With the Queen’s diamond jubilee almost upon us, I am tempted to compare the famous Coronation Dinner that took place on Parker’s Piece on Thursday 28th June 1838.
Early that year the great and good of Cambridge formed a committee to discuss how the town would celebrate the Coronation of Queen Victoria. Despite the fears of Rev Mr. Hose that ‘moral evil would attend the plan of having so many on Parkers Piece’, it was soon agreed “that the dinner, to be given to the poor, to celebrate the Coronation of her Majesty, be conducted on Parker’s Piece”. Each Parish in the town was tasked with selecting suitable adults and Sunday school children to invite and providing Stewards, Carvers, and Waiters to attend the dinners.
The day began with a service at Great St Mary’s. Then between 12 and 1pm Sunday Schools from all the local parishes, waving their parish flags, started their processions to the Piece. 2,700 Sunday School children, attended by 300 Sunday School teachers, marched from all over the town to Parker’s Piece where they were joined by the 12,000 local people who had been invited to attend the dinner.
Who exactly attended the dinner we are unsure but, given that others paid to watch the dinner and that the workhouse poor were excluded (although the children were allocated a shilling per head to have meat on Coronation day) we can assume that it was the respectable and deserving classes that were invited.
Class was no embarrassment to the Victorians. With the lower classes accommodated at over 70 tables on The Piece, the upper classes that had ‘subscribed’ to the fundraising were invited to purchase tickets to watch the event. The event cost £1,767 14 shillings 10 pence.
So where did the ‘better’ classes sit to watch the diners?
The Independent News reported that ‘A spacious and lofty wooden orchestra was raised in the centre of The Piece, capable of holding 100 musicians. An extensive framework, with seats on all sides, encompassed the orchestra from whence the more respectable inhabitants could have a commanding view of the dinner. Surrounding this was a green area, forming a Promenade for the accommodation of the humbler classes.’
Dinner was served to 15,000 at 2pm, and included:
1608 plum puddings
1029 joints of meat
72lbs of mustard
125 gallons of pickles
4500 loaves of bread
99 barrels of best ale
It is a relief to hear that the behaviour of the poor was exemplary.
After the dinner, at 5pm, people progressed to Midsummer Common for ‘Rustic Games.’
I am not sure how much be can believed from the account of the games but it is documented that these included:
‘The Newmarket Baulk or How to Rise in Life – well soaped scaffold poles, stuck up indifferently out of the perpendicular, will be climbed for, by youthful and unsophisticated Cantabs, for Breeches, Legs of Mutton etc.
Jumping in Sacks – A distance of 50 yards, by six men. Each man to jump in a 4-bushel sack (to be provided by himself for the occasion). The winner to received a new pair of boots, second best a hat, the third a pair of shoes.
Bobbin for Oranges in Wash-Troughs – By twelve youngsters with hands tied behind them, to be approved of by the committee at the time. No one need apply whose mouth is more than 12 inches wide – or who can drink a bucket of water at one draught.
Races – Twelve men (not less than 14 stone weight) to run 100 yards. All complexions eligible (no bandy legs). First a new pair of boots, second a pair of cord trousers.’
At 7pm a Helium Balloon ascended from Butt Green, much to the amazement of all – the wind taking it to Fulbourn from whence it was somehow got back, by air, to Cambridge.
At 10pm fireworks were let off on ground adjoining the Town-Gaol (where the current Queen Anne car park stands today).
The display consisted mainly of rockets ‘displaying gold and silver rain, coloured fires and golden snakes, terminated by a rich and splendid design in the pyrotechnic art representing the imperial crown surrounded by an appropriate inscription ‘ Long Live the Queen’.
A grand and memorable day for all. How will Cambridge do on 5 June 2012?