Queen ‘simply amazed’ as millions celebrated Silver Jubilee

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The Queen meets an enthusiastic crowd at St Katherine’s Dock near the Tower of London, one of the stops on her Silver Jubilee river progress (PA) (PA Archive)
The Queen meets an enthusiastic crowd at St Katherine’s Dock near the Tower of London, one of the stops on her Silver Jubilee river progress (PA) (PA Archive)

The Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee saw millions celebrating her reign at street parties across the country.

The affection shown by crowds during her Jubilee tours of the UK was a surprise even to the Queen.

“I am simply amazed. I had no idea,” a lady-in-waiting recalled Her Majesty saying over and over during her visits.

Although the accession took place in February, the main 25th anniversary celebrations were scheduled for the summer.

It was a busy year for the Queen.

In February and March, there was an Australasian and Pacific tour, and in October the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh went on a Canadian and Caribbean tour.

During the intervening months, there was a build-up of events at home, culminating in the main celebration on June 7.

On May 4, the Queen addressed Parliament, declaring: “For me, the 25th anniversary of my accession is a moving occasion.”

She went on: “These 25 years have seen much change for Britain.”

The Empire had evolved into a Commonwealth of nations and there had been advances in science, technology and medicine – including the development of television.

She also brought up the proposals for devolution, but told the politicians: “I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

“Perhaps this Jubilee is a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings, on the inhabitants of all parts of this United Kingdom.”

The United Kingdom tours followed soon after, starting in Glasgow.

At the beginning of June there was a London week, which climaxed with a river progress up the Thames, firework display and a procession of lighted carriages taking the Queen back to Buckingham Palace.

On June 6, the Queen climbed Snow Hill, near Windsor Castle, where – surrounded by thousands of children – she lit a bonfire as the signal for lighting a hundred other beacons across the country.

The next day, a million people – as many as at the Coronation – filled The Mall to see the State Coach take the Queen and Prince Philip from the Palace to St Paul’s Cathedral, followed by the Prince of Wales on horseback in the scarlet uniform and black bearskin of a Colonel of the Welsh Guards.

After the cathedral service, the Queen and her husband went on a royal walkabout through the City of London, ending at Guildhall where she addressed a luncheon in her honour.

“When I was 21, I pledged my life to the service of our people and I asked for God’s help to make good that vow,” she said.

“Although that vow was made in my salad days, when I was green in judgment, I do not regret nor retract one word of it.”

At the beginning of the year, there had been talk of royalty in the doldrums in the wake of the failed marriage of Princess Margaret.

By the autumn, the media reported the monarchy enjoying an exceptional period of popularity and security.

Lord Charteris, the Queen’s private secretary, explained: “She had a love affair with the country.

“Those who accompanied her during the tours came back with a strong sense of the popular emotion – as well as of her own pleasure in the response of the crowds, and their delight in her obvious enjoyment.”

The Silver Jubilee year of 1977 was also a time of personal celebration for the royals, with the birth of the Queen’s first grandchild and Princess Anne’s first child, Peter Phillips.