Coronation Choristers

Coronation Choristers 1952-2023

Coronation Choristers group photo
L-R: Andrew Green, Katrina Navickas, Fabian Hiscock, Leanne Calvert and Jane Otumunye at St John's Smith Square

St John's Smith Square, 17 July 2023

70 years after they sang together at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, a group of former boy choristers were reunited on Monday 17 July, coming together to mark the anniversary of their royal performance.

The event marked the culmination of a year-long exercise to collect the memories and anecdotes of those who sang at the coronation. These have been gathered by oral historians at the University of Hertfordshire’s Heritage Hub, preserving these unique memories in sound recordings and in the pages of a new book.

In total, 182 boy choristers were present at the Coronation of the Queen. While many were already members of choirs such as Westminster Abbey or St George’s Chapel, Windsor, more than thirty others were selected especially for the occasion from across the UK, including an elite group chosen via the Royal School of Church Music.

33 of the choristers have now recounted their memories of the experience to the University of Hertfordshire’s oral history team, led by Andrew Green, Senior Visiting Research Fellow. Their recollections, alongside mementos of the experience including letters of invitation, entry passes and photos, feature in Choristers of the Coronation, a new book which will shortly be available on request.

Many of the interviewees recall the mixture of solemnity and excitement of the occasion, but also the unexpected moments from behind the scenes – for example, the pillow fights that took place the night before the Coronation in the chapel of St James Palace and the food packs the choristers were given to take to their seats in Westminster Abbey.

While for some the Coronation marked the pinnacle of their musical career, others went on to become professional musicians, including Christopher Herrick, renowned concert organist, and Francis Saunders, long-time cellist with the London Symphony Orchestra.

On the afternoon of Monday 17 July, a group of the former choristers – most now in their 80s – reconvened in the historic Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster Abbey for a welcome and address from the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle MBE. This was followed by a tour of the Abbey, taking in the setting from which the 400-strong choir sang in 1953.

This was followed by a reception in The Crypt at St John Smith’s Square hosted by the University of Hertfordshire’s Oral History Team and Heritage Hub. No fewer than 25 of the 33 choristers who were interviewed for the project attended the event, from as far afield as Devon, Yorkshire, Dorset and Norfolk. Guests were treated to audio clips from the Choristers of the Coronation interview collection, and a moving live performance of music from the 1953 service.

Andrew Green, Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Hertfordshire, said:

“The recent Coronation of our King has reminded us all once again of the huge significance of such an occasion. It also highlighted the extent to which our world has changed since the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, something made clear in the Choristers of the Coronation interviews. It has been a privilege to hear these individuals’ memories of the whole 1953 experience and of their lives since. This is the kind of project that demonstrates why oral history is so valuable, preserving for posterity the stories of the people behind historical events in their own words”.

“We are thrilled that so many of the participants will be joining us in Westminster next month, on what will be both a memorable and emotional occasion”.

Coronation chorister Graham Neal, who in 1953 was singing in the choir of All Saints, Eastleigh, in Hampshire, says:

“The idea behind Choristers of the Coronation is brilliant. I was thrilled to be involved because it means that my grandchildren will be able to read the full story of what happened back in 1953. Being interviewed brought back many memories and was so uplifting… you realise your part in a great event hasn’t been forgotten”.

The Choristers of the Coronation project was led by Andrew Green and supported by Professor Katrina Navickas and Dr Leanne Calvert from the History group. The oral interviews and transcripts, together with a gallery of images of historical photographs and memorabilia, will shortly be available on the University of Hertfordshire Heritage Hub website.

Photo credits: Adam Jones-Lloyd and Jane Otumunye

group photo in St Johns Smith Square
Choristers reunited in St John's Smith Square. Photo by Adam Jones Lloyd.

The event was featured on ITV London News on 18 July.

BBC Music Magazine have also featured a report on the event. Read it here:

Andrew Green produced this documentary for the BBC:

Prof Navickas speaking
Prof Katrina Navickas speaking
Andrew Green on ITV news
Andrew Green on ITV London News