RAINHAM’S CORONATION CELEBRATIONS - Part 1 from March 2002 Action Forum 

Many editors, both national and local, have  commented upon the apparent apathy by our people  toward celebrating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and I  have been comparing this with the coronation celebrations in Rainham in 1953. First I tried to  remember how we lived at that time and I was  surprised at the changes which have occurred.  The population of Rainham was around 10,000,  probably only a quarter of that now and six years  before we had emerged from a damaging and  exhausting war. Certain foods and particularly  building materials were still rationed and licences had  to be obtained even for new wood to carry out  repairs. There were no mobile phones and only a low  percentage of residents had static telephones, most of  which were shared lines. The main means of  communication was still by mail. Council house  building was increasing but licences for individual  private development were very limited, there was no  estate building but a three bedroom pre war house  could be bought for under £1,500. A primary school  had been established in the huts on the old Anti  Aircrafi Battery site in Maidstone Road as there was  no school for infants and juniors south of the .  accommodate the high birth rate of the ‘baby boom’  years immediately after the war. Some of the army  huts were still occupied by squatters. The land  between Rainham Mark and Darland Avenue on the  south side of the A2 was still owned by the War  Department and mainly unused. There was no  Rainham shopping centre, no supermarkets or out of  town shopping. Parkwood was still an attractive  woodland area with a steep grassy bank in the middle  known to us as ‘The Den’.  I doubt if more than a third of householders had a  car but I had recently acquired my first vehicle, a  Scwt Ford van with a bus seat in the back for my  6-year-old son and all cars were coloured black. Most  people still travelled to work by bus or bike and life  was far from easy for many post war newly weds who  still lived with in-laws or in ‘rooms’. Partners living  together would have been frowned upon. I found a  ycopy of a letter which I wrote to the local paper  nphasising the need for a by-pass, the M2 was  "eventually opened in 1963, but no link road was  included in the original design so that had to be  fought for to avoid even more tmffic travelling along  the A2 through Rainham High Street en route to the  link roads in Chatham and Sittingboume.  These were the circumstances under which we  were living when a Public Meeting, which attracted  about 100 residents, was called some eight months  before the Coronation. An organising committee was  then formed with myself as Chairman, which is why I  still have a file to which I can refer. Mr R. Lucas,  Manager of Rainham Co-operative Society, was Vice  Chairman, Mr J. Lewis, Manager of Barclays Bank,  became Treasurer and the Organising Sub-Committee  was chaired by Dr G.O.S. Reid. There were 51 organisations covering many interests in Rainham at  that time and some of them arranged fund raising  events to cover anticipated expenditure. 

Photo of Coronation Party in Holding Street Rainham in 1953

Photo of Coronation Party in Holding Street Rainham in 1953

The events arranged for the great day had to take  account of the increased interest in television as this was the first great national attraction since its  introduction and many people bought their first set  for the occasion. I remember buying a second hand  9-inch set which had to be viewed from a few feet but even that was a great advance on wireless. It was  assumed that many residents would wish to view the actual ceremony and subsequent events until early afternoon so events on 2nd June started around  2.30pm. The Carnival arranged for Wednesday 27th  May had to be cancelled twice before it was  eventually held and some of the events arranged for  Coronation Day were also curtailed by inclement  weather, which was disappointing to many who had  laboured to ensure a happy and successful day.  A copy of the programme had been delivered in  advance to every household and I forget which events  had to be cancelled or restricted.

The RE Cadet Band  opened by playing as they marched along various  roads leading to the Recreation Ground. Other events  included the Peter Pan Starlets, London Mime  Theatre, Tug of War Heats, and a Sheep Dog  Demonstration. It was anticipated that over 1,000  childrenwould attend the free tea which was to be  followed by a Comic Football match, Maypole  Dancing and The Fueding Dudes with Hill Billy  songs. Free tickets were provided for children to  enjoy pony rides, and all types of side shows.  There were 23 races for children aged from 5 up to  l6, the youngest ruiming 80 yards and the 15 and 16  year olds had both cycle and one mile track races. 

The Rainham County Secondary School from  Orchard Street had a House Relay for a Shield whilst  all other lst, 2nd or 3rd places received money  There were many street parties whilst houses,  shops and street standards were decorated,  Gillingham Council also helped by erecting  Coronation Arches across the A2 at West Moor Farm  and outside the Vicarage which at that time was next  to the Post Office. The day ended with a dance in the  Co-operative Hall.  The population seemed to be captivated by the  Coronation of our young Queen and almost everyone  entered into the spirit of the occasion. Rainham was  proud to play its part. 

P.S. Whilst typing this article a radio  announcement has confirmed that the Salisbury Avenue NWA and Residents Association has  cancelled its proposed Golden Jubilee celebrations  due to lack of interest and the cost of insurance!  However, I am pleased to hear that a Community  Project jointly with the Rainham Theatrical Society  and St Margaret’s Church are planning some celebrations.

Freddie Cooper

March 2002

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