As the Queen takes centre stage for her Jubilee year, four Belfast couples celebrating their diamond wedding anniversaries tell Kerry McKittrick how they have kept the sparkle alive
While the young Elizabeth II was embarking on a new life as the sovereign of her empire, many others were embarking on significant journeys of their own.
In Belfast many couples made the ultimate commitment and got married in 1952 and some are now also celebrating their diamond jubilee. Having been married for 60 years the couples are now entitled to a special congratulatory message from Queen Elizabeth II — who celebrated her own diamond wedding anniversary to Prince Phillip in 2007 — by applying to Buckingham Palace. The personalised card comes in a special envelope and is appropriately delivered by Royal Mail.
Couples who are reaching this great milestone this year were honoured VIP guests at a special Diamond tea party in Belfast's City Hall on Saturday. Four Belfast couples who took their solemn vows in the same year as the Queen ascended to the throne tell us their stories.
‘In those days you just stuck at it, unlike now’
Richard (80) and Mary Russell (79) live in Belfast and have two grown-up sons, Michael and Richard. She says:
Richard and I met at a dance in Belfast around 1949 in John Desser's dance hall. We knew each other before because we both came from the Shankill Road. That night we danced together for the first time.
We didn't go home together or anything like that — you didn't do that back then. I was working for Hicks Bullicks making spools of thread and Richard was a machinist at Mackey & Sons. He asked me out to the pictures and we went to see Red River. We went out for three years before we decided to get married.
I was 18 and he was 19 at the time. Because we were still under age — 21 — we both had to get permission from our parents. I think people thought we were a bit young even back then.
I think the secret of our marriage is all down to him. He's patient and has a bit of a sense of humour. Mind you in those days you didn't swap. It was very hard to divorce so you just stuck with whoever you ended up with. We've had our good times and our bad but we're still together and still very happy. I think a bit of give and take is the most important thing you can have in a marriage.
People don't seem to get married these days, they tend to take things as they come. I have one granddaughter who has a partner and they seem very happy. I think I would prefer them to get married if they had children though.
I do remember the Coronation. We didn't have a TV at the time but the place where I worked put one in the canteen so everyone could watch. On our wedding anniversary we got a special message from the Queen. It just said congratulations on this special occasion from Elizabeth R.
‘I loved to dance, but he said he’d two left feet’
Christopher (89) and Mary (89) Bentham live in Belfast and have two grown-up children, Joe and Christine. She says:
I met Christopher in Botanic Gardens when I was 18. I was with my friends and he was with his — the boys started chatting the girls up and that was that.
Our first dates were to Billy Neely's dance hall for the beginners’ class. I loved to dance but Christopher always said he had two left feet — he did try though.
After that we were on and off for a few years until we got engaged in 1947 — I actually think it was the same day as the Queen's wedding day. We didn't get married for another five years though because there was a scheme at the time to help people build their own bungalows. We built ours at the bottom of Cave Hill and when it was finished we got married and moved in. We're still there.
Christopher worked in Shorts as an engineer for 40 years up until he retired. I started work as a book binder and did a few different things over the years depending on how old the children were. I finished my career working as a librarian in Queen's.
When I asked Christopher what the secret of a happy marriage was he joked, “there's not a secret, it's torture!” We always tried to patch things up though and have always made an effort to stay together.
We had no TV on the day of the Coronation but our neighbour had one and invited us round to watch it. I remember everyone was very quiet as the whole thing unfolded because we were all fixated.”
‘I think youngsters now are too quick to walk out if it gets hard’
Jim (78) and Patricia (78) Kitchen live in Belfast and have six grown-up children — Jim, Shirley, Heather, Maurice, Keith and Simon. She says:
I worked in the offices of CE Blakes which was a gentleman's outfitters on the Newtownards Road and Jim also worked on the Newtownards Road in his father's butchers shop.
We saw each other every day until finally Jim arranged for me to be invited to the youth club at Cregagh Methodist Church one night — I was only about 16 at the time. We started going together from there.
We got married when we were 18 — yes we were young but there were no objections from our families. After we got married in Belmont Presbyterian Church I gave up my job — you couldn't work at Blakes if you were married.
I did work in various jobs over the years when the children weren't too young. There is 20 years difference between my youngest and oldest child — we had six — so there were various points when I could work.
I think young people these days want everything straight away. We had to work to be able to buy a house and have nice things. I also think young people are too quick to walk out. The secret to a happy marriage is sticking together.
It's also important to bring your children up properly. All of ours have good jobs — some went into education and others went into employment straight away. They've all turned out well. These days I would like people to get married if possible, but if girls don't get what they want then I think they're very quick to walk out of a marriage.
We've seldom argued or fought, even since Jim retired. He's keen on sport so he has his Sky Sports set up in the living room. I have my own chair and TV in the kitchen so I can watch different things in there — I'm sure that has helped!”
‘There are always ups and downs... everyone argues’
Samuel (80) and Margaret Sloan (80) live in Belfast and have four grown-up children — Samuel, David, Robert and Irene. He says:
Margaret and I actually went to the same school but I didn't know her then. We met properly one night in the queue of the Castle Picture House. I was with my friend and she was with her friend and we got chatting.
It actually turned out that she worked with my sister as a stitcher. At that time I was doing my apprenticeship at McNeil Engineering.
We went together for about three years until one day I said, ‘what do you think about getting married?’ She said alright and we just started from there — we got married at Ravenhill Presbyterian Church.
We have three sons and one daughter along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren but it would take me a while to work all of those out.
There are always ups and downs in a marriage. There were of course times when things weren't great — everyone argues. We always worked everything out between us though, I think that has been our secret.
I can remember the Jubilee back then — we weren't quite married at that point. We didn't have a television set so we watched it on the newsreel at the cinema.
All the days of their lives
- Rev Ian Paisley married Eileen Cassells on October 13, 1956. The controversial Ulster cleric has had a prolific political career, as well as a being a Free Presbyterian minister. Eileen was also involved in local politics before her husband was elected to Parliament. They have five children
- Sir Thomas John Woodward OBE, is better know by his stage name Tom Jones. He married Melinda Trenchard in 1957, and are still together despite his numerous well-publicised infidelities
- Author Jilly Cooper married Leo Cooper, a publisher, in 1961. They’ve known each other since 1945 (when Jilly was eight)