The queue of mourners waiting to pay their final respects to the Queen stretched to more than three miles on Thursday, with hundreds of thousands more expected in the coming days.
By 10am, the end of the line had snaked far along the Thames to Tower Bridge, with some mourners telling the Standard they had queued for around eight hours for the opportunity to see the ceremonial lying-in-state in Parliament’s Westminster Hall.
This morning, more than 1.3 million people logged on to watch the queue-tracker. Those visiting the hall on Thursday morning bowed and curtsied, while some wearing military uniform and medals saluted the Queen’s coffin. Others wept as they walked slowly through the silent hall. Despite the long queues, mourners said it had been worth the wait.
John Jago, 87, from Wiltshire, was attending his third lying-in-state. He said: “I came for the lying-in-state of Churchill, when the queue was two hours. The Queen Mother was about three hours. This is of different proportions and rightly so — the Queen was an amazing woman.”
Queen Elizabeth II - Thousands queue to view Queen Lying in State
Robert Shaw, 74, made the drive from his home in Herne Bay, Kent, last night and began queueing at 1am. He entered the Great Hall just after 8am.
He said: “I hadn’t planned to come but when I saw the miles-long queue on the news I knew I had to pay my last respects. It has been a long night but I don’t regret it at all. She meant everything to this country. She has always been there in my life. I was thinking about the continuity and service supplied as I walked through.”
Another mourner, Bernadette Christie, 68, said she flew into the UK yesterday from Canada and plans to camp outside on The Mall for a full week.
She booked a flight from Alberta two minutes after the Queen’s death was announced last week. She added: “Thirty-six hours of no sleep and here I am. It’s crazy but it’s worth it. She was the only leader on the planet that everybody knew, she was a grandmother to all of us.”
Amy Harris, 34, described the atmosphere in Westminster Hall as “breathtaking”. Ms Harris, who travelled from Birmingham to join the queue at around 1am, said: “The serenity of it — to be able to pay your respects in such a serene place, it’s very peaceful.” James Cross, 65, who met Ms Harris in the queue, said: “It’s just like the only person that’s there is you. You walk in and you could hear a pin drop.”
The Standard understands that by 8am today more than 20,000 people had filed past the Queen’s coffin in the first 15 hours of the lying-in-state. Others joining the line later this morning said it had taken around three hours, suggesting officials may have tried to speed up the queue to allow more people to pay their respects.
But the initial figures may raise fears that hundreds of thousands could still miss out on the chance to see the Queen’s coffin, which has been placed on a catafalque in the 900-year-old hall and is draped with the Royal Standard. The public has until 6.30am on Monday — the day of the state funeral — to view the coffin, which is being guarded around the clock by members of the Queen’s bodyguard, the Household Division or Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London. The Government’s official live stream, which is giving people regular updates on where to join the queue, briefly crashed this morning due to demand and technical problems with the YouTube platform.
Officials have made plans for the queue to stretch for 10 miles to Southwark Park but might have to turn people away more than 24 hours before the lying-in-state ceremony is due to end. Some MPs have called for Buckingham Palace and the Government to extend the Queen’s final procession to Windsor Castle on Monday so more members of the public can pay their respects before she is laid to rest in the King George VI Memorial Chapel.
Over the next four days 1,000 volunteers, stewards and marshals will be on duty at any one time to help manage the crowds of people lining up to see the Queen, who died a week ago at
Balmoral. There are more than 500 portable toilets at various points along the route while venues and museums — including the Southbank Centre, the National Theatre, BFI Southbank and Shakespeare’s Globe — will stay open for extended hours and in some cases for 24 hours, for the public to use their facilities. Former prime minister Theresa May joined the mourners in Westminster Hall paying their respects with husband Philip this morning. But there has been some criticism of MPs and peers in the House of Lords who have each been granted four tickets for the lying-in-state.
The Archbishop of Canterbury visited mourners as they neared the end of the line praising their cheerfulness and thanking them for taking part. The Most Reverend Justin Welby described the Queen as “someone whose wisdom was remarkable” and said he was not at all surprised by the scale of the turnout for her lying-in-state.
“She was someone you could trust totally, completely and absolutely, whose wisdom was remarkable, whose experience — I was the seventh Archbishop of Canterbury who she would have known — who really understood things and who prayed.” Lloyd’s of London today sounded the Lutine Bell to mark the death of the Queen and the reign of Britain’s new King.
The bell, which is now only rung rarely, was salvaged from HMS Lutine, whose shipwreck in 1799 was one of Lloyd’s largest and most famous claims, cementing its reputation for being able to settle any claim.
A single ring of the historic bell was being rung today to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II and start the ceremony at the central London headquarters of the insurance and reinsurance marketplace.
The bell was then being rung twice to acclaim the new King Charles III and will bring the ceremony in the underwriting room to an end.