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Geoffrey Fisher crowns the Queen!

Written by volunteer tour guide Lee Copeland.

Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Baron Fisher of Lambeth, GCVO, PC (5 May 1887 – 15 September 1972) was an English Anglican priest, and the 99th Archbishop of Canterbury, serving from 1945 to 1961.

On the rainy day of 2 June 1953, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place at Westminster Abbey and the entire country joined the celebration. Although it poured down all day (typical of British weather), people throughout the country continued to hold parties in their villages, towns and cities. The roads in London were packed with people, many of whom had spent the night before sleeping on pavements waiting for the special day to begin.

For the first time in history, people were going to be able to watch a monarch’s coronation in their own homes. It had been announced earlier in the year that the crowning of the Queen would be televised and, television sales rocketed ahead of the big day. Those without their own television gathered in  neighbours houses, those who were lucky enough to have their own television set.

Televising the coronation caused dispute among members of government, some of whom thought it would not be right and proper to televise such a solemn occasion. Along with the archbishop, Sir Winston Churchill urged the Queen to spare herself the heat and glare of the camera and pressured her to refuse for the ceremony to be televised. The Queen made her decision, her motivation clear; nothing must stand between her crowning and her people’s right to participate.

On the day when the Queen arrived at Westminster Abbey, there was a problem … the Carpet! The carpet had been laid with the pile running the wrong way meaning the Queen’s robes would not glide easily.  During the ceremony, the metal fringe on the Queen’s golden mantel caught in the pile of the carpet as she tried to move forward. The Queen had to tell the Archbishop of Canterbury to ‘get me started’.

Finally, the Crowning Ceremony took place exactly as it is laid down in history. After being handed the four symbols of authority – the orb, the sceptre, the rod of mercy and the royal ring of sapphire and rubies – the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, placed on her head the St Edward’s crown (this crown which is only ever used for crowning) to complete the ceremony. The whole country, and those watching on their television sets, joined as one in celebration of the historic moment.

Who was Dr Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and how does he relate to Fulham Palace?

The long-serving Bishop of London, Bishop Winnington-Ingram, retired in 1939 at the age of 81.

During his 38-year tenure, the diocese was split apart by factions and came close to disintegrating. It was clear that Winnington-Ingram’s successor must be a man with a strong hand, and Geoffrey Fisher was seen as a suitable replacement.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, sought reassurance that Fisher was doctrinally sound. Winnington-Ingram told Chamberlain that Fisher was ‘undoubtedly a man of deep personal religion. His piety is that of the best type of English layman … he is very shy and humble about it’, Chamberlain was reassured and recommended to King George VI that Fisher should succeed Winnington-Ingram. The King approved the appointment.

The Second World War had broken out shortly before Fisher took up his London post and from September 1940 onward the city suffered nightly bombing. Twenty three Wren City churches were bombed by 1941and some were beyond repair. Urgent action was needed to deal with the devastated parishes. Bishop Fisher took the lead in the church assembly and in the House of Lords, and the resulting measure was largely his work. It has been documented that Fisher showed courtesy, skill, and determination in ‘defeating ultra-conservative attitudes which would have prevented any episcopal intervention even in severely blitzed areas’.

Fisher, in the words of an article printed in the Times newspaper, went about his duties ‘with a calm diligence which won general respect’ during the war and returned each night to sleep in the cellar at Fulham Palace. The trap door that leads to the cellars can still be seen today in the Porteus Library

What a career with such defining moments as to rise from Bishop of London. From sleeping in the cellar of Fulham Palace during WW2 to crowning the Queen of England, Elizabeth the II as Archbishop of Canterbury, Fisher truly led an exciting life!