Celebrations in Alton for the coronation of Edward VII were postponed – as they were in many places across the country – after the king was taken ill and had to undergo surgery, so instead of taking place as planned on June 26, 1902, they were held on August 9 that year when the 59-year-old monarch was finally crowned.
In planning the events, the organisers had looked for inspiration to the late Queen Victoria’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees and, to a lesser extent, to her coronation 64 years earlier.
What is noticeable from newspaper reports is how the serving of tea had become ubiquitous, taking over from the beer handed out six decades before, and how much attention was now put on making the occasion one that would be enjoyable for children – a reflection, perhaps, of how the cult of the child, with its emphasis on childhood as a time of innocence, play and learning, had developed during the Victorian era.
Speaking to a public meeting convened earlier in the year to discuss proposals for the coronation, the Rev F Whyley proposed they should “make the celebration as popular and useful as they could, and he certainly thought the children ought not to be left out”. His suggestion was met with cheers of “hear, hear” and the committee of Alton Urban District Council members passed a resolution that a children’s fête should form part of the commemorations.
Far from being “seen and not heard”, children were given special consideration. In fact, a children’s tea was one part of the celebrations planned for the original coronation date that did go ahead on June 26, presumably not to disappoint them and perhaps because the fare had already been prepared.
And when the day of the postponed coronation came round, young residents were once again central to the events with 200 prizes being presented for the children’s sports held at the recreation ground. The May Queen, Miss E Carpenter, was also crowned (albeit a little late in the year!) and girls from the Congregational Church contributed by plaiting the May pole.
The day had started with a peel of bells at the parish church, but the celebrations didn’t really get under way until about 1.30pm when townspeople gathered in the square to see the flag being hoisted and sing the national anthem. They were accompanied by the band of H Company First Volunteer Battalion Hants Regiment and three cheers were given for the King and Queen, and for the main organisers of the event – the chairman of AUDC, Mr HP Burrell, and its secretary Mr WB Trimmer.
A crowd 3,000 strong attended the sports activities at the recreation ground, where the band played once again at the conclusion and Mrs Burrell presented the prizes.
In the evening there was a fireworks display and dancing, before a torchlight procession was formed and, led by the band, made its way to Windmill Hill where a huge bonfire was lit.
According to the Hampshire Advertiser, the town that was “profusely decorated with flags and streamers during the day was brilliantly illuminated in the evening” with principal buildings and the square being outlined with fairy lamps.
Of course, Alton, was not the only location to mark the occasion. Even small villages staged their own events with a similar emphasis on sports and children’s tea parties.
In Privett, a church service was held at 1.15pm and afterwards the villagers made their way to the large country estate of Basing Park where there was cricket, races for adults – which caused much amusement – plus children’s sporting events.
The owner of Basing Park, the distiller William Nicholson, presented each of the schoolchildren with a coronation mug and tea was served for all in two large tents.
In West Meon, coronation celebrations were held over two days after the organising committee found themselves in the fortunate position of having money left over from August 9, when a dinner for 430 people and a tea for the children had been held. As such they decided to hold a further entertainment for the children of the parish on August 13, although their luck as far as the weather was concerned was not so good.
Rain would interrupt some of the activities planned, but the event was kicked off in the shelter of spacious barns at Court Farm where tea (yes, more tea) was laid for 200 children.
Some games and races were enjoyed at Flood Meadows and coronation medals were presented to the youngsters there before the weather forced them back to the barns which, now cleared of tables, had plenty of space for more amusements.
By the evening the rain had ceased and at 8.30pm a torchlight procession, headed by the West Meon Brass Band, paraded round the village and marched up the hill overlooking Warnford Road, where an immense bonfire was lit. Rockets were sent into the air and the band played the national anthem which, according to the Hampshire Chronicle, the assembled crowd sang “with vigour and earnestness” to round off the day.