Two Queens and four Kings

It’s Monarchs’ Week in key stage two this week so we thought we’d take a look through the archives to see what they can tell us about how royal events have been marked in school.

Amazingly, Queen Victoria was in the 57th year of her reign when North School opened its doors in 1894.  Just a few years later in June 1897 she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, sixty years as Queen, and sent a telegram across the world that read “From my heart I thank my beloved people. May God bless them.”  There were special events and parties and souvenirs produced.  Head teacher John Harper reports how North School celebrated:

“The Jubilee tea and sports given last Friday evening to the present and old scholars of the Junior department, to the number of 634, was a great success and everything passed off most pleasantly.”

Another jubilee was celebrated in 1935, when Queen Victoria’s grandson King George V reached twenty-five years as King, his Silver Jubilee.  A special whole school assembly was led by headteacher Edwin Chisnell and each child was presented with a commemorative  beaker.  Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees (for fifty and sixty years as Queen) were causes for celebration at North, in 2002 with a red, white and blue day and in 2012, children celebrated in their school families and came together to sing the National Anthem.

Queen Victoria died in 1901 and her son Edward VII became King.  Her funeral was held on Saturday 2 February but school was closed for the Friday afternoon before to allow pupils who usually worked on Saturdays to do their jobs then instead. 

Coronation of George V commemorative medal (North School Archive).

There is no mention of Edward VII in the school log books but he was familiar with Colchester as he had inspected troops at the garrison when he was still Prince of Wales and was a regular visitor at fashionable Frinton-on-Sea.  He died in 1910 and his son George V took over.  

When George V became King, North Primary pupils joined children from all other Colchester Borough schools on the Recreation Ground on 21 June 1911 to be “entertained…in honour of the King’s Coronation.”  The next two days, Thursday and Friday were given as holidays.

Princess Mary inspecting the Junior Red Cross at Birch in 1925 (North School Archive).

George V visited Colchester in 1917 and the children were allowed out of school to watch him drive by.  His daughter, Princess Mary visited in 1925 and attended a rally of the Junior Red Cross at Birch.  

George’s son, the future Edward VIII also visited Colchester in 1931 for the Oyster Feast as remembered by Liz Lilley:

“ I was with a group from North County and…we were in the park and the Prince of Wales who was a very popular young man he came to Colchester…so we did our usual cheer when the car went past and I can remember when I got home my parents said did you see the Prince of Wales because the ladies used to worship him and I said oh yes, I said he had a lovely gold chain on.  Well it wasn’t the Prince of Wales I was looking at it was the Mayor.“

At Christmas 1932 George V was the first member of the royal family to give a live radio broadcast which is a tradition continued on radio and television to this day.  This first broadcast was made live from the royal residence Sandringham in Norfolk and the speech was written by Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling.  3pm was chosen as the best time so that as many people as possible could listen from all over the world.

Radio became an important way for pupils at North to hear and take part in significant events.  A radio  was bought for school in October 1935 which was just in time for the announcement of George V’s death in January 1936 and succession of his son Edward VIII.  Mr Chisnell records:

“At 9.50 a.m. the whole school assembled in the Hall to hear the proclamation of King Edward VIII (over the radiogram) from St. James Palace. The guns from Hyde Park were heard in the background.”

Edward VIII, who Liz Lilley had seen drive by in his car, was King for less than a year as he abdicated at the end of 1936.  When the announcement of the new King was made at 11am on 14 December 1936, “six senior boys and six senior girls attended with Mr. Allen at the Town Hall to hear the proclamation of King George VI”.  The coronation took place in May 1937 when the school was closed for a holiday and a former pupil remembers taking part in a school play in celebration.

George VI, Queen Elizabeth’s father, was king from 1937 until his death in 1952.  Elizabeth Sadler remembers hearing this news on the school radio during a PE lesson in the Infant Hall:

“As I recall we were all “being trees” when suddenly the old (and large) radio went very quiet. I remember Miss Forsdyke fiddling around with some large “knobs “on the radio. We all stood about patiently waiting when the voice of the famous John Snagge (always the announcer of important news) came on air. “It has been announced from Buckingham Palace that the King has sadly and peacefully passed away in his sleep”. No more “Music and Movement” in fact nothing at all on the radio apart from somber music until after the King’s funeral.”

The school TV and radio has continued to be a way for children to be part of significant royal events, such as the funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 2002.  Mr Garnett recorded in the school log book for 9 April:

“Summer Term officially began with a very sombre morning. It was the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. Our School assembly paid tribute to her life and times. All children listened to the radio or watched the television to witness part of the funeral at 11.30am.”

Royalty in Essex: A Souvenir Book for Essex Children Presented by the County Council of Essex on the Occasion of the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, on June 2nd, 1953. (North School archive)

Elizabeth II became Queen in 1952 and in 1953 three hundred children and seven teachers from North School went to the Hippodrome cinema (formerly the Grand Theatre and now Attik in the High Street) to see her coronation film.  Clive Blanchett was at school at this time and remembers that each child was presented with a book:

“That was a mauve book with the Queen’s photograph on the front. And different things about the coronation, about the Queen and about the royal family. They gave them to you.”

In her big tour of the country after the coronation, Elizabeth II visited Colchester in March 1958 when Mr Bezzant recalls that “The whole Junior school walked along the by-pass to Lexden Road, there to line the route along which the Queen’s car would pass on the occasion of the Royal visit to Colchester. All the Infant children, with the exception of those in the Nursery, went by bus in the afternoon to St. Clare Road to line the route.”

The Queen visited Colchester in 1985 (North School Archive).

The Queen visited Colchester again in 1985 and 2004 when all children were given the opportunity to see her.  

Children have also celebrated royal weddings.  In 1947 the school was closed for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and in 1981 the school celebrated Prince Charles’ marriage a week before the event itself.   Head teacher Roger Kettle describes “The Infant children had a Royal Wedding party in the Infant hall. All cakes were made by the children in our oven purchased by the North School Association for the school and were afterwards given a souvenir spoon as were the Junior children, all of which was purchased for the children from N.S.A. funds.”