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Platinum Jubilee: the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II in February 1952

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On February 6 1952 it was announced that King George VI had died in his sleep and that his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, had become queen.

A look back into the Newbury Weekly News archives reveals how the paper covered a private visit by the young Princess Elizabeth to Highclere Castle in 1949, before she became Queen three years later, and the announcement of the King's death and funeral in 1952.

Before she became Queen, the then Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh, paid a private visit to Highclere Castle, along with her husband the Duke of Edinburgh and her sister Princess Margaret.

The Princesses leave the church, with the Duke of Edinburgh Following
The Princesses leave the church, with the Duke of Edinburgh Following

The press and general public were not notified of the weekend stay, but word got out and a few people turned up outside St Michael and All Angels Church in Highclere to catch a glimpse of the young princesses and the future queen's consort.

Reporting the visit at the time, the NWN said: "Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret arrived at Highclere Castle in time for lunch on Saturday.

"They motored through Newbury just about one o'clock and the cars entered the Park by Chericot Lodge."

Outside Highclere Church
Outside Highclere Church

The Duke of Edinburgh joined the party later in the day after attending the Inter-Organisational Athletics Sports of the London Federation of Boys' Clubs at Chiswick.

The moment the public got a glimpse of the royal party was on Sunday morning at the church service.

The seats had been reserved for the parishioners of Highclere and 'others regularly worshipping at the church'.

When it got close to the start of the service the few remaining empty seats were filled with patient onlookers waiting outside.

Waiting to catch a glimpse of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in Highclere
Waiting to catch a glimpse of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in Highclere

The congregation were told by the rector, the Rev N B Kent that the guests were 'coming to worship at the house of God just as you have done. There is no difference, and it is their wish that you should remain seated when they enter."

He did add, however, that as a matter of courtesy no one would move from their places until the Royal party had left the church.

During the reading out of the notices as the end of the service the rector announced that the retiring collection was to be for the church outing, before adding: "Various people have said it was a little bit of craft on choosing this Sunday for this particular collection, but actually it was chosen four months ago. So believe me, it is not craft but a little bit of luck."

Outside Highclere Church
Outside Highclere Church

When the royal party left the churchyard to 'enter their motors', the small crowd outside clapped and the paper declared the visit a success in every way - despite the weather - which 'was not at all marred - as has been in some cases - by the too enthusiastic attention of a section of the public'.

February 6, 1952

Princess Elizabeth was on honeymoon in Kenya with Prince Phillip when she heard of the death of her father King George VI, on 6 February 1952. The King had died in his sleep, aged 56, 15 years after he succeeded to the throne following the abdication of Edward VIII in December 1936.

The paper announces the death of King George VI
The paper announces the death of King George VI

The official announcement of the King's death was published in the NWN in full:

It was announced at Sandringham at 10.45 this morning that the King, who retired to rest last night in his usual health, passed peacefully away in his sleep early this morning.

Princess Elizabeth becomes Queen immediately following her father's death. This is the first time in history a British Sovereign has succeeded to the throne when in Africa. A statement from Buckingham Palace said the new Queen would be flying home and would reach London at 4.30 this afternoon.

On Thursday, February 7, the NWN reported that the Newbury wheels had been put in motion straightaway.

Although the mayor of Newbury, Councillor J W Slater, was in London on business when the news broke, the town clerk, Mr Leslie Southern, managed to get in touch with him and it was arranged that the proclamation of Queen Elizabeth 'will be read in the Market Place on the appointed day, at noon. 'If wet, the ceremony will be in the Corn Exchange'.

It was decided that a united town service would take place on the day of the King's funeral in 'Newbury Parish Church' at 3.30pm.

The paper reported of a 'town in mourning'. Flags were flow at half-mast on buildings across the area as soon as news of the King's death was known.

Those paying tribute in this way included the Municipal Buildings; St Nicolas' Church; St John's Church; Newbury Racecourse; Newbury Grammar School; the Drill Hall in St Michael's Road; Phoenix House in Bartholomew street; the Conservative Club; Chequers Hotel, Central Offices at Speen Court, Elliotts of Newbury, Hovis Ltd, Greenham Mills, Nias (Newbur) Ltd, House of Toomer, Plenty and Son Ltd, Champ Hopson and the Blue Star Garage.

It was also reported that at 12.30pm on February 6 'the tenor bell at Newbury Parish Church was tolled by one of the ringers'.

Report of the funeral of King George VI
Report of the funeral of King George VI

The paper came out just 24 hours after the official announcement and some facts about the late King and his visits to Newbury had been hastily put together.

It seems that King George VI had visited the area four times, the first time when he was Duke of York.

In 1932 he and the Duchess of York, later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, spent the weekend at Bowdown, Greenham Common.

The trip was memorable because it seems that the then duke 'had a slight motor mishap' at Greenham Common.

Evidently, he had got the back wheel of the car stuck in a ditch and his chauffeur got a lift into Newbury.

'Mr J.G Matthews of Marchant's Garage, still in his overalls, drove to the Common and took the Duke and Duckess on to Bowdown'.

Apparently the duke played a round of golf on the Newbury course, going round in 79, way below his handicap.

In 1940, the King visited the area twice, in January and September.

On January 2 he visited troops, having spent the previous night ' in a sleeping coach in a siding at Hamstead Marshall'.

He inspected 4,000 men 'in battledress' at Newbury Racecourse, before going on to Benham Valence and Savernake Forest where it was reported 'the King walked for nearly a mile reviewing a body of men drawn up under the avenue of beech trees'.

In September 1940 he inspected 2,000 troops at Stroud Green, before continuing on a 50-mile tour.

The NWN said that the visit was supposed to be a secret, but word got out and there was 'a large gathering of townspeople'.


The King's fourth and final visit was to Hungerford in 1948 when he received the Lancastrian rose.

February 8, 1952

On Friday, February 8, a ‘crowd of upward 2,000’ gathered in Newbury Market Place at midday, reported the NWN on February 14.

They were there to hear Queen Elizabeth II proclaimed ‘head of the British Commonwealth’.

Proclamation ceremony in Newbury Market Place
Proclamation ceremony in Newbury Market Place

A section of the square was roped off and older pupils from schools across the area, including Newbury Grammar School, Newbury County Girls’ School, St Gabriel’s School, Carmel College and St Bartholomew’s Preparatory, were give a special place in front of the platform so they could witness this event for the first time.

The town’s officials, led by the mayor of Newbury, processed into the Market Place and gathered on a platform ‘flanked by police officers and fire brigade personnel’.

As soon as the town hall clock struck 12, the mayor called upon the Queen’s Recorder, Mr Edward Terrell, to read the Royal Proclamation.

Following the proclamation, the mayor paid tribute to the late King saying: “His memorial can truly be said to be in the hearts of his people. You of the younger generation will be told by your elders of a king, a gentleman, a man of high moral worth, setting an example to all by his leadership.”

He went on to say of the country’s new Queen: “May she and her husband be blessed with good health. May God bless her and grant her a long and happy reign.”

He then invited those gathered to accept a resolution which assured the Queen of ‘our fervent and steadfast loyalty to you and your Royal House’.

The NWN reported: “After the resolution had been assented to by the simultaneous raising of hands, the Rector led the saying of the Lord’s Prayer.”

Hungerford held a similar proclamation service on the same day at 2pm from the steps of the town hall.

The paper also recorded other tributes to the King.

Magistrates observed a moment of silence as a mark of respect to the memory of the late King before business commenced at Newbury County, Newbury Borough and Kingsclere courts.

The Methodist Church in Bartholomew Street played special music and hymns at the Sunday service, Kingsclere-Whitchurch RDC made a resolution of sympathy and St John’s Church, Newbury, held a requiem service.

An expression of sympathy had been sent to the Queen by the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, Mr HA Benyon, to which she replied by telegram: ‘I am sincerely grateful for your message. Please assure all those for whom you speak that I deeply value their kindness and sympathy.’

The paper reports on the funeral
The paper reports on the funeral

February 15, 1952

As the day of King George VI’s funeral dawned, 40 members of the 345th (Berkshire Yeomanry) Medium Regiment, whose headquarters were at Craven Dene, Newbury, were chosen to ‘rest on arms reversed alongside the route’ of the funeral procession.

A sergeant corporal and five other ranks from A Company, 4/6th Battalion Royal Berks Regiment were also in attendance. This company was stationed at the Drill Hall, St Michael’s Road, Newbury.

The NWN reported: “Sergt W. Hazell is in charge of the Newbury party and a rehearsal with other contingents from the Regiment was held at Brock Barracks, Reading.”

In addition, the newspaper noted that ‘a large contingent of police from the Newbury division will help with traffic arrangements at the funeral procession at Windsor’.

Another local connection was radio/telegraphist Kenneth Flitter, adopted son of Mr and Mrs Bridgeman of Ashford Hill, who was among a naval party from HMS Vanguard in the funeral procession.

The funeral took place on Friday, February 15, and the NWN on the previous day gave a rundown of the day’s events.

The paper wrote of Berkshire people’s association with the throne and how large congregations were reported at many churches of all denominations on the previous Sunday, paying tribute ‘to a monarch remembered universally with respect and affection’.

Shops ‘other than catering establishments’ closed at noon on the day of the funeral and for the rest of the day.

A two-minutes silence was also to be observed in all the local schools at 2pm, with a short service taking place in most of them arranged by the head teachers.

On the day of the funeral a united memorial service was held at St Nicolas’ Church, Newbury.

The NWN on February 21 noted that so many people had wanted to attend, with hundreds unable to get into the church, that the service was repeated for them later.

Memerbs of the USAF stationed at Greenham took part in the proceedings on the day of King George VI's funeral
Memerbs of the USAF stationed at Greenham took part in the proceedings on the day of King George VI's funeral

The service was preceded by a procession from the Market Place to the church. Leading the procession were representatives from Regular and Territorial Army units.

They were followed by RAF detachments from Welford and Greenham, as well as members of the 7501st Air Base Squadron of the United States Air Force from Greenham Common. Each wearing ‘a black armlet’.

The Sea Cadets, Army Cadets and Air Training Corps came next, followed by the Combined Corps of Newbury Grammar School, the Police and the Fire Brigade and men and women from the British Red Cross Society, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and the Girls Life Brigade.

Ater the town marshall, mayor and town councillors, carrying maces draped in black, came ‘members of the business, artistic, social and sporting life of the town’.

The procession in Newbury to St Nicolas' Church with maces draped in black
The procession in Newbury to St Nicolas' Church with maces draped in black

As the NWN said: “It was a remarkable cross-section, varying from the Chamber of Commerce to Civil Defence, the Farmers’ Union, British Legion, Townswomen’s Guilds and Football and Rugby Clubs.”

In his address during the service, the Rev GW Broomhead talked of King George VI’s devotion to his duty.

Mr Broomhead said: “May we, inspired by his example, be as faithful as he was.”

After the service, the procession returned to the Plaza, where the mayor thanked everyone for supporting him in paying their last tribute to the King.

He went on: “We now give our unstinted loyalty to our Queen who has pledged herself to maintain those high standards so worthily upheld by her father.”

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