While staying with a friend in Croydon for the bank holiday weekend, locals were making preparations for the coronation celebrations on Sunday. Every second road had warning signs about future road closures and there were no-parking signs by the police. Invitations announcing the treats in store were attached to trees. Streets were being richly decorated with flags and buntings. Red, white and blue became the colour scheme.
On Sunday morning, I took my dogs for a walk in some nearby woods. I saw that people were starting to put up tables along the neighbouring roads. I decided to have a closer look after my walk to ask organisers and participants a few questions.
An elderly lady who seemed to be in charge of the decorations saw me approach the little group assembled and invited me to join them. I asked her first if there were regular street parties in this road. She said that, sadly there were none here and she was glad that they had got permission to close the road for this special occasion.
It turns out that this was her second coronation celebration. She remembered the coronation of Queen Elisabeth II when she was a child and was thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of the new King’s celebrations. I asked her if she supported the monarchy and why. She believed that the monarchy was a vital part of this country’s political system. It provided a stability which regularly changing elected PMs or an elected president would not offer.
She was not uncritical of the wealth at the disposal of the Royals but she was sure that Charles III would modernise the monarchy and do away with some of the privileges. The lady saw my European Movement badge and remarked that she thought that both Queen Elizabeth and Charles were very likely pro-EU. The House of Hanover did have relatives all over Europe.
A couple with three young children joined the group surrounding the tables, which by then held a large selection of snacks and drinks. I was offered a glass of bubbly which I thankfully refused. It was a bit early in the day for me for alcohol. I asked the family, who were of Asian origin, why they had joined the street party and what they thought of the monarchy. The young woman said that they lived around the corner and thought this was a great opportunity to bring the community together.
She was born in the UK and was satisfied with the constitutional monarchy but was aware that many of her relatives in India thought differently. They would not be celebrating the coronation. They remembered cruel colonial times and the British monarchy’s role in India.
Street party in Junction Road
The second street party I visited was a much bigger affair. The whiff of barbecues was in the air. There several gazeboes and a bouncy castle for children. People were sitting around round tables and children were enjoying the traffic free space for games.
The first gazebo advertised the band hired to play popular tunes. Young people who were happy to pose for a photo. I stopped next at a huge group sitting around a table laden with food and drink. They were elderly couples and told me that this road had a street party every year to celebrate the community. But this year’s event was special. For them, it was a joyous occasion to celebrate the new King.
A young woman was trying to keep her group of young children away from open fires of barbecues. When asked what she thought of the monarchy, she admitted not really giving it much consideration. She just came along to meet neighbours and give her family a good time.
The friend I stayed with is a musician who plays regularly at a local church. She invited me to join the celebration where her string quartet was giving a concert. When I got to the church hall, it was full of long tables with a buffet at the front. A lady in magnificent, brightly sparkling African dress aided by several other middle aged parishioners was serving elaborately decorated cakes. Another lady stood behind two large bowls of what appeared to be fruit punch.
A tall, young man was helping his mother with the tea and coffee counter. Most of the people in charge of catering seemed to be of Afro-Caribbean origin. I was introduced to an English lady in her eighties who had known my musician friend for several years. It was moving how everybody welcomed me into their midst. I sat down beside a lady who turned out to be of German origin. The diversity of the congregation mirrored the great variety in the local population.
The string quartet was playing but it was hard to hear the music because of the lively chatter in the hall. But then there was a lull in the chatter as my friend stood up to announce that the church choir was about to sing. They sounded amazing, considering that, as I was told, they had just formed the choir recently and there was as yet no choir master.
A young word of welcome
As I was interested in how people thought about the coronation and King Charles, I circulated around the hall to talk to people. Everybody was very comfortable with speaking to a stranger who had been invited by their church musician. This was a close community enjoying the opportunity to hold a party. Several elderly ladies agreed that the monarchy was a great tradition and that they were happy to be able to celebrate such a special event.
When I asked one of the few young people in the room what she thought, she seemed to summarise the general feeling in this group. The King was the head of the Church, and anybody who believed in Christianity and in the Church of England would be welcoming him and celebrating his coronation.