhill every resident was treated to a free lunch and there was a tennis tournament, fancy dress football, a tug-of-war and sports.
- Coronation events at Castle Bromwich seem to have been fairly low-key, not least because 29th May 1937 saw a large Empire Air Day event taking place at the aerodrome. On Coronation Day the British Legion marched to the war memorial on which a crown was laid. A lunch and entertainment was provided for old people, followed by children’s sports, tea and entertainment.
- Catherine-de-Barnes was described as “taking pride of place” for its Coronation events, with its population of 250 people raising £200 for festivities. Residents enjoyed a competition for the best dressed house (won by Messrs Holt, Mole, Tuby and Gosnett) followed by a decorated cycle parade and the presentation of commemorative medals and flags to children in the school room and some community singing. The children and adults then had a substantial lunch in the Sports Ground, followed later on with tea for all. Further gifts to the children comprised Coronation mugs, a Coronation Testament, souvenir books, fruit and sweets. Other amusements included conjuring, recitations and national songs, plus speeches from children aged 5-9. Meanwhile a sports programme was in full progress, and subsequently the children gave an excellent exhibition of Maypole and folk dancing. In the evening the King’s speech was broadcast, and although rain put an end to outdoor dancing, it did not prevent the lighting of a huge bonfire, and the giving of a firework display. Throughout the day music was provided by Mr Wiggitts White Rose Band.
The Coventry Herald, 9th October 1936, reported that the village had decided to hold its own celebrations after not having any events of its own for the Silver Jubilee of King George V the previous year. Every householder was to be given a collecting box and a suggestion box was to be put in the village for ideas about the festivities. The intention was that all events should be self-supporting and voluntary.
- At Elmdon, generous benefactors contributed about £100. to festivities. An open-air service at Whar Hall Farm was followed by lunch for all adult parishioners. There was also tea for the children, with a sports programme, open-air dancing, bonfires and fireworks.
- Villagers in Knowle raised more than £200 to spend on the Coronation celebrations, which included teas for children and adults, sports, a grand parade, and a dinner for Old Age Pensioners.
- Marston Green’s celebrations commenced with a parade for a service at the village hall, followed by house and shop decoration competitions, a fancy dress parade, teas and souvenirs for the children. There was also a sports programme, supper at the Village Hall for the old folks, and a big display of fireworks. For further details see Marston Green: Coronation Day 1937 by Margaret Francis.
- At Meriden events began with a church service. At 12 noon, a fancy dress and decorated vehicle procession assembled at the school playground and proceeded to the village green. Cars followed the procession in order to pick up any small children who found the distance too great for them. In the afternoon there were sports for adults and children, including tennis and bowls tournaments on the Parish Room courts and greens, whilst inside the room a billiards championship was decided. Music was provided by means of a panatrope (a large gramophone record player). There were free teas for children and adults, the children receiving a Coronation mug filled with chocolates. From 7 until 8.30 a film show was given and the celebrations concluded with dancing until 1am.
- Olton was left with a surplus after its celebrations so the extra money went towards the cost (£183) of constructing entrance gates to Olton Jubilee Recreation Ground. The Coronation Memorial entrance gates were officially opened in June 1939 and accepted by the Chairman of Solihull Council as a gift from the people of Olton.
- Shirley’s Coronation celebrations were partly paid for by the publication of a souvenir booklet, which included an article “Shirley Through the Ages” by local historian and Vice-chairman of the Celebrations Committee, John Burman.
If you have any further information or any photographs of the local Coronation Day festivities, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
© Solihull Council, 2020.
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