Viewing the Procession

Viewing the Procession

Once upon a time, the houses with a good view of the Abbey and of the route of the Coronation Procession, had a clause in the lease which entitled the landlord to activate a nice little sideline in extra income in the event of a coronation or state event. This clause allowed him to sell seats to view the procession, meaning complete strangers to the tenants could be sold access to their houses on the whim of the landlord.

The practice of utilising prime views from upper windows and even rooftops in the buildings along the route of various processions continues today.

The prices of these prime seats varied in different reigns. Before we begin to look at the ticket prices for each monarch, we should perhaps give a little information about the currency pre-decimalisation for those who are not familiar with it, have forgotten its vagaries and for those overseas who never had to deal with its eccentricities.

Pre-1971, the UK currency was pounds (£), shillings (s) and pence (d). There was also the guinea, (£1 1s), and the farthing, a coin that had become less popular in the mid-1950s and was discontinued in 1961.

In ‘old money’ the following calculations are key:

One Pound = 20 shillings
One Shilling = 12 pennies
One Penny = 4 farthings or 2 half pennies

Coinage consisted of: farthing (a quarter of a penny), half penny, threepenny bit, sixpence, shilling (12d), two shillings, half crown (2s 6d), crown (5s), and a half sovereign (10s, which was also available as a paper note).

After 1971, the UK's coinage consisted of pounds (£) and pence (p). Not all coinage was retained. The shilling became 5p, two shillings became 10p, ten shillings became 50p. The new 2p, 1p and half penny coins, could not be exactly converted to 'old money'; the half penny was discontinued not long after.

At Edward I’s coronation the price for a seat was half a farthing, so one eighth of an old penny. At Edward II’s the people had doubled either their wealth or their passion for royal shows, for the price had risen to an entire farthing.

At Edward III’s it was a half penny. Fifty years later, at Richard II’s it was a whole penny, and that same price was charged at Henry IV’s Coronation twenty years later. For Henry V and VI the price was twopence.

After this the market was subject to violent fluctuations ranging from a penny to zero. Not a very lucrative time for landlords looking to cash in on the latest royal event. Until, at the coronation of Edward IV in 1461, the price of a seat was twopence once more. This was the price also for the coronations of Richard III (1483) and Henry VII (1485).

At the coronation of Henry VIII, the market had an upward bound, and as much as fourpence was asked and obtained for a seat to ‘view the procession’. A whopping £17.92, in today’s money.

This price of fourpence was upheld for Edward VI in 1547, and Mary in 1553. But when Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1559, the price of a seat to view the process had risen fifty per cent to sixpence (two and a half pence in today’s money, but with inflation the equivalent price would be £10.67). After this coronation the price of a seat to view history in the making and demonstrating loyalty rose rapidly. For the coronation of James I in 1603 and Charles I’s in 1626, each seat brought the landlord a shilling. In 1661, a seat to view Charles II’s coronation would set you back the princely sum of a half crown, the most rapid advance on record.

Twenty-four years later, James II obtained the same price of a half crown, while just four years later, in 1689, William and Anne obtained a whole crown, or 5s (25p in today’s money, but the equivalent of £51 today). The price of 5s was again charged for the coronation of George I in 1714 but by the time of George II’s coronation in 1727, the viewers bid up to a half guinea (10s 6d). For George III’s in 1761, prices sprang up to an extravagance unparalleled, when some of the houses that had a view of the procession cleared sales from £700 to £1,000 (£120k to £170k today), and ground for the scaffolds was let in some situations at three and four guineas a foot (£3 3s (£3.15) to £4 4s (£4.20) or today £538-£717 per foot).

In 1902, seats to view the coronation procession could be obtained at prices ranging from £2 23s (£3.15) to £10 10s 3d (£10.51) apiece, though some specially well-favoured positions fetched even higher prices.

Image, top: The Royal progress in the City of London at the coronation of George V on 23 June 1911.

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