Jubilees and coronations

At the school’s 150th birthday in 1997

The Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II will be celebrated nationally between 2 and 5 June 2022. It marks the 70th anniversary since her accession on 6 February 1952. As Radley College also celebrates a jubilee this year we look back over 175 years of royal encounters. Royal visits and celebrations over that period have been both fully formal and completely private with events from the reigns of all six monarchs from Victoria to Elizabeth.

Queen Victoria came to the throne in June 1837, ten years before the founding of Radley College in June 1847. That summer, the British Association visited Oxford, with Prince Albert at its head. William Sewell lent Radley’s silver (and the Warden’s chair) to Exeter College to enhance Exeter’s own holdings – ‘the Prince admired it very much. He sat in the chair …’ A few years later, Victoria and Albert’s son, Edward, Prince of Wales, married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Their honeymoon journey passed through Nuneham Courtney, where Radley’s Senior Prefect gave an address. In thanks, the Prince of Wales requested an extra week’s summer holiday. The notice was treasured.

The school was given just a day’s holiday to mark Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, but the main event was a joint celebration organised by the village of Radley and hosted by the College. About 200 people sat down to lunch in the Old Gym, after which each man present received half-an-ounce of tobacco and a pipe. This was followed by an afternoon of sports for all, men and women, games for the children, tugs-of-war – married v single men and College indoor v outdoor servants. The day ended with tea in the Old Gym and an organ recital in Chapel.

Her Diamond Jubilee in 1897 coincided with the 50th anniversary of the school. The two events were celebrated simultaneously in June that year: Radley’s anniversary was marked by a dinner in Hall and a service in Chapel which were attended by 100 Old Radleians. The whole school was then given an exeat to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – to enable many dons and boys to travel up to London to see the procession. At least two Old Radleians took part in the procession itself: Major Ernest Vaughan-Hughes riding with the Royal Horse Artillery and William Flint riding at the head of the Dyak Contingent, as the representative of North Borneo. The Diamond Jubilee on film

There was much debate over a permanent memorial for these momentous events, such as a pulpit in Chapel, but eventually it was decided to build a new sports pavilion, a new case for the chapel organ and to commission a stained-glass window in memory of William Sewell. Sir Thomas Graham Jackson designed the decorated organ case. It was paid for by subscriptions organised by precentor George Wharton. The new pavilion replaced a wooden and corrugated iron structure which stood where the Bert Robinson Score Board now stands. The new pavilion (now the Old Pavilion!) was also paid for by subscriptions from Old Radleians and a gift from the College. The Latin inscription by Warden Thomas Field commemorates both the Diamond Jubilee and the 50th anniversary of the school. The pavilion was completed in 1900. Its photograph was the first ever to appear in the Radleian magazine.

Queen Victoria died in 1901. The flag which had been flying at half-mast from the Mansion roof was taken down after her funeral and placed at the east end of Chapel. It remained there for several years – a brass plaque still commemorates it. On the first Saturday of the new term, the entire school was gathered in front of the Mansion and the Warden read out the proclamation of the accession of King Edward VII. Once again, the school was promised an extended exeat to travel to London to take part in the coronation festivities: the editors of the Radleian suggested that those who came back over-excited from watching the Naval Review should try to be quiet at 4 o’clock in the morning! However, the King’s illness caused the postponement of the coronation itself. To appease a school full of disappointed boys who had lost a holiday, the Warden arranged to take all of them to Portsmouth to view the fleet. A good day was had by all, apparently.

When the coronation of Edward VII finally took place, an Old Radleian was once again in the procession. This time Sir Edward Hobart Seymour, who was appointed First and Principal Naval Aide-de-Camp to the King in the Coronation Honours, was riding beside Lord Kitchener.

Former Warden Adam Fox carried the Bible during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation

In 1910, Old Radleian John Thynne was appointed to the Coronation Executive Committee as representative of Westminster Abbey, for the coronations of King George V and Queen Mary. This time boys from the school were also part of the official procession as members of the newly-founded Officers Training Corps were invited to line the processional route as a guard of honour. In 1953, former warden Adam Fox, then Dean of Westminster Abbey, played a part in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Like the OTC, boys from the naval section of CCF had a part in the Golden Jubilee when they manned the rescue boats during the Thames River Pageant in 2012.

Radley CCF Navy Section manning the ‘Admiral Bowyer’ at the Jubilee Pageant in 2012

The reign of King George V saw Radley’s first official visit by royalty when Edward, Prince of Wales, arrived to open the Wilson Library on 12 December 1924. In his speech, he joked that in previous private visits to the school while an undergraduate at Oxford he had tried to provide amusement with his skills at cricket and rugby. He provided amusement now by requesting the traditional extra holiday. He ended his formal visit by having tea in the Prefects’ Study – an event repeated by his niece, Elizabeth, in 1947, when she held the same position as heir to the throne and representative of her father King George VI. George VI’s connection to the school started when Old Radleian Patrick Hodgson served as his Private Secretary when he was Duke of York from 1926 until 1933. Hodgson was also a member of Radley College Council. Through his influence, the Boat Club received a letter of commendation from King George V on their first visit to Kent School, Connecticut in 1928.

HRH Edward, Prince of Wales opened the Wilson Library in 1924

George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935 passed quietly at Radley. There were celebratory prayers in Chapel and a concert, but otherwise no mention was made, apart from the award of the King’s Silver Jubilee Medal to an Old Radleian, Arthur Pettit for services to the police and to don Richard Eason. The King’s death the following year also passed with little comment. An avenue of lime trees connecting College Oak with the Sweet Chestnut Avenue was planted to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VIII. Each tree was given by members of the community and bore a pewter plaque: only one survives, the plaque for a consortium of boys from H Social. When the coronation was cancelled following the Abdication Crisis, the avenue remained, but its name did not. The Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 1977 similarly passed with little comment, apart from a suggestion that another grove of trees should be planted, but nothing seems to have materialised.

The two most important events (so far) in the life of the College were both marked by royal visits. The Centenary in 1947 saw 19-year-old Princess Elizabeth attend a service in Chapel and have tea with the prefects. The prefects clubbed together their sweet ration to give her a box of chocolates from an exclusive chocolatier in London. She described the occasion in a letter to an old friend and former don of Radley, making it clear how much she appreciated being with people of her own age for an official event. Her speech can be read here.

Princess Elizabeth on the Mansion steps in 1947
The receipt for a box of chocolates from the school shop

Fifty years later, as Queen Elizabeth II, she and the Duke of Edinburgh came for the school’s 150th anniversary and to open Queen’s Court. This time the school gave them a box of chocolates each, from the same chocolatier.

Queen Elizabeth II viewed the portrait of her by a pupil in 1997

Clare Sargent, 2022