Discover the history of architecture through the RIBA’s collection of 2,000 periodical titles. This month the British Architectural Library takes a look at some journals from the time of the coronation in 1953, used in a recent pop-up exhibition:
As noted in yesterday’s blog post, the RIBA earlier this week celebrated the forthcoming Diamond Jubilee with ‘Coronation City’, a pop-up exhibition based on material from the British Architectural Library. Exhibition curator Catriona Cornelius (RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections) selected many items highlighting the visible contribution made by architects to the design of the decorations and settings for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Amongst the items on show were several journals from the era. Just as with the Olympics this summer, architects created the spaces and set the tone for such international events – important occasions that have, since the coronation, become important not just to the attendees, but to anyone across the world with access to television. Television stopped geography from being a barrier to experiencing events, and the work of architects, in real-time. Indeed, The Architects’ Journal praised the ‘magic of the cathode tube’ and commented that it was ‘overwhelmingly surprised by the quality which TV gave to the ceremony’ (p.727, 11 June 1953).
Appearing in the same issue was a survey of London’s street decorations for the coronation. On The Mall were the eye-catching and almost fantastical crossed ceremonial arches designed by Eric Bedford, photographed for the AJ by the Reginald Hugo de Burgh Galwey. Also of note were the ‘Permanent guardsmen’ along Whitehall, designed by Sir Hugh Maxwell Casson and again photographed by Galwey. According to the AJ, Casson’s work on the processional route ‘achieve the nearly-impossible in decorating one of London’s least decoratable streets’ (p.734).
The coronation created a sense of unity, and cities across the United Kingdom made plans to join in with the celebrations. Another journal, The Architect and Building News, looked at planned street decorations in Birmingham and Manchester. The journal clearly felt that the artistic freedom given to designers were of benefit to the viewing public as well as to the new monarch. Architects – whatever the size of the contribution – through their work had one aim: ‘Civic pride is to be upheld to the greater glory of the Crown’ (p.89, 15 January 1953). In recognition of then recent events and the post-war reconstruction that London was still to face, mention was given to the two different decorations designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott for the City of London: some were suspended decorations to be hanged from buildings at either side; and ones designed to be freestanding were for blitzed areas and thus devoid of existing buildings.
More images of architects’ inspiring designs for the coronation, including those used in these journals, can be found on RIBApix.