1953: Memories of a Suffolk farmer

THE YEAR IS 1953 and Queen Elizabeth has just acceded to the throne, following the death of her father, King George VI, the previous year.

For the first time in history the coronation ceremony and nationwide festivities were broadcast across the UK and the rest of the world.

At this time the people of Suffolk, like the rest of the country, would have been celebrating, at home or at one of the many street parties.

An event such as this was great at bringing communities together, installing a sense of patriotism in one and all, and judging by the growing interest in the 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations, this hasn’t changed much in the Queen’s 60-year reign.

Retired Suffolk farmer and CLA member Hugh Wreathall, 82, from Gatesbury’s Farm at Depden, near Bury St Edmunds, remembers the year well.

“I was coming up to 23 years old,” recalls Mr Wreathall. “We had no electricity at the farm so we didn’t have a television to watch Her Majesty on that day.

“We didn’t have a car on the road then, but we all went off to the village greens and halls to have a good time. When it got too wet we went into the local schools. In fact they really became the centre for the community to celebrate. The children were in their fancy dress and there was a lot of expectation and joy in the air.

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“That said, I do remember feeling sorry for Princess Elizabeth, in the sense that she had been enjoying herself one minute, then the next, when the King died, she had to grow up very quickly and become Queen.”

Pausing for a beat, Mr Wreathall, deep in thought, adds: “Actually, thinking back, I got to glimpse King George VI when I was a boy. He was on his way to the Priory in Clare because there were a lot of soldiers in the area at the time.”

“Anyway,” he continues, “coronation day was a very cold and wet day – in fact it was miserable. But it did feel like a fresh era was beginning and the weather couldn’t dampen our spirits.

“It was very different from today, and when you look back, the changes to farm life are remarkable. It was the time when there was a big changeover from horse to machinery. We’d not had our combine harvester long and corn was about �20/tonne. The cheapest we ever sold wheat for then was 16s 6d per Hundred Weight.”

Mr Wreathall, who bought the farm along with his father and brothers in 1954, having been tenants since 1946, says the mixed arable family farm, which his son George now runs, is doing well, despite the inevitable ups and downs of the last six decades.

“We’re high cold and heavy out here near Bury St Edmunds, so we’re limited to what we can do,” he says. “But we have a good rotation and produce wheat, beans, rape and barley in the main. The farm will take every shilling you throw at it.”

Looking back on 1953, Mr Wreathall suddenly recollects that it was a poignant year for him – not just because of the Queen but because he had just become a father for the second time. “Do you know,” he says, “no wonder that year sticks out for me, I’d almost forgotten that my second daughter, Josephine, was born then. No wonder it was a fantastic time for us Wreathalls!”