Coronation Night 1937: Oldham Celebrates a King

The last coronation of a British king happened on 12 May 1937 when George VI was crowned along with his wife Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey in London. Nationally souvenirs were created to commemorate the event. Programmes, postcards, tins, cups and plates are amongst the items made for mass consumption. Ordinary people were able to bring these items into their homes to remember the day a new king and queen were officially crowned. Across the nation young and old came out for the festivities. Parades and parties were held, and cakes were baked. The celebrations went from morning until late at night when fireworks and bonfires lit up the sky.

Souvenir items, such as this tin made by Rowntree’s of York, were created to commemorate the coronation

Oldham got in on the coronation celebrations in 1937 as many cities, villages, and towns across Great Britain and the Commonwealth did. Oldham Local Studies and Archives has photographs showing this. All around Oldham there were banners, bunting, Union Jacks and other decorations. This happened in the town centre as well as in more rural areas. Activities and events unfolded throughout the day. In Delph, for example, there was a huge bonfire that entertained a large and well-dressed crowd.

Photograph of a bonfire to celebrate the coronation of George VI

The art collection at Gallery Oldham also has a scene showing this momentous occasion as celebrated in Uppermill. Coronation Night Uppermill 1937 is a pastel on paper by James Purdy. The drawing shows the evening celebrations after the coronation of George VI from a first-hand perspective. There are fireworks in the sky and a crowd holding torches. We can’t see the faces of the people in the crowd. Most have their back to the viewer as they look up to the sky. However, one spectator manages to stand out. Just to the left of centre we have a figure on horseback. The light from the archway in the distance frames the horse’s head further drawing our eye to this rider.

Coronation Night Uppermill 1937, James Purdy, pastel on paper, created 1937

James Purdy created a drawing that highlights the local sense of unity and celebration on the day a new monarch was crowned. Purdy was born in Oldham and was a teacher and prolific artist, creating images that showed various aspects of town life during the 1900s. Some of them are somewhat mundane slice of life images, but others such as Coronation Night Uppermill 1937 capture a uniquely special moment in time for Oldham as well as the nation.

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