Leicester historian’s ‘elegant pages’ that provided the script for last coronation

As the nation gathers to watch as His Majesty King Charles III is crowned on 6 May, one of the most important elements in ensuring the coronation ceremony goes to plan will be an unassuming document known as the Order of Service.

For the last coronation, of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, a University of Leicester academic played a key role in ensuring the Order of Service was designed and printed to the highest quality expected of a monarch.

Professor H. P. R. Finberg, who passed away in 1974, was a Professor of English Local History and the second head of the Department of English Local History (now the Centre for Regional and Local History) at the University of Leicester. Joining Leicester in 1952, it was in the following year that Professor Finberg would make his contribution to the Order of Service used at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. 

According to Westminister Abbey’s website, ‘An order of service is a booklet that explains the structure and content of Christian services, used at everyday services as well as larger, special services such as coronations.’ It provides a script for the ceremony, detailing who will speak at which point, and contains the text for readings and hymns.

In the 1940s and early 1950s Professor Finberg was a typographical advisor to the Ministry of Works and Eyre & Spottiswoode (the Government’s printer at the time), advising them on the design, typesetting, layout and printing of books and other materials.

In a brief biography of Finberg for the Agricultural History Review in 1970, M. W. Beresford writes: ‘with a fine oecumenical toleration he also took on advisory work for Eyre & Spottiswoode Ltd, H.M. Printers, designing for them the Coronation Service of 1953’. His obituary, published in The Times on 5 November 1974, highlights the presence of his work in the ‘elegant pages’ of the Coronation Service (1953).

Dr Will Farrell said: “This is probably due to the high reputation of the books printed by his firm, the Alcuin Press (c. 1928-1936). They printed a mix of literary, historical and antiquarian books. They also carried out work for Macmillan’s, OUP, Faber and Faber, and the Hogarth Press (run by Virginia and Leonard Woolf).

“Professor Finberg has an unusual but fascinating career: until his forties he was a professional typographer and publisher, only becoming an academic historian in middle age. But this made him a useful asset to the University and he was a key figure in establishing Leicester University Press in the 1950s.”


A copy of the 1953 Order of Service was donated to the University’s Special Collections by Professor Finberg himself. There were at least three editions of the Order of Service believed to have been printed, on sale to the general public: a cheaper edition for 1s and 6d; a red cloth bound version for 5s; and a version with the music from the ceremony, sold for 8s 6d. 

The University’s copy is a red cloth bound version, believed to be the edition given to those attending the ceremony in person, printed by Eyre and Spottiswoode and 61 pages long. The text is printed in two colours: red for descriptions or instructions, black for the words to be said or hymns sung. 

The Order of Service will be on display in the University’s David Wilson Library from Thursday 4 May, together with copies of souvenir brochures produced by the City of Leicester to celebrate the coronations of King George VI in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Simon Dixon, Head of Archives and Special Collections at the University of Leicester, said: “Finding out that a University academic played a key role in the coronation in 1953 was an exciting discovery. We are delighted to be able to display the Order of Service to visitors to the Library during the Coronation weekend.”