Acorns from the King: the rest of the story of Coronation Gardens

I know the excitement is over but…here’s the rest of the not-so-short history of Coronation Gardens which will bring it right up to date.

For the coronation of Edward VIII things were planned to be more organised horticulturally. In August 1936 the Marquis of Lothian chaired a meeting of  about thirty organisations interested in  trees  and gardens more generally who then joined forces to form the Coronation Planting Committee.  


 Edward’s sister-in-law, the Duchess of York, lent  her active support saying that she hoped their “proposals will be enthusiastically taken up, for now is the opportunity for our generation with the advice and good taste of the committee to add to the lasting beauty of our towns, villages and countryside.”   It was to be her last public speech as a Duchess because on December 10th Edward abdicated and she became Queen Elizabeth . 

Amongst the committee’s members  were the landscape architect Lady Allen of Hurtwood,  who acted as chair, garden writer Marion Cran, Sir Lionel Earle a senior civil servant and son of Mrs CW Earle the garden writer,  and Richard St. Barbe Baker, founder of Men of the Trees [now International Tree Federation]


The change of  monarch did not throw the committee off course and between them they came up with a long list of possibilities of “creating a more beautiful Britain.”  The underlying principle was to encourage permanent rather than transient schemes  and these included laying-out of new parks and gardens, reclamation and planting of waste space,  and planting more trees not only in parks and the streets, but alongside main roads and railway embankments too. They offered designs for laying out model playgrounds and allotment gardens, and also organised  a competition to see which village could best beautify its surroundings. There were plans too for a permanent garden theatre, and for an Empire Park planted with trees from different dominions and colonies.

” A royal approach to a royal castle”. The double elm avenue at Windsor,                                                   from For King and Countryside. 1936

Shields Daily Gazette – Friday 04 December 1936.      The maker of miniature gardens referred to is Anne Ashberry, subject of a previous post.

Of course they also wanted some quick and easy results for the day itself so they suggested such things as the decoration of lamp standards, and a coordinated campaign to encourage window box displays.   

The committee issued a series of pamphlets with advice on many of their suggestions, and they commissioned a  commemorative plaque to distinguish all the trees that would  be planted for the Coronation trees. This was “simple and dignified, with a raised crown” and an inscription “so that all trees planted by amateur gardeners as a private memento of the Coronation can now become an authentic part of the nationwide effort.”  It was designed by Joseph Armitage who had recently won the competition for the National Trust oak leaf emblem.

To help make a choice of suitable trees the committee suggested long-lived oaks and yews, but thought many other kinds including fruit trees and flowering trees, both native and exotic also had a place.

It was oaks that proved the most popular, helped by the scheme reported on  in November 1936 in Reynolds News.   “The annual conker collecting craze has a new rival this season. It is the acquisition of acorns—from the Great Park at Windsor, playground of the kings and queens of Britain. Throughout the park’s 1,800 acres, collectors are shovelling up countless bushels of acorns, blown from the trees by the recent high winds. The acorns are being packed in sacks and sent to the Coronation Planting Committee’s headquarters in London.”

What you might ask was the Planting Committee going to do with them?  The answer was simple. They were going to give them away to every child in the country  to grow “royal  oaks”.  The scheme was sponsored by the Roads Beautifying Association which seems to have been associated with the Automobile Association.   Given that the mid-1930s had seen the spread of suburbia often in ribbon developments  the committee felt their “plan is likely to make a wide  appeal to occupants of new houses  flanking the arterial roads” so that “in years to come, every great highway may well be an avenue of  1937 Coronation trees.”

It was decided to offer the king “a record of tree planting and amenity schemes, both public and private, organised in commemoration of the Coronation in Great Britain and in overseas Empire.”   They gathered information of about 15,000 projects and celebrated “the completion of their work in a fat and exceedingly handsome volume entitled The Royal Record.”  So what’s in the book?  It isn’t yet available digitally but thanks to the Devon and Exeter Institution Library I can tell you it includes the following introduction:

‘The following pages are a notable tribute of loyalty and affection … the method adopted allowed the smallest hamlet to bear its share in the commemoration; a tree, a single tree would be planted where circumstances or space permitted no more.  Elsewhere the scheme would be more ambitious, and we read of an avenue being laid out a mile long, of fifty cherry trees being planted by fifty schoolboys – of a group here, a grove there, even of a little forest of twenty thousand trees… The tree is the longest lived of all living things on earth, and has been happily chosen to symbolise profound respect and deep gratitude for the Coronation Solemnity of Your Majesties’.

Is this the Coronation hawthorn in Ashburton?

It then goes on to list tree planting and dedications  throughout  the UK by county, although there are many others listed from all parts of the then empire, country by country.  You get a sense of the scale of the project from a quick look at some of the Devon entries: from a double avenue of White Horse-chestnut trees in Exmouth, via 45 wild cherry trees across the parish to Drewsteignton to a single pink hawthorn next to the war memorial in Ashburton.

It begs the question how many of those 15,000 are still there, recognised, maintained  and recorded?  I bet there’s a PhD project in that for someone!

Now what about the gardens that were created?

I can only find two places that wanted to mark the intended coronation of Edward VIII with a new park.  One was in Rhyl in North Wales where about 10 acres of farmland was acquired, next door to the town’s Botanic Gardens.   A public meeting decided that Coronation Gardens should be laid out on part of the site at an estimated cost of  £5,000, together with a further two-acre Memorial Garden while the rest should be one of the King George’s Fields which I mentioned last week. £40,000 was raised, largely by public subscription to pay for it all.

The abdication put paid to plans for it to  be called  the “King Edward VIII Gardens and Recreation Ground”, and instead instead it was to become Coronation Gardens to mark the accession of his  brother, George VI. Only the playing fields were completed  by the time the  war started in 1939 and  post-war further development was abandoned.  So Coronation Gardens are really only Coronation Playing Fields.

There’s a full history of the site in an article by Glynis Shaw of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust and a  recent update on its fate  on the website of the Rhyl History Club

The other place where the abdication in December, 1936, proved extremely inconvenient was Berwick where the Corporation were well on their way with a programme of tree planting and a new park to mark Edward’s coronation. However it was a simple matter to switch the dedication to the new king  in time for George VI’s coronation 12th May 1937. Part of the same programme was a second garden at Tweedmouth at the other end of the new  Royal Tweed Bridge. There has been a recent  renovation project and Berwick’s  parks are lucky enough to have an active friends group.



Elsewhere there were  quite a few parks specifically inspired by or dedicated to  George VI’s coronation.

I haven’t space to describe  them all but if you know of ones other than those below then please  let me know.

One  was almost incidentally created at Penrith in Cumberland in 1938 when the gardens of two houses acquired and converted into a new Town Hall were turned into public open space  and named to mark his Coronation.

A similar almost chance new park was created when Sedgely Council, now part of Dudley, bought The Limes, a large Victorian villa for use as their offices  and  turned the formal front garden into public open space naming it in honour of the new king.


At West Kirby on the Wirral the  Coronation Gardens  were laid out as traditional seaside gardens on sand dunes, with soil having to be imported, and a wall built to keep the sea out!  The park was, like so many others well maintained until the 1970s when it went into decline, planting and maintenance reduced and features removed or not repaired.

Once again thank goodness for  a Friends Group  who have stepped in and helped find funding to reverse this trend with a  5 year management plan being agreed in 2016.







A generous benefactor Charles Gillbard donated land and paid for a swimming pool and other sporting facilities and planting for a new park in Launceston in Cornwall.  It was run by trustees until it was taken over by the local authority just after the war, after which it fell into slow decline.  Luckily it is now back in the hands of trustees and volunteers. For more information see the  Launceston Then website.


Another generous donor gave probably the most impressive garden  connected with George VI’s coronation.  It’s on Jersey and was laid out in the 1930s on land given to the island by Florence Boot in memory of her husband Jesse, 1st Baron Trent, after his death in 1931.

Designed by Milner Son and White, the local Historic Environment Record says it is “a rare, extensive and complex inter-War formal seaside public park… [and] a fine design laid out at a period when few such complex parks were being created.”

It lies on the seaward side of the road to the Trents house, Villa Millbrook, and the gift came with a restrictive covenant forbidding the planting of trees or shrubs that might grow so tall as to impair the sea view from the villa.

Originally known as Coronation Gardens it is now perhaps better known as Millbrook Park and was, apparently,  once voted Best Public Park in the British Isles. Having visited during a trip to Jersey pre-pandemic to speak to the Jersey Gardening Club I can see why.

More land was recently gifted to the park and the government held a consultation about its use, which has resulted in new play areas for children, which are clearly already being well-used. More information at


So what about the planting that happened for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953?

Perhaps it was the gradual lifting of wartime gloom,  perhaps the realisation that parks had suffered severely during the conflict and were an easy way of restoring morale, perhaps that it was to celebrate the arrival a glamorous and popular young queen that changed the atmosphere but her coronation seems to have inspired a whole range of new garden and park designs, as well as an amazing amount of tree planting especially because, once again, acorns from the Windsor Great Park  were sent round  the whole country and  the Commonwealth.

Wartime damage was  the reason behind the laying out of Coronation Gardens in central Liverpool in 1953. Liverpool was the most heavily bombed city outside of London during the Blitz, and the new garden marked the start of the city’s redevelopment post 1945.

They were, however, only ever supposed to be temporary although they ended up lasting until the late 1960s before sadly vanishing when the entire area was rebuilt.  Since then it has been redeveloped again as the huge Liverpool One scheme. I wonder how many Liverpudlians would have preferred the gardens to have remained?




Of course the early 1950s were still a time of post-war austerity,  with food rationing still in force,  so many garden schemes were almost inevitably on a smaller scale.  The London Gardens Trust parks  inventory lists  minor improvements such as some new ornamental gates at Brookmill  Park, Lewisham,  a fountain was installed in the circular pond  in front of  the Walthamstow Town Hall campus,  and some sculptures placed in Pryor’s Bank Gardens, Fulham. Additionally  several small  squares and other public gardens were also redesigned


For example, Thornhill Square in Islington which had been privately owned until it was given to the local council in 1947 was redesigned for the coronation.

Meanwhile the former burial ground of St. Edwards Church, Romford was taken over and designated Coronation Gardens.

Romford’s population had increased dramatically during the 19thc and  a new cemetery was opened and the existing one acre site closed in 1875. It was  taken over by the Romford Urban District Council but it wasn’t until the 1930s that plans  were drawn up  to convert it to a memorial garden or garden of rest.

Nothing happened until after the war when the small Victorian chapel was demolished, the plot levelled and  the headstones moved to the rear edge of what was to become the new garden.  The former churchyard wall and railings were retained, along with the lychgate which now serves as the entrance, while the base of the chapel was turned into  a raised rose bed.  Later the Romford War Memorial which had to be moved from its previous site was moved here too.

There is more information on the Havering Library Facebook page, and on the London Gardens Trust inventory of the capital’s parks and gardens.

Out of London,  Berwick created another Coronation Garden – this time largely of roses – to add to the two which it already had!

More information about all 3 on the berwicktimelines blog


There’s a lovely account on the local heritage website of how  Girl Guides and Brownies decided to make better use of a roadside  site in Thrapston in Northants. In 1953 they created an area with flower beds and seats and obtained sponsorship to pay for the work, naming it Coronation Gardens in honour of the new queen.  Once again dereliction set in because the land was owned by the County Council and not the local village. Eventually  the Town Council bought the land for £1 , improved the gardens and officially opened them in 1994.


Another lovely story – sadly too long to include in detail here -comes from Waddington in Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, where the new owners of a large but derelict house with a big garden found maintenance of the land something of a problem, particularly a section on the other side of a stream which crossed the property. The solution was found in offering it to the village in return for its upkeep. The village web site tells how the offer was readily accepted.  “The village, elated by the success of their Festival of Britain festivities in the previous year, were considering some way of celebrating the Queen’s Coronation. ‘Some lasting memento’ of the event was sought. A garden created out of a wilderness with a stone bridge instead of the old rustic bridge which had already fallen to pieces could hardly be improved upon.”

Some of the Queen’s Beasts at Hall Place, Bexley

It details the ups and downs of the gardens history since then, once again highlighting the enormous contribution made by volunteers and the webpage carries a plea that I know will be echoed by every other public garden and park. “Before reading on, please consider becoming a volunteer and join us in keeping the Gardens the beautiful focal point of the village that they have been for over 70 years.”

I’ve left my favourite contribution to the late queen’s coronation until last, because I’ve written about it before but if you’re anywhere near Bexley in south-east London go and take a look at the Queen’s Beasts planted there in 1953.

Chris Riley, retired head gardener at Hall Place, Bexley, returns to trim the topiary Queen’s Beasts Photo by Andrew Hasson, from the Times , 26th Sept 2020


And  finally what’s happening in connection with Charles III’s coronation?  Despite the king’s well known love of gardens, gardening and the environment I hadn’t seen much sign of many new parks to memorialise the event. However   English Heritage are setting a great example to other organisations and authorities with their project to celebrate Charles’s coronation  by creating, restoring  or enhancing  one hundred meadows at their sites . Then, just as I was finishing this post, I saw that one town had opened a new garden on Coronation Day itself.  Antrim and Newtownabbey Council commissioned Diarmuid Gavin to create a new park Click here to hear his interview with BBC Radio Ulster about it. Judging by the photos it is certainly going to put the town on the horticultural tourist map for many years to come and I’m sure Charles and Camilla will be looking forward to seeing it for themselves!



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