How Britain has changed since the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953

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Somewhere in Britain, half a dozen people gathered in a field to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on television. “This day is exhausting for her. Two and a half hours in Westminster. All day, in fact,” says one of them. “I hope you had two sandwiches,” comments another. Someone adds: “Come see, one of the maids of honor stumbles and laughs a little.”

The scene, recorded by an informant from Project Mass Surveillance (a movement to study collective behavior with a benign sociological spying network), could be a parody of The Royals, a 1990s sitcom in which the characters sit down to watch TV, or a more recent variant, Gogglebox ( transparently adapted to Spain, as I edit here). In 1953, as today, British audiences could not focus on more mundane matters. The queen will not starve, will she? Good thing they put a roof on it. They were caustic, but not to the point of disrespect. In some respects, little has changed since then.

On the contrary, his country has really changed. During the year of the coronation, the people of the United Kingdom lived and acted in ways that would seem as strange to us today as they must have seemed to the Victorians watching the coronation on those dim black and white screens. British historical data allow us to appreciate the differences.

65% of births were to women under 30, up from 40% today.

A young queen ruled a sparsely populated and young country. Of the 50.6 million people in Britain in 1953, 21.6 million were under the age of 30 and only 8 million were aged 60 or over: a ratio of 2.7 to 1. If you look at the films of that time, the crowd of children is evident. The ubiquity of hats. Since then, the country has grown to 67 million people; Old people too. The young to old ratio is 1.4 to 1 and decreasing.

The Queen married at the age of 21 and gave birth to her first child, Carlos, a year later. In this sense, she was quite typical of her contemporaries. In 1953, 65% of births were to women under the age of 30, compared to 40% today. Only 5% of births were out of wedlock; Today this share is 51%. However, Elizabeth had three more children and this was unusual. She was born in 1926. The average woman born this year has given birth to 2.2 children in her lifetime. Monarchs manage to rise above the average: English history is full of examples of chaos caused by uncertainty in the line of succession.

Isabel also had an unusual job, albeit a strange one. In 1953 women constituted 32% of the working population; Today they are 48%. And mothers with small children in particular rarely had to work outside the home. According to the 1951 census only one in six.

Women make up 32% of the working population; Today they are 48%

His first public role before he started working was the Auxiliary Regional Service where he learned to repair and drive ambulances and jeeps. And he spent a good part of his life in the company of soldiers and ex-soldiers. In this sense she was typical of her generation. In the year of the coronation, the British government still expected men to serve in the army and would continue to do so for another ten years. A major share of government expenditure is consumed by the armed forces. In 1953–1954, 9% of Great Britain’s national income was spent on defence, which was one and a half times the combined budget of the National Health Service and Public Education.

In 1953, some foods (especially meat and dairy products) were still subject to wartime rationing. And the British diet was very heavy. The average person (man, woman, child) ate almost two kilos of potatoes a week, which is almost five times more than today. Another important vegetable is cabbage. About 200 grams were consumed per week, six times the consumption of modern Britain. There must be a smell of sulfur coming from the kitchen.

Two characteristic smells: tobacco and charcoal

Now, people may not have noticed because the year of the coronation had two more ubiquitous scents. One of them was the smell of tobacco. Almost all men and many women smoke: According to a 1951 study, 87% of doctors over the age of 35 were smokers. Within a year of the coronation, the same study provided strong evidence linking smoking to lung cancer. A few years later there was a big decline in smoking.

Another ubiquitous smell was coal smoke. British coal-fired factories and trains, generating electricity and heating homes. In 1953, 230 million tons of minerals were mined in the country, more than four tons per person. The coal industry employed about 700,000 workers. In 1966, the Queen traveled to the heart of the British economy when she visited the Welsh town of Aberfan, devastated by a coal mine avalanche. In 2019, UK coal production was just over one million tonnes.

Britain has made many changes in some aspects that have been overlooked. For example, in 1953 it was a very white country. How white he was is unknown because the census did not ask for this information until 1991. Secrecy related to same-sex couples. In the middle of the 20th century, people knew less about their faith than they do today, even though religion was more important then than it is now.

In some respects, British society appears to be reverting to coronation year patterns. Divorce was extremely rare in 1953, when there were only 30,000. The number continued to rise thereafter, reaching 160,000 in 1992, when two of the Queen’s children separated from their spouses. However, divorce again became rare; No doubt, because people are more likely to get married when they trust their partner a lot. Currently the annual divorce rate is around 100,000. London’s population is about the same as it was in the mid-20th century. During this period it lost 2 million inhabitants (due to a hasty policy of moving the working class out of the capital to new peripheral cities) and then rebuilt similarly.

The seven decades from Elizabeth’s coronation to her death set a record that will probably never be broken. Audiences for two consecutive coronations will not be so different again. Barring massive social upheaval or the emergence of life-extending new technologies, Britain will change little under Charles, William or George than it did under Elizabeth.

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