We went to London for the Coronation

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 10:58 am

Coronation of King Charles III


We did.  A few other people came along too.  Actually, we didn’t only go to London; we went to Slough.  And Windsor.  And London again.  As the Coronation of Charles III was a moment in time, it seems appropriate to share a few inadequate photographs of this experience with you, dear reader, as well as some impressions of the historic weekend.  If you are allergic to union flags, look away now. (Click/tap smaller images to enlarge).


By way of a brief forward, it all came to pass because, on a whim, we applied for tickets to attend the Coronation Concert in Windsor.  It would round off the weekend, I reasoned, after sitting for hours in Westminster Abbey the previous day listening to Justin Welby.  The email that confirmed the application for concert tickets said the result would be announced in late April – just days before the Coronation.  Not expecting to win, it nevertheless seemed prudent to book somewhere to stay in the vicinity, just in case.  So that’s where Slough comes in – a budget alternative to Windsor or London, with easier parking, and excellent train services – 6 minutes to Windsor and 30 to London.

As expected, the concert ticket application was unsuccessful. That said, I did receive congratulatory email from Ticketmaster saying that I had been lucky in the ballot and had until 27 April to claim my tickets, swiftly followed by another email saying, sorry, all the tickets had gone.  Apparently, the 27 April statement was a lie.  Have you noticed how many large companies these days never make mistakes, by the way?  Notwithstanding, I have suggested to Ticketmaster that they engage someone older than 12 to write their communications for them.  But of course, we made the journey anyway.  We had booked, after all. We even dropped in to see Thomas Gray in Stoke Poges en route –

“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me”

…read more

Slough Railway Station

Slough lived up to expectations – a strange, architectural disaster, kind of place where people shout a lot at night.  I have some sympathy with John Betjeman’s view – albeit the man was making a more subtle point than many think. And I wouldn’t want any harm to come to the attractive railway station where the staff were really nice and helpful (especially Elizabeth) – or indeed the equally super staff in our hotel.  The hotel building itself wouldn’t be any loss, though.

“Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.”

…more here

Windsor on Friday

Windsor


Windsor is lovely.  I had forgotten what an elegant town it can be, even when thronged with grockles.

We had booked to tour Windsor Castle on the Friday before the Coronation. I won’t go on about it now, just record a few impressions.  Firstly, every single member of staff we encountered was exceptionally cheerful, helpful and polite – including security, which is unusual in my experience.  It was a master class in how to treat visitors.  The castle itself is wonderful – beautifully refurbished after the devastating fire of 1992.  The state apartments are as impressive as you would expect, the family portraits bigger than most people’s and the gifts from other heads of state intriguing and often very beautiful.  I don’t know why I was surprised by the enormous amount of armaments (antique) scattered about the place.  It was enough to start a small, medieval, war: Oh, wait – that’s what monarchs used to do!  The shops (and there are several) stock a range of merchandise of the type and quality you don’t see in your common, or garden, stately home. So, naturally, we bought a fridge magnet.  Photography is not allowed inside the castle, which is understandable.  It was actually relaxing to look round a place without feeling the need to take photos for A Bit About Britain.  But it was irritating to witness a small minority who felt they were exempt from this rule (you know, like HGVs in motorway roadworks).  When challenged, these arrogant twits claimed lack of knowledge, despite signs of cameras with crosses through them posted everywhere. Sadly, it appeared to be the royal executioner’s day off.

The cafe at Windsor Castle
The Royal cafe is good, though. Who could resist this?

I guess the real treat was St George’s Chapel, burial place of 10 former sovereigns and a familiar scene on television in recent years.  Who can forget the wedding of Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2018, the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh in 2021 and the committal service of Her late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II just over a year later?    What I was not expecting was to pass by her resting place, in the King George VI Memorial Chapel.  She lies under a simple black stone slab bearing her name, her husband’s and her parents’.  I rarely get emotional at the grave of someone I have never met – an exception being the cemeteries on the Western Front – but I don’t mind confessing to having had a moment there. It was extraordinary.

Outside the castle gates, Windsor was buzzing – flags and people of all nationalities everywhere.  We wandered, looked at the preparations for the concert on the Long Walk, watched the swans on the river, had a nice meal and caught the train back to the hotel.  No apologies for having pictures of a couple of pubs. I mean, what do you do if you’re not driving and you come across a nice looking pub or two – even if you have to be up at 4am the following day? It would be rude not to go in.  At one point, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  The Two Brewers in Windsor is a very special place – a proper pub, welcoming, great beer, walls lined with eclectic ephemera, buzzy and good-natured.  A middle-aged man swayed dangerously between the tables, bleating “Toilet?” in heavily accented English; I wonder how the rest of his day went.

The Two Brewers, Windsor

Saturday, 6 May – the Coronation

Inexplicably, my invitation to attend the Big Event had failed to arrive.  We got up at ridiculous o’clock anyway and headed into London town.  Given all the hype about people camping for days to watch the procession, London at 6am on Saturday seemed surprisingly empty – until we reached the Mall. As instructed on the Government website, we had bought neither chairs to take the weight off our feet, nor stools to stand on to get a better view.  Keep this advice to yourself – but should you ever attend a similar event, ignore official instructions; almost everyone else seems to.  Things like this bring out the best, and the worst, in people; there is such kindness and such selfishness too.  Some people had brought lavish picnics along.  Overseas nationalities mingled with the home crowd, who themselves had travelled the length and longth of the land.  Behind me stood a group of what I took to be Chinese – the only ones not waving flags.  One of the girls seemed to be doing something on her phone every time I saw her, her fingers flying rapidly over the screen.  Another talked pretty much non-stop for about four hours; her companions nodded and smiled, only interjecting when she paused for breath.  Apart from that, and despite having hours to wait before anything happened, the atmosphere was terrific.  “Charles and Camilla will be sitting down to a nice breakfast about now,” I mused.  To pass the time, anyone that walked past along the Mall was cheered and clapped – stewards, road sweepers, smartly uniformed service personnel on Very Important Business, a chap with a measuring wheel – and police.


Police were a feature of the weekend.  According to the Police Federation, “There were more than 29,000 police officer deployments in the lead-up to the Coronation Day continuing over rest of the bank holiday weekend.”  They were everywhere, dressed in a surprising number of variations on the same basic uniform, in all shapes and sizes and carrying an interesting array of equipment.  They came from all over the country.  In the UK, we are lucky not to have armed police on the streets as a matter of course.  However, they were out in force at the Coronation – and I was glad to see them.  The police have come in for some well-deserved criticism lately – they need to get their act sorted to restore confidence.  Even over the Coronation, they are alleged to have arrested people for no reason, including innocent protestors who were only trying to bore everyone else with their views.  However, my own experience of the boys and girls in blue over the weekend was overwhelmingly positive.  Most were smiling, their presence was helpful and reassuring – and I hope they enjoyed the deserved appreciation they received.

  • The King's Coronation Procession
  • The King's Coronation Procession
  • The King's Coronation Procession
  • The King's Coronation Procession
  • The King's Coronation Procession
  • The King's Coronation Procession
  • The Coronation Procession
  • The Coronation Procession, State Coach

The day of King Charles’ Coronation began dull.  The King’s procession passed by on the way to the Abbey just after ten; by eleven, it was raining.  Later, it pelted down. The last time I got that soaked with clothes on was walking up a mountain in the Lake District.  Apparently, it rained on the last two coronations, Queen Elizabeth’s in 1953 and King George VI’s in 1937 – and neither of them turned out too badly, did they?

Feet, legs and backs were issuing urgent appeals to move rather than wait in the same position for the returning Coronation procession.  Inevitably, the new location was not as good as the first.  But, unless you are right in the front row or two, there will always be someone taller in front, someone selfish enough to stand on a stool, some twit waving a mobile, flag or umbrella in front of you.  Does anyone else think that you should have a license to carry an umbrella? I nearly lost an eye several times.  To hell with watching everything in the comfort of your own home with a nice cup of tea, I thought; this is much better.

  • Crowds outside Buckingham Palace greeting King Charles and Queen Camilla at their Coronation
  • After the Coronation of King Charles III outside Buckingham Palace
  • The Royal party on the balcony after the Coronation of Charles and Camilla
  • Red Arrows' Coronation fly-past

The Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla was the largest UK military ceremonial operation for 70 years.  More than 7,000 service personnel from across the nations and the Commonwealth took part – and some 5,000 of them took part in the Coronation procession.  Once the newly crowned King and Queen, and the last troops, had passed, the barriers along the Mall were selectively moved.  The police shepherded the cheerful crowds down to mill around the Queen Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace.  It was surprisingly civilised.  And a heck of an experience.  The spontaneous roar from thousands of throats when the Royal family came out onto the balcony underpinned a sense of being part of something.  Despite being British, I almost got dewy-eyed for the second time in as many days.  The only disappointment was that the weather meant most of the planned RAF flypast, which included the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, had to be called off.  Still, the Red Arrows were terrific, as they always are – if as brief as pigeons mating.

Sunday – the day after the Coronation

Go back to Windsor, take a day in the country – or go back to London to soak up the atmosphere?  We chose the latter, walking from Marble Arch through Hyde Park, along Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace.  The place was packed.  People were queuing up to have their photographs taken with police officers – and I have to say they seemed to be lapping it up, exchanging banter all the while.  It was nice to see.  Many of the police we saw were from outside London – Cheshire, Lancashire and others.  It must have been a very different experience for them, being publicly loved like that.

The Mall, decorated for the Coronation


From Buck House, we meandered through St James’s Park to the top of the Mall, close to Admiralty Arch.  Then through Horseguards to Whitehall, Westminster, over Westminster Bridge, along Southbank to London Bridge.  Naturally, we stopped along the route.

In contrast with Saturday, Sunday evolved from overcast into a day of almost Mediterranean light and warmth.  Sitting outside The Anchor in Southwark, supping a good pint and watching the world go by with the sun on the Thames, you can imagine just how gutted I was to be missing Olly Murs, Katy Perry, Take That, Lionel Richie and Co.

Coronation? – We can say we were there!  And I’m really glad we went.

Coronation route of King Charles III and Queen Camilla

91 thoughts on “We went to London for the Coronation”

  1. Charmaine Shakespeare

    So wonderful to be part of these historic events. We managed to watch the coverage on the iPhone having successfully found a campsite with mobile connection (travelling in outback Australia at the time!), and hastily signing up for a streaming service. The surroundings lacked a little atmosphere but certainly made it memorable.

    1. Thanks, Nikki. Console yourself with the tha fact that you undoubtedly saw more, kept dry and could have a cup of tea while you were doing it. The sacrifices I make for my art…

  2. An article worthy of being entered into the next edition of “Eyewitness History”. It makes me wish I had asked my dad to retell and then record his story of being a drummer boy for King George VI coronation. He would have been 8 years old at the time. My dad that is, George VI was a few years his senior by then. Now there is a literary project of possible interest – eyewitness accounts of coronations down the ages. Glad you got the bit about the coffee and the sticky bun in the piece btw.

    1. I know what you mean – it should be mandatory for mums and dads to write a bit about their experiences. I couldn’t miss out the coffee and bun on this occasion, could I?!

  3. artandarchitecturemainly

    The grockles were having a wonderful time in Windsor.. I would have loved to have shared the fun there, rather than celebrate amongst 25 billion people in London.

  4. Great write up Mike! it felt like I was there too with you, being annoyed by umbrellas poking into my eye and those self important people who think no photo rule does not apply to them. It must have a been a great experience to witness history

  5. I watched what I could on TV. (It was really early here.) The crowds seems remarkably well-behaved. Very impressive. My son wandered by part of the way through and asked about the arch. Is that just before the Palace?

    1. So glad you saw it! Not sure which arch you mean. Is it the one in the last photo with 3 arches? That is Admiralty Arch, which is between the Mall and Trafalgar Square. The Mall leads down to Buckingham Palace.

  6. Thank you for being ‘our man on the street’ and taking all those fantastic photos of the Coronation procession and places of interest. I am pleased you had a pleasant stay in Slough and managed to find a few decent hostelries en route. I stayed at home and saw most of the Coronation in the Abbey and all of the procession on TV. I am really glad that I made the effort to watch it. I telephoned my mother afterwards and spoke to her about it and she recounted her memories of Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. Mum was a WPC in the Metropolitan Police at the time and was on duty in Pall Mall, one of the many lining the route from 4.00 am until 8.00 pm. She was exhausted and soaked through but was so proud to have been able to take part. Her uniform cap never recovered from the soaking it got so she had to be issued with a new one. She spoke of all the other police forces taking part in 1953; the ones who made the greatest impression on her were the men fron the Glamorgan police who were all well over 6′ tall and whose helmets had a spike on the top. Mum had also been on duty at the late King’s lying in state and at his funeral. She was extremely fortunate to have had all those opportunities in her short time as a police woman.

  7. Gordon Coutts

    Sat and watched from my little digs here in Aussie. Although far away, it’s great to be a part of the Commonwealth and see this history unfold. Thanks for the write up. Great to hear it from a person who actually attended, not a newspaper article pushing its own agenda.

  8. I wondered if you might go. And I’m so glad you did and shared it with us. I’ve never been to a massive event like that and always wondered what the atmosphere “on the ground” is — is it as festive as it looks or are there a lot of cranky people with bad feet, bad backs and bad moods. I think you MIGHT have seen a few of those but overall it looks like the occasion was a glorious one in so many ways and I’m so glad you had a terrific time. I’m also glad to hear a bit more about the Windsor tour. If we get back this fall, that was one of my bucket list items so it does sound very worth it. As for me, I was up at 5 a.m. watching on the hotel TV in Cleveland as Rick slept through pretty much all of it. One does what one must! Loved this. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Jeanie. I think I was one of those cranky people with bad feet, bad back and bad mood… Things like this used to be a lot easier and (please don’t tell anyone else), but I hate crowds.

  9. What a marvelous post, Mike! I’m so glad you went and shared the festivities with us. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, for sure.

  10. You’re a far, far better subject than I, Bungditdin! A impressive spectacle indeed. I was of course invited (Justin Welby was their second choice) but two hundred miles away is quite close enough to London for me these days, and I made my excuses. 😉

  11. I have to admire your stamina. I couldn’t decide whether to go up early on the Saturday but decided I wouldn’tbe able to stand or not go to the toilet for that length of time. I went up on the Fri evening to soak up the atmosphere and loved it. So glad you went and described it so well. Thanks for sharing these once in a lifetime memories.

    1. Actually, there were loos along the Mall – and they were surprisingly OK. I speak with experience of Glastonbury Festival toilets, which are a factor in preventing me going ever again!

  12. I half regretted not going back to stay in Windsor for the Coronation weeken. We were there for the Queens Platinum Jubilee and we returned later in the year. We had to delay our second visit because our planned dates were just after Windsor castle had reopened following our late Queens funeral. We put it back a week hoping the castle and especially St Georges Chapel (one of the reasons for our return visit) would be less busy, it was and we were able to enjoy the space in relative quiet. And yes I too felt rather emotional as we passed Queen Elizabeth II final resting place alongside Prince Philip.

  13. What a wonderful experience, I watched the highlights the following morning, my daughter watched it as it happened on the telly of course we are down under after all

  14. What an incredible experience, how wonderful to have seen it so close. I also couldn’t have resisted that coffee and éclair from the café – wonderfully patriotic 🙂

  15. A great day out, well done, all familiar scenes, but I have never been to a royal event. We used to go a lot to Windsor when we lived by Heathrow, but only to Slough for the cinema or Big Shops – of course like other towns Slough probably hasn’t got any big shops now. The police should have received praise or at least recognition for the day going so smoothly, but of course while people and horses alike were all kept safe it is worrying that an ardent royal fan got arrested!

    1. Thank you! Yes, the police played their part superbly – but there are always idiots. A good policeman once told me that the force was a reflection of society – so there will always be a minority who really shouldn’t be there.

  16. Your blog posts are always splendid — beautifully written, slyly humorous, and casually educational. Thank you for sharing some of your coronation adventure with the rest of us. I watched some of it on the TV here in New England — marveling at the beauty and traditions of old England. PS: I saw one typo (“We got up at riduiculous o’clock anyway” which you might want to fix and then edit this comment to remove the fact that i mentioned this minuscule oversight at all…)

    1. I like the idea of being slyly humorous and casually educational; in fact, I may use that! Thank you, Will. I marvel at the number of people in other countries that seem to have watched the coronation – it’s flattering, I think. And I appreciate the elegant way you mentioned the typo – we all make mistakes and not everybody is as gracious!

      1. I always set aside a nice, relaxing chunk of time to read one of your posts (and look at Google Maps while I am reading to get a better sense of where everything you mention is located…)

  17. Thanks Mike – this was wonderful and no wonder you were pleased you went – despite the heavy drops of soggy stuff from the sky above. I was at a fund-raising for 3 charities – we had a lunch and about 70 or so … I saw a bit! Caught up later on – but you’ve embellished the weekend with an Englishman’s eye – thank you!! Amazing to read this – loved it … cheers to you both – brave couple. bye Hilary

  18. I so enjoyed this post the photos are superb and the script even better, lovely to hear that most people behaved themselves, showed kindness and smiled. Thank you Mike for sharing it all.

  19. Wonderful post, Mike. It was the next best thing to being there! I watched the whole thing from the comfort of my sofa, whilst regretting that we weren’t there soaking up the atmosphere. Thanks so much for providing that perspective.
    Thanks also for confirming that photos are still prohibited in St George’s Chapel. I wondered if the ban had been lifted, as it has been in St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. Windsor is worth another trip, regardless. Your description of the late Queen’s grave is very moving; she was a modest woman in many ways, and her choice of memorial reflects that.
    Oh – last thing – The Cathedral Project is finished and up on the new site. I still cherish the day we spent together at Ripon Cathedral – your knowledge is staggering and your company, delightful.
    Cheers!

    1. Thanks, Helen! 🙂 All three of those places are very special – I’m a little hypocritical about photography inside some places because, although I want my own records, some of these buildings deserve a little more respect than most visitors are capable of.
      I had no idea your cathedral project was finished. It’s AMAZING! Anyone interested – it’s HERE
      You’re very kind – but everything is relative!

  20. It sounds like a great weekend. I watched it all on TV. We had sideways rain here all morning, so there wasn’t anything better to do 🙂

    I loved it and managed not to cry until Zadok the Priest. I don’t know how the Abbey wasn’t full of weeping people at that point.

    1. I obviously didn’t catch the detail on the day, but I’m sure my legs and back were weeping at that point 🙂 Ah, the rain – I think had been specially imported from North West England.

  21. I didn’t expect to like this post as I’m not a lover of the RF and never have been so I kept well away from anything remotely connected to the Coronation, didn’t even turn the tv on, however thanks to your great photos and descriptions which convey some of the atmosphere I enjoyed reading this. I love the peace and tranquility of that lake in contrast to how busy it was everywhere else. A shame you didn’t manage to get to the concert but it sounds like you had a great weekend anyway.

    1. Thanks, Eunice – I didn’t miss the concert, frankly – not really my kind of line-up, overall. The lake is the one in St James’s Park and I took that photo the day after the Coronation, when the place was still heaving with people. I was quite shocked, actually, at the lengths some folk went to get photos – trampling on flower beds and so forth. Anyway, glad you enjoyed the post – I’m not a great one for all the celebrity RF stuff, but I do support the monarchy and the Coronation was a historic event. I’m glad I was there.

  22. Thank you for a good and entertaining read (as always on your blog). I don‘t know whether I would have wanted to be there, among such huge crowds of people, but I definitely enjoyed reading about your personal impressions and seeing your photos.

  23. Alli Templeton

    Well done for getting down there to be a part of it all. The atmosphere must have been amazing – it certainly looked it. We watched every moment of it from our new home in North Wales and several parts of the ceremony itself brought a lump to my throat. I do want to get to St George’s Chapel in Windsor too. I said as much after the Queen’s funeral, to pay my respects to her late majesty, but also because Edward IV is buried there, among others, and I have a natural interest in that part of history. I can completely understand why you had a moment seeing the Queen’s grave though, I would too. I do find it interesting, and a little curious, that the marker is so plain and understated, especially after her unique reign that was the longest in British history.
    Great coffee and eclair too – I hope they tasted as good as they looked! 🙂

    1. Well, Alli, I have to say that both coffee and eclair were excellent. I’m normally a black coffee man, but do enjoy a good cappuccino – which is hard to find; this one was spot on. As for St George’s Chapel – I know you’d love it. I’m kind of pleased the Queen’s grave marker is plain and understated – an over-blown monument wouldn’t have suited her somehow – and I think would have given the wrong message.

      1. Alli Templeton

        Glad to hear the refreshments tasted as good as they looked! 🙂 And I can see exactly what you mean about the Queen’s understated grave marker. It’s true, she hated fuss so an over elaborate monument wouldn’t have suited her. I’d still like to go and see it one day though and pay my own respects.

  24. Dorothy Willis

    I am afraid I need an explanation of the subtle point Betjeman was making about Slough. Apparently the poem was written in 1937, so, unless Betjeman could see into the future he could not have really expected the place to be bombed. Was it? From the standpoint of today it’s a rather sick joke.

    I had never heard the term “grockles” before. What a nice thing to call tourists! I am glad you enjoyed Windsor in spite of them. Was it a grockle’s umbrella that almost hit your eye? I really think a coronation should only be attended by citizens. After all, it’s not really our business, is it?

    On the whole it sounds as if you had a good time. Now if everyone would just stay home so you could see better!

    1. Grockles is a southern word for tourists and in Cornwall: Emmets (ants). Funny up here in the Midlands and in the north I have never heard of a nickname for tourists. Maybe we don’t get enough?

      1. Plenty of tourists in parts of the north and the midlands. I never think of ‘grockles’ as a southern expression – i’ll try it on some of my flat-vowelled pals in the pub!

    2. I obviously can’t speak for Betjeman, but have never thought he was any more serious about bombing Slough than I am.

      Grockles is a wonderful term – and of course, as a visitor, I considered myself one all weekend.

      My feelings about umbrellas apply to everyone that carries one – dangerous things in the wrong hands.

      I’m delighted ‘our’ coronation caught so much attention – it is a piece of history – and I hope the UK welcomed visitors from all over the world.

  25. I really enjoyed reading this, Mike! I received a text message from our Minnesota son at 4 A.M. on Coronation Day, asking if we, like they, were up and awaiting the big event. Yes, and we loved every moment, I especially loved the ancient tradition of the anointing (and Handel’s Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet always spectacular and thrilling!) and we all had comfy seating. Maybe you’ll be invited to the next coronation. Shouldn’t have to wait quite as long. And the Anchor with pint and view of the Thames sounds ever so much more enjoyable than the loud concert – but then I’m not a rocker at heart. xxoo

    1. It’s fabulous that the event was followed by so many in the USA – there were loads of Americans in London and Windsor. As for the concert – I am a bit of an old rocker (as you know), which is why I was quite happy to miss it!

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