Coronation Weather, 1953

Worst June weather of the century?
by Philip Eden

A very large woman wreathed in smiles and a rather small austere-looking man rode down the Mall in an open carriage. The Queen of Tonga's happy mien contrasted strongly with the lowering weather, and this particular image has proved to be one of the most enduring memories of our own Queen's coronation day - 56 years ago this month.

Weatherwise, 2 June 1953 was an atrocious day in the middle of a lengthy spell of atrocious weather. May that year had been a superb month with weeks of warm sunshine interspersed with occasional thundery downpours. Eight days before Coronation Day, on the Whit Monday holiday, the temperature soared to 31.7°C in London and Surrey but there was a sudden and complete change in the weather the following day.

A cold front brought thunder-showers and a sharp drop in temperature on May 26, and from then until the middle of June the British Isles lay between high pressure over the Atlantic, usually located somewhere between Ireland and Iceland, and low pressure over the near-continent. As a result the country lay under a very cool and moist northerly airflow throughout this period. June 2 itself was a miserable, November-like day in London as far as the weather was concerned, with dull skies, a chill wind and sporadic outbreaks of rain during the morning, although it dried out gradually later on. The afternoon temperature climbed no higher than 12°C - several degrees lower than the Queen's wedding day in November six years before.

It could have been worse - other parts of England had torrential downpours that day and there were floods in Northumberland after 70mm of rain fell in short order. And the following day was even colder; the maximum on 3rd June in London was 11°C, in Birmingham it was just 8°C, and at Aberdeen only 7°C.

None of the 20th century's coronation days had been blessed with really good weather. George VI's, on May 12, 1937, was similarly cool and cloudy with rain during the first part of the morning and again in the evening; George V's, on June 22, 1911, was a disappointingly cloudy day with a chilly breeze although the rain held off; and Edward VII's, on August 9, 1902, was similarly cool and cloudy but dry with just a few fleeting flickers of sunlight.

Recalling the pictures of that procession down the Mall, I am also reminded of Noël Coward's response when asked who Queen Sarote of Tonga's companion was. "Her lunch", he said.