Bunting and Bonding: Martin Parr’s Wedding Parties

Martin Parr—Magnum for TIME
Martin Parr—Magnum for TIME
Red, white and blue balloons are raise into the sky at a Hobart Drive Street Party in Walsall, England.

As supermarkets sold out of baked goods and bunting—one chain sold 300 miles worth—Britains, from posh St. John’s to working class Hackney, celebrated the wedding of Wills and Kate. With some 6,000 road closings, over 800 in London alone, even the Prime Minister held a street party, serving up egg sandwiches, cupcakes, orange juice and natch, tea, in the middle of Downing Street.  In Kate’s hometown of Bucklebury, residents gathered under a tent to watch TVs broadcasting the couple’s vows, while Morris Men performed folk dances, and children had their faces painted. And here in the industrial town of Walsall, Martin Parr, a Magnum photographer who has documented contemporary British life for most of his career, captured some of the 175,000 residents holding their own street party, complete with cupcakes frosted with St. George’s crosses and home made signs reading “Congratulations Will and Kate.”

The tradition of a good British knees-up in the middle of the road has been traced back to the “peace teas” held in the wake of the signing of the Versailles treaty in 1919. Ever since, the British have set up tables and cakes and enjoyed a pot-luck part with the neighbors. They’ve had street parties to mark VE Day, the Queen’s jubilees, the millennium, and of course, the wedding of Prince William’s parents.

Some revelers kept the festivities going all night long, with fireworks, ‘knights and maidens’-themed contests and dancing. Today the supermarkets must be selling out of Alka-Seltzer.

You can see more of Parr’s work showing the Brits at home in Signs of the Times; under umbrellas in Bad Weather and at play in Think of England.

—Deirdre van Dyk

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