Excerpts from Paul Smyth's Diary

Recollections of Edward VII Coronation Day September 21st 1903

Now, when I look back on the events of last year, I begin to see that the year witnessed an event unique in the history of England and unique in the history of the world; for his Gracious Majesty was crowned not only King of Great Britain and Ireland, but also of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, which term comprehends the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

In this little description of my personal experiences, I intend to keep as far as possible to a simple narrative of what I did, of course the great happenings on that day will form the theme of many an able pen, and so I shall only briefly touch on them.

Well the day of the coronation dawned, that coronation which many people firmly believed would not take place. When my father, brother Charles, sister Maude awoke, we looked out and saw that it was grey morning. We went out of the house soon after 3 o’clock in the morning, it was chilly and so we walked briskly. We met not a single person till we got to Highgate Road, and only saw one light in a window but as we went on through Kentish and Camden Town the number of people about increased, until in Tottenham Court Road the numbers were considerable. The greater part of these was roisterers coming home from midnight debauches, and the unsteady gait of most of them told of wine and spirit taken in anything but moderation.

Still walking briskly we went down Charing Cross Road and Shaftsbury Avenue, here the unwonted sight of seeing the streets cleaned by means of a stream of water from a fire hose attracted our attention. As we drew near the route of the procession the decorations become finer, and we were much impressed by the decorations in the Criterion. And now we emerged into Piccadilly Circus, which was almost as much alive as it is in the daytime. It is still dusky and grey, and Piccadilly with its lovely decorations has something decidedly unusual about it.

The decorations of Burlington House were fine, thousands of Chinese lanterns added greatly to the effect. Princes again was fine. Baroness Burdett Coutts, Carlton Club and the French Embassy looked especially grand. But how can I describe St James’ Street, that street of wealthy aristocratic clubs? On either side tall masts which serve as support for thousands of green garlands which crossed and recrossed the street. Here and there judiciously placed among this foliage were models of doves with out stretched wings to typify the recent and long desired peace. Well we continued among the ever-increasing throng to Hyde Park Corner, the Green Park being not yet opened, we turned down Constitution Hill till we emerged by Buckingham Palace gates. The Green Park gates being still shut, someone suggested that we should scale the gates. This we did, ladies being helped over with many willing hands. Well here we were at our desired point of view, a place from which we could see the procession emerge from the palace and see them go along The Mall.

We went across the park and secured four seats at a penny each and placed them right against the railings. A score or so of undesirable characters obtained these chairs from the park authorities as we did and then lent them to people for a shilling or half a crown. This of course caused a good deal of quarrelling for these men placed about 20 seats in position in the front against the railings, and would let no one get near who would not pay, but as we had obtained our own seats we had no trouble with these pests. But they met their match in an old lady who quietly took possession of one of their seats but firmly declined to pay more than a penny for it. Expostulations and begging were all in vain for the old lady retain her seat, meeting all their objections with a smile and a smart retort.

Well it was only 6 o’clock and we had three long hours to wait. Just as the sun commenced to tint the thick pall of grey thick clouds the air became very chill and I was glad to put on the mackintosh I had bought with me.

Unfortunately the account ends here.

Further Diary Entries

1919 Easter. To Houghton Huntingdonshire – painting. Willie Milne is living in Houghton. We stayed at “Jolly Butchers”.

27th April – A foot of snow.

1923. To Doughty House Richmond. Sir Herbert Cooke party of students in afternoon. Saw Van Eyck’s masterpiece.

July and August. Went to Dovercourt with family. Did painting at Wrabness and Mistley on Stour.

1924 Easter. With party to Paris. Stayed at Hotel St Petersbourg.

1925 Easter. Took party to Bruges and Ghent. Stayed at Hotel St Hubert.

1926 Easter. Took party to Paris, Venice, Milan and Turin. Sketches out of train on Alps. Sketch of Rialto.

August. With John Heir to Caudebec on the Seine. Did fifty sketches. Stayed at Hotel de la Marine.

October. Exhibition at Highgate Literary Institute with John Ledeverd and Phil Swinnerton (brother of the author).

1927. Elsie and I had tea with Sir Herbert Cooke at Doughty House Richmond and His Imperial Highness Prince George of Russia in the smoking room.

Easter. Took party to Paris. Stayed at Hotel Apollo near Gare du Nord.

August. With family at Dovercourt. Stayed at Wrabness. Painted pictures of Harwich and Mistley.

October. Exhibition at Highgate Literary Institute. Lady Waley-Cohen bought two pictures of mine.

November – December. Exhibition with H. Thirlwall at Basement Gallery 39 Gerrard Street.

1928 Easter. With Choc Thirlwall to Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Delft, The Hague and Haarlem. Did several pictures as well as sight seeing.

August. Went with Choc Thirlwall to Rochester. Kent and then I went on to Aylesford.

September. Moved to 32 Dartmouth Park Avenue Highgate.

1929 March 9th Started as Headmaster at Upper Marylebone St. LCC School.

Easter. Took party to Bruges and Ghent.

August. With family to Bournemouth. Visited Chepstow, went by car. Painted Wye Valley and Chepstow.

December. Held exhibition of water colours at home in drawing room. Pictures of Bournemouth, Wye Valley, Hampstead, Bruges, Gibraltar and Egypt.

1930 Easter. Took a party of students from City Literary Institute to Florence, Rome, Genoa, Milan. Saw all the paintings in Florence. Painted picture of the Ponte Vecchio and also a sketch. In Rome did no sketches. Went to St Gottard in Switzerland.

December. Exhibition at 85 Lancaster Gate. A very fine oak panelled room. All watercolours shown.

1931 May. Took party to White Lodge Richmond Park. Received by Viscount Lee of Fareham who showed us round personally.

August. With family to Broadstairs. Painted at Sturry and Fordwich.

December. Exhibition at home in Drawing Room.

1932 Easter. To Ipplepen

August. With family to Ipplepen. Stayed with Edie. (His sister) painted pictures of Torbrian, Totnes etc.

1933. Started as Headmaster of Old Oak Senior Boys School W.2.

Easter. Took a party of thirty to Bruges. Weather fine. Went to Ghent to see Van Eyck Alterpiece. Painted sketches of Oost Port.

August. At Canvey. Painted about fifty pictures of Canvey.

November. Exhibition of my watercolours at Parsons Gallery Oxford St. W1.

1934. Easter At Canvey

August. At Canvey and then to St Margarets Roding near Fyfield where I did three weeks good painting.

1938 March. Moved to 27 Valley Avenue North Finchley.

1939. Evacuated with school to Oxford. Led a party of 500 children and superintended the billeting.

1942. Headmaster of Wormholt Park LCC Senior Boys School W12 Made arrangements for 25 foreign representatives of U.N educational bodies U.NE.S.C.A. to visit.

1952 October. Painted large mural in dining room of St Elizabeth’s home in Mayfield Avenue, North Finchley.

1956. Painted murals at Winifred House Convalescent Home Arkley.

The Artist

Paul was born and grew up in Highgate, London. He started painting when he was 7 years old. By the time he was 65 years old he had painted 4000 pictures.

In 1913 he had a picture hung in the Royal Academy a the 145th exhibition. Throughout his career as a teacher and after he retired, he continued to paint until his death in 1963. In 1949 he founded the Finchley Art Society which still meets twice weekly and encourages the talent of local artists.