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A Black Country Coronation medal rediscovered - and the story of Dudley's delayed
celebrations

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: January 29, 2004

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Black Country curios continue to come into the Bugle offices here in Cradley Heath, and this lovely medal bought in by Lynda Laker, originally of Brierley Hill but now of Kidderminster, proved to have an interesting story hidden behind it.

The obverse reads, "H.M. Edward VII King. H.M. Alexandra Queen. Proclaimed 1901", surrounding the heads of the two monarchs rendered in relief. However, the inscription on the reverse makes it clear that the medal has definite Black Country origins, reading: "To commemorate the Coronation of the King and Queen, June 26th 1902. County Borough of Dudley, Councillor John Hughes J.P. Mayor".

The medal was found among the possessions of Lynda's late aunt, Helen Barnbrook. Helen hailed from Scotland, but had settled with her husband Arthur near his family home in Holly Hall in Dudley, and Lynda believes that the medal originally belonged to either her grandfather, Arthur Barnbrook, or his wife Laura.

Lynda was puzzled by the date on the medal, as Edward VII was actually crowned on 9th August 1902. Intrigued, she headed off to the archives and unearthed a story connected with the medal that is almost unique in the history of our land.

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, with her passed perhaps the greatest period in British history. Her Empire stretched all over the globe, and thanks to the innovations of the Industrial Revolution, the Black Country had become the very engine of this Empire. Her eldest son, Edward, was proclaimed King in her stead, and soon plans were afoot to hold a fabulous Coronation ceremony to crown the new monarch. The date was set at June 26th 1902, and soon the whole country was a-flutter with plans to mark the occasion.

Dudley was no exception. On 24th February 1902, Mayor John Hughes convened a meeting at the Town Hall to discuss how the Coronation should be celebrated. Eventually it was decided to illuminate the town's grand fountain, have a fireworks display at Dudley Castle, light up the Town Hall, engage bands to play in the Market Place and parks, and provide a dinner to all people aged 65 years or over. All of the schoolchildren in the borough would be given tea, sweets, prizes, and a specially struck medal, of which Lynda's is a fine example.

However, such celebrations were a massive undertaking, with over 1300 old people and 15,000 schoolchildren alone to be provided for. Soon local businessmen, town burgesses and Dudley worthies began to donate towards the fund generously. Eventually, over £800 was collected and spent, with the parties for the children and the elderly alone costing £387, the bands and bell ringers charging £87 16s, printing, postage and stationery coming in at a cost of over £46, and the fireworks commanding £33 18s 6d.

Dudley's High Street was transformed, fluttering with patriotic Union Jacks, standards, bunting, and streamers. Mr Cetti's furniture emporium was very prettily decorated, as were a number of other stores and private residences. The piece de resistance of the town's decorations, however, were those on the premises of Messrs. Grainger and Smith in the High Street, as shown on the left. A Royal Standard, measuring 21 feet, was flown from a new 40 foot high flag staff, while an ensign and the Danish national flag, in honour of Queen Alexandra's homeland, were hung from the balcony at the top of the building. Festoons of British flags, Danish symbols, and standards of the various colonies and dependencies of the Empire stretched across to Dr. Higg's house, and crimson bunting bearing the words "God Save the King", "Dieu et Mon Droit", and "Sits high in all the peoples' hearts", from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, added to the display. Central to the elaborate design on the shop front, however, was a crimson and white banner, over 32 feet long, proclaiming "Long May They Reign", surmounted by an enormous crown flanked by the initials of the reigning couple, "E" and "A". The whole design was fitted with over 300 electric lamps, so as to form a dazzling illuminated display at night.

However, the excited townspeople had little idea that disaster was just around the corner. With all of the preparations in place, rumours began to circulate on Tuesday 24th June that the new King was seriously ill. The Coronation committees dismissed it as malicious gossip, but special editions of the evening newspapers verified the calamitous news: the King's life was indeed in danger, and the eagerly anticipated coronation was postponed.

In the preceding five centuries, there had been only three occasions when a Coronation was postponed. That of Queen Victoria was delayed for two days when it was discovered that the original date was the anniversary of the death of her uncle, George IV, whose own coronation had been bought forward from 1st August 1821 to 19th July. However, the only record of misadventure in connection with a Coronation occurred in 1483. Young Edward V had succeeded to the throne, and the date of his coronation was set for 22nd July. However, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, incarcerated Edward in the Tower of London and seized the throne for himself. Edward died in mysterious circumstances, and Richard sat in the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey himself on 6th July, being crowned as Richard III.

At the unexpected news of Edward VII's postponement, the aldermen and councillors of Dudley immediately convened a hasty meeting, dismayed that all their carefully laid plans were in ruins. They decreed that, in the circumstances, the majority of rejoicing be curtailed. Many of the beautiful decorations draped around the centre of the town were taken down. No music, fireworks, bonfires, parades, or games were allowed, and of course the presentation of the schoolchildren's medals was deferred.

The postponement of the Coronation caused considerable trouble with the medals, as they were stamped with the intended date of 26th June 1902. It was too late to alter the medals, and as they had cost over £102 the committee did not have sufficient funds to commission a new set. It was therefore decided to go ahead and issue the medals with the incorrect date on them!

The day of 26th June dawned bright and sunny, but throughout the town there was only gloom and bitter disappointment. Services were said at chapels and churches throughout the town to pray for the King's speedy recovery, for news had reached the townspeople that he had undergone surgery. A subdued meal was dished up to the schoolchildren as planned, as the provisions had already been procured, as well as to the Insane Ward and the Infirmary. The elderly of the borough, too, received their Coronation treats: in St. Edmund's, this consisted of three quarters of a pound of beef or mutton, three quarters of a pound of new potatoes, cabbage, half a pound of plum pudding, a pint of beer, and bread and cheese. In addition, each old lady received two ounces of tea, and each old man half an ounce of tobacco! Similar provisions were laid on all over Dudley, and in Netherton and Woodside. On 27th June, the inmates of the Workhouse were also treated to a special meal.

On 30th June, the joyful news reached the townsfolk that the King was out of danger, and that his condition was much improved. Permission was given to light bonfires, but the only one actually inside the Dudley boundary was that at Woodside. This giant pile, towering some 25 feet high and containing about 20 tons of wood, was fired at 10 o'clock, and thousands clustered around the inferno. As rockets and fire balloons zipped through the night sky, hearty cheers were given for the royal family, and members of the Woodside Coronation Committee led the crowds in a lusty rendition of the National Anthem. Even this bonfire, however, was dwarfed by that at nearby Tividale, also lit on 30th June. Erected in the field at the back of St. Michael's Church, it contained an incredible 15 tons of coal and 75 tons of old wood.

The Coronation of Edward VII actually took place on Saturday 9th August 1902. On the day, Dudley's fountain was bathed in a blaze of light, as were the shops and public buildings of the town. The Conservative Club twinkled with dainty fairy lamps, and the grounds were illuminated very prettily. Fireworks were discharged from the Keep of the Castle, leaving streaks of colour across the inky sky, and the bells of the parish church rang out merrily. Bands played appropriately joyous and patriotic music in the Market Place, Castle Courtyard, Buffery Park, Grange Park, Netherton and Woodside. The children finally received their medals - albeit with the wrong date - and at last, the townsfolk could celebrate as the new Edwardian era was ushered into Dudley.

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