Opinion: Life comes full circle as I sit in same house to watch Charles crowned - 70 years after his mother

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Dogsthorpe resident, Toby Wood, now lives in what was his grandparents’ house – where he tuned in to watch the Queen’s coronation in 1953.

On Saturday, 6 May, life rather comes full circle for me.

I will be sitting at home and will probably turn on my flat-screen, HD, colour television to watch at least part of the coronation of King Charles III.

Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m not an ardent royalist but the fact is that the royal family has been parallel to my life.

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Toby Wood will be watching the Coronation on TV at his home at Newark Avenue where he watched Queen Elizabeth crowned in 1953 as a one-year-old (image: David Lowndes)Toby Wood will be watching the Coronation on TV at his home at Newark Avenue where he watched Queen Elizabeth crowned in 1953 as a one-year-old (image: David Lowndes)
Toby Wood will be watching the Coronation on TV at his home at Newark Avenue where he watched Queen Elizabeth crowned in 1953 as a one-year-old (image: David Lowndes)

I have played cricket with a ten-year-old Princess Anne at Barnwell and bumped into Queen Elizabeth II on Holkham beach but they’re tales for another day.

So, why does King Charles’ coronation matter to me?

Well, it just so happens that my first ever memory is of sitting on a rickety wooden stool in my grandparents’ house whilst, in front of me, my father and grandfather struggled to get a new rented black-and-white television set to work.

The date was 2 June, 1953 and I was 22 months old.

The picture flickered into life and we sat watching the regal spectacle unfold, the coronation of Charles’s mother – Queen Elizabeth II.

You may think there’s nothing remarkable in that until I impart that, on 6 May, 2022, I shall be sitting in exactly the same house as I was over 70 years ago, a mere six feet away from the place where that grainy black-and-white TV was situated.

I now live in what was my grandparents’ house.

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Readers may correctly surmise that I am not widely travelled. Sunny Hunny and Wells-Next-The-Sea are my foreign holidays.

My personal situation may not have changed but Peterborough’s has

My early memories of Peterborough are of the Market Square, as opposed to Cathedral Square, (complete with traffic smoke and exhaust fumes).

Then, the Cattle Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Timothy Whites, Mac Fisheries, Purdy’s café, Watkins & Stafford, Shelton’s, Oliver Carley’s toy shop, D’Arcy’s, Fairways and Sturton’s the Chemists.

My Peterborough entertainment was Jess Conrad in panto at the Embassy theatre, Michael Caine in the film Zulu at the Odeon cinema, amateur plays at the Elwes Hall and sitting on tractors once a year at the annual agricultural show on the Old Showground in Eastfield Road.

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Once a year we would go on holiday to Cromer, catching a train from the East station.

My childhood Peterborough was waves of Perkins workers weaving their way home on bicycles, works hooters, Brotherhoods and Baker Perkins.

My Peterborough smelled of soot from brick chimneys, smoke from the steam engines at the 34E New England sheds, and the putrid smell emanating from the sugar beet factory.

My sporting Peterborough was Northamptonshire cricket at Stanley Road cricket ground, Terry Bly, Jim Hall, Peter McNamee at London Road and later watching Geoff Capes on the telly.

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Peterborough soldier 'excited to be part of such historic event' as he prepares ...

My growing up

My growing up in the Soke of Peterborough consisted of nuns at Manor House Street Infants school, falling over and grazing my knees at Dogsthorpe Infants school, country dancing at Dogsthorpe Juniors and later Mr Rogers, Mr Kuras and Betty Chambers at All Souls/St Thomas More schools.

My childhood consisted of marbles, conkers, Dinky toys, Hornby train sets, splinters, Chinese burns and sixpence a week pocket money.

Later I would go with my mates to Sages Lane, Walton to do some trainspotting or go on a bike ride to Stamford.

Local politics was Harmar Nicholls, Roy Westcombe, Charles Swift and my dad going to union meetings.

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As a teenager I well remember, many years later, the general election of 1966 when Harmar Nicholls beat Michael Ward by 23,944 to 23,941 – three votes – after eight hours and seven recounts.

Leslie Tait, the city’s chief education officer, reportedly knew the names of every teacher in the city.

Fast forward to 2023

My Peterborough is in equal measures very different now – yet unchanged.

Ironically, people are now moving back to the centre to live, not into tight little city centre Victorian streets – Nelson Street, Wood Street and Milton Street - but into the myriad of new flats or converted office blocks.

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Stand in the city centre for more than ten minutes and you’ll be converted into flats.

The city centre is no longer filled with Peterborough/Fen good old boys saying, “See yer Sat’dy, all bein’ well”.

You are just as likely to hear voices speaking in Eastern European tongues or languages from the middle and far east.

Will I still be in the same house for William’s coronation?

So, as I sit and watch King Charles’s coronation with its pomp pageantry and state coaches (with or without air conditioning), my thoughts will be of my family, friends, Peterborough and the wider world.

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Readers will all have their own views about the things that have improved, worsened or stayed the same in our city.

It stands to reason that King Charles will not emulate the 70-year-long reign of his mother but we could all have a great deal of fun trying to speculate as to the changes during his reign.

And I will quietly muse – will I still be in the same house for the coronation of the next monarch (presumably King William V) and on what sort of device will I watch his coronation?