A royal wedding in a time of rationing.

17 November 2010

So anyway, yes, there’s going to be a royal wedding next year. Opinion amongst my associates seems to be divided between snark and childlike joy, which is to be expected. There’s tough times here in the UK right now and something as huge and, more to the point, expensive as a royal wedding was always going to provoke a few strong reactions.

I get the feeling that the people in charge rather optimistically recalled the Queen’s own wedding on 20th November 1947, which took place in a period of prolonged post war austerity and provoked widespread joy. Or so we are always being mistily eyed being told amidst reminiscing about street parties, millions of yards of Union Jack bunting and people crowding around radios to listen in to the celebrations.

Rationing didn’t end in the UK until 1953 and times were still hard for everyone. Understandably, there were warning rumblings from certain quarters with the Camden Town branch of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers warning the bride’s father, George VI that: ‘Any banqueting and display of wealth at your daughter’s wedding will be an insult to the British people at the present time… You would be well advised to order a very quiet wedding in keeping with the times.’

Nonetheless the wedding was a splendid state occasion with a 9 foot tall cake, 2,000 guests and not one but two splendid stag nights for the groom. Of course, the focus of many people’s attention was the Princess’ dress and they were not to be disappointed. Like all other British brides of the time, she was provided with 200 extra clothing coupons by the Government but they probably didn’t go very far towards paying for her dress: an ivory silk Norman Hartnell creation with a 13 foot train that had been worked on for seven weeks by three hundred and fifty seamstresses, who had painstakingly decorated it with crystal and seed pearl roses, wheat sheafs and leaves.

Generous women from all around the country, caught up in the wedding fever sent in their own clothing coupons to contribute to the cost of Princess Elizabeth’s trousseau but as it was illegal to give away coupons, they were all returned. Actual physical gifts of silks and lace were gratefully accepted though and probably passed on to less fortunate brides to be.

Even the source of the silk was the source of much discussion with Hartnell being forced to announce that the silkworms involved in the silk’s production had hailed from China not the UK’s recent enemies Italy or Japan.

Previous royal weddings had been relatively low key affairs involving an evening ceremony in the drawing room of one of the royal palaces or the chapel attached to Windsor Castle. The wedding of Elizabeth II, however, was probably the most showy to date, taking place in Westminster Abbey and the first to allow the procession to be filmed and to be broadcast nationwide. Everyone was encouraged to share in the day and it probably really did do a lot to raise spirits.

For weeks after the twenty one year old bride and her twenty six year old husband (hard to imagine them as so young once upon a time!) had driven away to their honeymoon, the cinemas continued to show film footage from the wedding day and people queued around the block to view the display of wedding presents, which ranged from seventy six handkerchiefs to five hundred cases of tinned pineapple. Around 2,500 gifts were recieved by the happy couple but in keeping with the spirit of the times, they were keen to pass on their good fortune and all the edible gifts were boxed and sent out to the less fortunate, with the Princess herself helping package them up.

Wedding fever raged through the UK and for a time, people probably did forget their troubles. Maybe we live in a more cynical age now, but I for one have had enough of the unrelenting gloom and am happy to lulled into a state of jollity for the occasion.

I have to say though that it is weird to see Princess Diana’s iconic sapphire and diamond engagement ring again. Again this seems to have divided opinions (I get the feeling this wedding is going to have a bit of a polarising effect from start to finish), with plenty of people thinking it’s a sweet gesture and a bunch of other people thinking it is incredibly creepy. I’m not sure what I think to be honest but I think I’m tending more towards the former – William’s love for his mother is undoubted, as is his love for his fiancée and I’m pretty sure that as someone who was immediately involved and loves all the people concerned, his take on his parents’ marriage is probably very different to that of all the rest of us so in a way I think it’s a tribute to both of them that he chose to reuse his mother’s ring.

Plus the fact that this is the royal family and they’d be stuffed if they were going to start being squeamish about the providence of their jewels or any other inherited possessions – after all plenty of their pieces come from the now scattered Romanov jewel collection, which have even less sentimental meaning than Princess Diana’s engagement ring. And let’s not get started on how they probably feel about people who anxiously enquire of estate agents if anyone has ever died in the house they are viewing.

So yes, royal wedding. I think I could do with hearing a bit less about it over the coming months (and I know this blog post isn’t helping matters but I’m a mere tiny piece of gravel in an ocean so I think I can get away with it) but I’m giving it a big thumbs up nonetheless.

Interested in reading more about the royal wedding in 1947, then look at this lovely page from the Royal Collection’s royal wedding exhibition.

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