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Flags up: how the ICE has marked UK coronations in the past

05 May 2023

Ahead of King Charles III's coronation, ICE archivist Carol Morgan explores how the institution has commemorated them in the past.

Flags up: how the ICE has marked UK coronations in the past
One Great George Street decorated for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953. Image credit: ICE Library

Tomorrow’s coronation of King Charles III will be the ninth to take place in the ICE’s history.

Although not all appear to have been celebrated, looking through our archive, it was exciting to find information and even photographs showing how the institution marked previous coronations.

King Edward VII’s coronation - 1902

ICE building 1902
The ICE building in 1902, the year of King Edward VII's coronation.

The first coronation mentioned in the ICE Council minutes was King Edward VII’s.

After Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations, the public had high expectations of how the coronation would be marked, and the buildings around Westminster did not disappoint.

Westminster City Council set up a committee to provide decorations along the route of the procession. This was going to be a tasteful affair.

In a letter dated 2 March 1902, the chairs of the Coronation Committee declared:

“In order to ensure that the decorations shall be of suitable and artistic character, appropriate to the occasion, the committee……. have appointed an artist, Mr Frederick Vigers, as adviser, to superintend the execution of the work.”

city of westminster letter 1902
Letter from the Coronation Committee on decorations and illumination of the building for the coronation of 1902.

The letter went on to appeal for subscriptions. The money would be spent on decorating the streets, leaving residents to decorate their houses.

Although the coronation route didn’t seem to include Great George Street, the ICE had recently obtained a new grand building at 24-26 Great George Street (that’s across the road from where we are now).

The coronation was the ideal opportunity to show the new building off.

The letter pictured below from Frederick Vigers on 3 May 1902 quotes a sum of £350 to decorate and illuminate the building as well as protect it with hoarding. This is equal to £34,000 today.

Viger letters
Letters from Frederick Vigers from 1902.

After the coronation was postponed due to the King’s illness, Vigers sent another letter on 30 July agreeing to finish the work for the further sum of £25.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the drawing he mentions, but we do have the specification.

According to this, the flowers were blue and the ribbons yellow or gold.

The wreaths were illuminated with electricity - the plants with fairy lights and the busts were lit.

In typical Victorian style it didn’t follow the ‘less is more’ saying.

King George VI’s coronation - 1937

The next photograph we have shows the building in 1937.

OGGS 1937
The ICE building decorated for King George VI's coronation.

This design by James Miller, the building’s architect, was rather more reserved than in 1902, but it still involved floodlights, flags and flowers.

The floodlights were an investment as they were to become a permanent feature.

The north-west corner of the building had only just been added and the existing exterior had to be cleaned to match the new masonry.

The total cost wasn’t recorded but the flowers alone cost £185. That’s £10,000 in today’s money.

This is according to council minutes from 24 November 1936 and 26 January 1937.

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation - 1953

ICE building 1952 coronation
The ICE building decorated for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953. From ICE secretary Graham Clark’s scrapbook 1952-55.

In 1953, the building had very similar decorations - perhaps some of the flags were reused.

According to the ICE Council minutes (16 December 1952), the cost was £450 for flags and window boxes - a slightly more reasonable total, equal to £10,000 today.

King Charles III’s coronation – 2023

The upcoming coronation is to be a pared back event with a shortened procession route. Likewise, we won’t be going overboard with decorations although maybe it’s time to get the flags out again.

  • Carol Morgan, archivist at ICE