Mourners who queued overnight describe ‘serenity’ in Westminster Hall

·5-min read
The queue on the South Bank near to Tower Bridge (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
The queue on the South Bank near to Tower Bridge (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Mourners who queued for eight hours overnight to pay their respects to the Queen have described the “breath-taking” serenity in Westminster Hall where “you could hear a pin drop” in the silence.

People have travelled from all over the country and waited since 1am for the chance to visit the Queen lying in state.

Three well-wishers who befriended each other in the queue said there had been a friendly “camaraderie” among the crowds, despite miserable weather, before an atmosphere of sombre reflection inside the hall.

Amy Harris, 34, and Matthew Edwards, 35, met James Cross, 65, after getting the train to London from Birmingham to join the queue at about 1am.

Matthew Edwards, James Cross and Amy Harris, after paying their respects at Westminster Hall (Nina Lloyd/PA) (PA Wire)
Matthew Edwards, James Cross and Amy Harris, after paying their respects at Westminster Hall (Nina Lloyd/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Cross said: “Everyone in the queue was very friendly, chatting and having a laugh. It was really quite lovely.”

Mr Edwards said: “Everyone was offering biscuits, drinks,” adding that the three were now planning to have a pint together after the long wait.

The atmosphere in Westminster Hall was “breath-taking,” Ms Harris said.

“When you’re able to go in and have a moment to look at it and reflect, the serenity of it – to be able to pay your respects in such a serene place, it’s very peaceful.”

People queue on the South Bank (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
People queue on the South Bank (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

“It’s just like the only person that’s there is you,” Mr Cross said. “You walk in and you could hear a pin drop.”

The British public are showing a “great response” by queueing in large numbers to pay their respects to the Queen, Downing Street said.

Prime Minister Liz Truss’s official spokesperson said: “People of the United Kingdom are demonstrating not only their commitment, their respect for the Queen, but respect for each other in queuing in such a responsible way and showing sort of a great response to this situation.”

The official also said it is “no surprise” that such a large number of people want to honour the Queen in this way, that there are “large numbers of people on hand to help” and that it is “great to see everyone pitching in”.

Ms Truss has no plans to speak to people in the queue, he said.

Prime Minister Liz Truss in Westminster Hall, where the Queen is lying in state (David Ramos/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Liz Truss in Westminster Hall, where the Queen is lying in state (David Ramos/PA) (PA Wire)

The UK chief commissioner of the Scouts said the mood among the crowds waiting to pay their respects was “friendly and poignant”.

Carl Hankinson, who is among volunteers to monitor the queue throughout Victoria Gardens, said Scouts had been “on their feet 12 hours” a day to help ensure the smooth running of admissions.

The Scout, who once met the Queen at a garden party, said: “She was fantastic in every way – she was interested in Scouts, she was conversational, very encouraging and very supportive of young people.”

Scouts UK chief commissioner Carl Hankinson (right) and Richard Flowerdew, head of member operations for Scouts, at Westminster Hall (Nina Lloyd/PA) (PA Wire)
Scouts UK chief commissioner Carl Hankinson (right) and Richard Flowerdew, head of member operations for Scouts, at Westminster Hall (Nina Lloyd/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Hankinson said: “(The crowd atmosphere) is poignant, very quiet and respectful – some people are tired, of course, but, generally, a great atmosphere.”

Father Peter Walters, a priest who works in Colombia, and Pauline Allan, a charity worker, joined the queue at 1.20am.

It was “immensely” worth the wait, Father Walters said, with the final experience “very personal” and different from viewing the coffin on the TV.

“The atmosphere in there was one of absolute silence, great reverence, great respect and great reflection. It was really a very memorable experience.

“Everyone had the chance to pause – despite the queues, there was no great sense of rush.”

Father Peter Walters, 68, and Pauline Allan, 78, charity administrator, after paying respects at Westminster Hall (Nina Lloyd/PA) (PA Wire)
Father Peter Walters, 68, and Pauline Allan, 78, charity administrator, after paying respects at Westminster Hall (Nina Lloyd/PA) (PA Wire)

“We had a good five minutes from entering to leaving, it was so slow and dignified,” Ms Allan added.

The coffin, which sits on a catafalque and is draped with a Royal Standard, continues to be guarded at all hours by units from the Sovereign’s Bodyguard, the Household Division or Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London.

Father Walters praised the “courteous” behaviour of staff and police inside the ancient hall, who he described as “very professional” and helpful to mourners.

Inside there is a “steady flow” of visitors, but everyone has an opportunity to stand in front of the coffin, he said.

Jamal Uddin, 59, said the Queen was his “role model” and he would wait as long as it took to pay his respects.

Speaking outside Westminster Hall before getting a wristband, Mr Uddin, who runs an Indian restaurant in Tower Hamlets, east London, said: “I’ve been in this country since 1981 and I have followed the royal family very closely, with the marriage of Charles to Diana and the Queen’s numerous engagements.

“The Queen is my role model because I do work for the community and she did such work, helping people all the time.

“I admired her mentality.”

Jamal Uddin, 59, restaurant owner, after paying respects at Westminster Hall (Nina Lloyd/PA) (PA Wire)
Jamal Uddin, 59, restaurant owner, after paying respects at Westminster Hall (Nina Lloyd/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Uddin added: “I will wait as many hours as necessary – I can go all the way, whatever it takes.”

Fiona Holloran, 34, wept as she left Westminster Hall after paying her respects to the Queen.

Ms Holloran, from London, said: “It was very moving to see the vigil around her – I was a little bit surprised at how much it struck me.”

The PhD student, who queued since 6.30am with her baby strapped to her in a carrier, said the wait had been “worth it”.

“It’s lovely that everyone has just a moment to themselves – no one was pushing.”

Esme Martins, a retired judge, said among the solemnity in the queue were moments of “celebration of a great life”.

Ms Martins, 65, said people from “all walks of life, all races and all ages” had been lined up to visit the Queen’s coffin.

Esme Martins, 65, retired judge, at Westminster Hall (Nina Lloyd/PA) (PA Wire)
Esme Martins, 65, retired judge, at Westminster Hall (Nina Lloyd/PA) (PA Wire)

“You made friends with the people around you and some of them I think we may be in touch with. We exchanged numbers,” she said.

“People were quiet and sombre but there was also a sense of celebration of a great life.”

Ms Martins, from London, added that the coffin was “beautiful”, saying: “I think I will remember this day for the rest of my life.”

By 4.40pm on Thursday, the queue was more than four miles long, and stretched past Tower Bridge to near Bermondsey Beach.