History of Street Parties
Our collective memories of taking part in a street party are what has created this street party culture which is specific to the UK. The positive memories of taking part, enjoying food and games with neighbours in our street without traffic for a day encourages us to hold them again.
So where did this tradition come from?
Street parties organised by residents on a mass basis in the UK seem to have started in 1919 as ‘Peace Teas’ after World War I as a treat mainly for children in those times of hardship – see this short video:
19th July 1919 was declared Peace Day and a bank holiday in Britain by a committee chaired by the then Foreign Secretary. Although 11th November 1918 saw the end of fighting, the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919.
The peace committee was set up to decide how Britain would publicly mark the end of the war and do justice to the widespread feelings of jubilation and relief.
In addition to major national and town events, ‘peace teas’ were encouraged and were formal sit down affairs mainly for the children, many poor and orphaned after the war and the 1918/19 global flu epidemic. This is why street parties have until recently focused on children sitting down for a tea.
After then this uniquely British tradition developed, mainly in England and Wales, as residents continued to organise them on all major national days of celebration – see below.
Street parties would have evolved out of earlier traditions of street dressing, tea parties, parades, banquets and fancy dress parties with children for national occasions – see below. This is also why we use bunting, which is usually erected at a street party.
Today – Street parties are now being held at any time for all ages and for the neighbourly fun of it, and to build community spirit at the street level. They are a more relaxed BBQ and bring food-to-share arrangement, and the kids can play freely. Bristol is the UK’s street party capital with over 100 held each year.
1919 ‘Peace Teas’ for children after the 1st World War
The start of street parties on a mass basis was a special treat for children as part of the peace celebrations and who were suffering after the war and the Great Influenza, known in the UK as ‘Spanish flu’, which actually started in the USA.
A family memory of 1919 Peace Tea:
“Family photos of a Peace Tea in Townmead Road, Fulham, London. My mother was the youngest of 12 and she told me that most of her siblings were there, along with my cousin Teddy and other family who lived at number 8.” (Angela Smith 2013)
1935 Silver Jubilee of King George V
The earliest living memory of a street party is of Ron Maddin who remembers having a street party in Sydenham, London on May 6th 1935. “I was seven at the time and was very impressed! It was a huge occasion, especially for the children. My father, who was a shopkeeper on the corner of Winchfield Road and Maddin Road, decided to organise the party with the willing help of all the local people. I would say we were hard up, but happy, especially on party day!” (email March 2013).
1937 Coronation of King George VI
The earliest memory of a street party with the person in a photo is here.
See this story of regular street parties in a Leicestershire village since 1937.
Here are some interviews of street parties from 1945 onwards. On the internet there are many more pictures, and some video recordings.
1945 VE and VJ Days after World War 2
More old videos of 1945 street parties:
Gwydir Street, Cambridge https://capturingcambridge.org/petersfield/gwydir-street/gwydir-street-ve-day-party/
Street parties were also held at 50th and 60th anniversaries of VE Day in 1995 and 2005.
1951 Festival of Britain
1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
Old video in Chippenham, Wilts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5yJa_9I2hQ
1977 Silver Jubilee of the Queen
This was the biggest year when 10 million people took part in a street party, according to the BBC.
1981 Wedding of Prince Charles & Diana Spencer
Other old videos
Tonbridge, Kent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnIl9wg-WB4
There were also street parties in 1986 for the Wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson
2000/1 Millennium Summer Parties
2002 Golden Jubilee of the Queen
See more about the 2011 royal wedding here.
2012 Diamond Jubilee of the Queen
About 2 million people had street parties for the Diamond Jubilee – see more news here.
If you have a good group photo of your 2012 Jubilee street party we would be happy to show it here if you want – please contact us.
2016 Queen’s 90th Birthday
About ½ million people joined in about 5000 street parties as is the tradition for this national event on 11/12th June. See more here.
If you have a good group photo of your 2016 street party we would be happy to show it here if you want – please contact us.
2023 Coronation of King Charles III
STREET DRESSING Before Street Parties started
Street parties would have evolved out of earlier traditions.
Before 1919 there had been a long held history of residents dressing streets for national occasions, using flags, garlanded material, sometimes with an arch. Residents in streets probably developed this from parades, tea parties and banquets in villages or towns. Some examples are shown below.
This seemed to be the general pattern up until 1919, though street dressing without a street party or tea continues to this day.
Street dressing at some unknown time came to be dominated by commercially available bunting. This is usually made of strings of triangular ‘pennants‘ which were probably originally based on naval signal flags. See more detail here.
This history is what we learned from the public over the years and from our project in 2013. Please contact us with any quality photos, videos or websites of old street parties. Many thanks to the many contributors of stories and photos, directly and online.