Reading and Royalty
The town of Reading has a long historical connection to royalty, beginning when King Henry I announced the building of his new abbey. Royal links to the Abbey site continued into the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, while King Charles I was imprisoned for a time in Caversham during the English Civil War. Objects reflecting these periods can be found from the Reading Abbey topic (link below). Here we focus on photographs and memorabilia relating to royalty and how people celebrated royal events in and around Reading since the time of Queen Victoria.
Our Reading Chronicle Collection records royal visits to Reading and the surrounding area between 1938 and 1964. Royal visits always created a reportable buzz and excitement around the town, and the Berkshire Chronicle dedicated significant space to photographs of these events, including those featuring members of the extended royal family with specific local interests. The royal family changed considerably during this time, making for compelling reading!
Prince Albert had taken the throne on 11 December 1936, following a royal scandal: his older brother King Edward VIII had reigned for less than a year when he abdicated to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson. With Edward’s abdication accepted, Albert unexpectedly became King, adopting the name George VI. The future George VI had married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923 and they had two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. Reading photographer Marcus Adams photographed Princess Elizabeth in 1926 when she was just eight months old, and in the 1930s his portraits of both young princesses were published all over the world.
George VI was the reigning monarch throughout the Second World War. He was heavily involved with political strategy, meeting with Prime Minister Winston Churchill on a weekly basis. Meanwhile he and his wife Queen Elizabeth provided morale-boosting visits throughout the United Kingdom. They visited bomb sites and munitions factories, and in the King's case military bases, including Brock Barracks on Oxford Road, Reading.
Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark on 20 November 1947. Philip had renounced his existing titles, adopting his mother's name Mountbatten, and converted from Greek Orthodoxy to Anglicanism. Before the wedding he was made Duke of Edinburgh and granted the style His Royal Highness. Reading biscuit and cake manufacturer Huntley & Palmers made the original wedding cake for Elizabeth and Philip, a fantastic local contribution to the wedding! Their four children, Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward, were born between 1947 and 1964.
The stress of the war and the acceleration of the dissolution of the British Empire during his reign, not to mention heavy smoking, took its toll on George VI’s health. He died on 6 February 1952 at the young age of 56. Upon news of the King’s death, the Berkshire Chronicle published a full two-page spread on his life. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, took the throne immediately but was not crowned Queen Elizabeth II until a year later on 2 June 1953, out of respect for her late father. In 2015 she overtook Queen Victoria to become the longest-reigning monarch in British history.
People in Reading marked Elizabeth II's coronation and her Silver Jubilee in 1977 by putting up decorations in the town, holding street parties and making or collecting commemorative souvenirs, some of which are now in our collection. Jubilee celebrations have been similar since the reign of Queen Victoria.