My name is Holly Wallbanks, I am a second year History student here at the University of Liverpool and I am currently taking part in a placement at Special Collections and Archives. One of my assigned tasks was to go through the online catalogue and correct and add any missing information by comparing the details recorded in loose-leaf guard books to what already existed in the catalogue.
One of the items I have come across during this task is a scrapbook from 1937 which contains newspaper cuttings relating to the Coronation of George VI (LUL MS 57). I found these very compelling as not only do they help us learn about how news was conveyed over 100 years ago, but they also have particular relevance to today because of the imminent Coronation of Charles III. It would be interesting to note the differences in the newspapers from now and 1937 on the coronation of a king. How dramatically has public opinion shifted in the 86 years between the two? These newspaper cuttings offer an insight into this.
It is no secret that the public are divided on the concept and institution of the monarchy. Some state it is what makes our country and should be upheld, while others wish for its abolition. This divide is not so obvious in the papers of 86 years ago which seem to suggest that most were very supportive of the monarchy and George VI, despite the recent scandal of the Abdication Crisis in 1936.
The newspaper cuttings discuss various aspects of the coronation and offer a multitude of images of George, all of which portray him as a regal, stoic figure of authority and thus someone that should be respected. For example, Figure 1 shows the king in his full-dress uniform with the Royal Arms in an ornate boarder surrounding the image. George VI became one of the 20th century’s most well-liked kings, and this was in part due to his image as a war hero – something the newspaper image reminds us of. This formal nationalistic image is not one that is likely to be repeated in the newspapers today for Charles’s Coronation. This difference reflects the shift over the decades to a less formal and more accessible monarchy. But, perhaps we could also track this change as a reaction to the growing indifference towards the monarchy. A recent poll suggests a majority of young people share a complete dislike or indifference to the monarchy with only 32% of people aged between 18-24 backing the monarchy. Attitudes have definitely changed from 1937. One thing that remains the same, however, is the timetable for the day as Charles’ Coronation does not stray wildly from previous traditions.
Another thing I found interesting about these newspaper cuttings was the use of the monarchy in advertisements. For example, the above cutting is an advert for King George IV Old Scotch Whiskey which uses the name and image of the19th century monarch as promotional material. These days, the monarchy is not used as overtly in advertising. Arguably this shows the decreasing status and influence of the monarchy and the rise of a different kind of celebrity culture.
There was also an intriguing letter of gratitude and thanks to George VI from the Halifax Building Society as seen in Figure 4. This was quite interesting to me as there seems to be a lot more gratitude towards the monarchy in previous years. The page is quite attractive, with different buildings laid out on a leaf design.
Another newspaper column entitled ‘Decorations in poorer London’ discusses the transformation of streets into ‘variable fairylands’ for the coronation. Street parties held on the 6th May for the Coronation of King Charles III have a lot to live up to!
Images were taken by me, of the newspaper cutting from Scrapbook, 1937. Now housed in the Special Collections and Archives department of the Sydney Jones Library, University of Liverpool, LUL MS 57.
Corbin, Jane and Sean Coughlan. (2023) ‘Coronation: How popular is the monarchy under King Charles?’, BBC News, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-65326467