LONDON – Heather Howarth tugged at King Charles III’s ears and tittered with satisfaction.
The other ladies who gather to knit and natter in her small English village thought the ears should be bigger. But when creating a crocheted likeness of the new king, she was determined not to cause offense.
“He might not like this one," she said reaching out to give the king a fond pat. “But he’ll love his Grenadier Guards!"
Howarth and her friends in the village of Hurst, a stone’s throw from Reading, west of London, have fashioned a woolly coronation procession to rival the pomp and circumstance that will take place when Charles is crowned on May 6 at Westminster Abbey. Sheathing the 29 posts that circle the community pond with their knitted and crocheted creations, the women have recreated the cast of characters set to attend the big event.
There’s the king, of course, the queen consort and the Archbishop of Canterbury. And lots of Grenadier Guards. They even threw in Paddington Bear — a sort of honorary member of the royal family after he shared tea with the late Queen Elizabeth II in a film celebrating her 70 years on the throne.
The Hurst Hookers are part of a phenomenon that has taken hold across Britain in recent years, with guerrilla knitters and crochet enthusiasts celebrating holidays and royal occasions by decorating the nation’s iconic red post boxes and other public spaces with their handiwork. There’s no money in it, and the creations are sometimes stolen. But they do it anyway because they have fun brightening their communities, even if no one asked them to.
“Yarn bombers” around the country have been hard at work for months creating everything from golden coaches to crenelated castles and jewel-encrusted crowns that will add fuzzy bits of color to the coronation festivities.
But how to explain the Hurst Hookers?
This is a group that got started during the coronavirus pandemic, meeting every couple of weeks at the local cricket club when Britain’s intermittent lockdowns would permit. It’s bring your own gin and tonic, but there’s tea for anyone who wants it. When the 18 women aren’t meeting up for crocheting and community, they keep in touch via WhatsApp. The pings are so incessant at least one member has had to turn off her alerts.
They began planning and creating their coronation scene in early September, soon after the queen died and Charles became king. By April, it was finally time to install it.
The “guerrilla’’ action began just after 5:30 p.m. on a recent Friday as the setting sun bathed the newly cleaned pond in a peaceful light.
Clad in jackets and sweaters on a chilly spring night, the women arrived with their creations tucked inside huge shopping bags emblazoned with supermarket logos, then swooped down on the posts surrounding the pond.
There was little stealth, but much determination.
First they pulled out the crocheted likenesses of Charles, wearing a crown and a cape fashioned from an old Christmas stocking, and Camilla, with a flash of unruly blond hair. Then came the archbishop, whose spectacles rest on a bulbous woolen nose. And finally, the red-coated guardsmen.
Quick as you like, the figures were pulled down over the posts and firmly stapled in place, with the precisely embroidered medals, moustaches, sergeant stripes and other embellishments getting an extra staple or three.
“King Charles wants our support, doesn’t he?” Howarth said. “How else do I show that I am supporting him?’’
Valerie Thorn, who did the embroidery, carefully researched all the decorations, so that every medal was from a different campaign in which the guards participated. The insignia on Charles’ chest is so precise that from a few feet you mistake it for the real thing. The archbishop’s miter, modeled after the one he wore at his installation, is immediately recognizable.
So far, the fat sergeant character seems to be the village favorite.
A Daily Mail newspaper columnist described crafters such as these as “unhinged … woolly delinquents." Rather than taking offense, the ladies of the Hurst Hookers embraced the jibe.
“I’m going to embroider that on a T-shirt,’’ said Thorn, 76, with pride. “If I am unhinged, what is wrong with that?''
And when the installation was almost complete, there was the moment to put the icing on the confection.
Pip Etheridge pulled out a resplendent copy of St. Edward’s Crown — the crown that will be placed on Charles’ head next weekend — and handed it to Janette Vorster because she didn’t want to be in the pictures.
In a procession all their own, the group trooped to the village store for the piece de resistance, installing the crown atop the post box out front.
As they chatted around the post box, the group debated whether their handiwork was more about the coronation or about themselves. They giggled, talked about posting the photos on social media and wondered what the neighbors might say. And they just kept laughing.
“If you swapped that one with the real one,” Etheridge asked, nodding to her crown, “do you think he’d notice?"