Today there was a special atmosphere in London. With blue skies and warm sunshine, thousands came to central London to see Buckingham Palace and The Mall, Green Park or St James’s Park, some to lay flowers in memory of HM The Queen. Others have come to queue to see her coffin lying in state at Westminster Hall, ahead of the state funeral at Westminster Abbey on Monday 19 September 2022. It is a moving sight, even on television, with guards in splendid uniforms standing in silent vigil, 24 hours a day, whilst members of the public pay their respects.
For those wishing to see the lying in state, there is a huge queue stretching back to Southwark Park. The authorities are prepared for this to reach 10 miles long. There are constant updates online but at one time today there was an estimated queuing time of 24 hours, and as I write this the current estimate is 13 hours. A colleague of mine at work joined the queue on Thursday evening and reached Westminster Hall at around 7am on Friday. Total estimates were of 400,000 people filing past the coffin, over four days, some travelling from great distances to do so.
I did not wish to visit Westminster Hall but wanted to come to London to mark this rare occasion and experience the atmosphere. I began at Trafalgar Square and joined the many people walking along The Mall. There were a lot of families with young children, and many bringing flowers. Much of the area was closed to traffic. In the quiet without the usual traffic noise, I found myself noticing the architecture of so many grand buildings and it was poignant to see so many flags flying at half-mast.
The police were doing a good job of controlling the crowds. You could not simply wander about where you liked and could only cross some roads at special crossing points, and there were some one-way systems in place for pedestrians. People accepted this and cooperated, chatting to the police. There was a sense that we were all there for the same reason, united by our common loss.
We paused to watch a group of mounted guardsmen ride past, with a police escort. Often helicopters could be heard high overhead. There were tv cameras and reporters everywhere and it seemed as if the attention of the world was focussed on London at this time.
Because of the volume of people, we could not walk directly up the Mall to Buckingham Palace but had to cross St James’s Park and join long queues down one side of the road and back up the other for those wishing to go to the Palace. With even this queue likely to take a few hours I was feeling a little bit hemmed in by the sheer number of visitors, although there was no pushing and shoving. I decided to change direction and take a path of less resistance away from the main attractions.
From Birdcage Walk, I continued on to Buckingham Gate passing the Rubens hotel (where I had enjoyed a weekend break a few months ago) opposite The Royal Mews. Souvenir shops had portraits of the Queen in the window with her dates. There were mugs with the Queen’s picture and dates 1926 to 2022 and messages such as “Forever in our hearts.”
I cut through to Victoria Street, where there was more space to walk normally and headed towards Parliament Square. I was sorry to note that the landmark department store, House of Fraser on Victoria Street had closed down. I ventured down Artillery Row and came to Horseferry Road and found a cafe for some lunch. A man at the next table had just been to Westminster Hall after queuing for 14 hours. A group of police came in for coffee and takeaway lunches, taking these back to their minibus.
At Lambeth Bridge I saw sections of the epic queue heading for Westminster, like a pilgrimage. Not being a part of this, I could walk freely along Millbank and see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben as I neared Parliament Square.
It was extraordinary to see and hear Parliament Square without any traffic. I passed Westminster Abbey where all eyes will be on the proceedings in two days’ time. There are already stands erected for tv camera crews.
Once inside Parliament Square, there was a pedestrian one-way system again and so it was necessary to go with the flow. First though, I enjoyed sitting in the sun to write down some impressions of the day, with my new Tibaldi fountain pen and the “traveller” style notebooks from Flying Tiger. I like the Tibaldi more and more and appreciate everything about it, particularly the retro zest green colours, its generous size, firm nib and the ebonite feed.
A young woman busker named Harmonie London set up a keyboard and began to sing the national anthem and soon drew a big audience. Without the traffic noise, her beautiful voice and playing could be heard from quite a distance and her set captured the collective mood perfectly. Many videoed her with their phones.
I made my way up Great George Street, passing the impressive Treasury building, and along Horse Guards Road, before cutting across Horse Guards Parade to emerge in Whitehall and back to where I had started.
Before returning home, I headed up to Leicester Square to visit Choosing Keeping at Tower Street, surely one of London’s most delightful stationery shops. I browsed the Japanese pencils, Tomoe River paper notebooks, and a display case of fountain pens including Sailor, Pilot, Lamy, Kaweco and Pelikan. Resisting these I still found myself buying a bottle of Rohrer & Klingner ink in a dark blue or blue black called Isatis tinctoria, their limited edition of 2021. In my relaxed state I had forgotten all the golden rules of ink buying, which are to ask yourself “Do I actually need any ink at the moment?”; “Do I need this colour?”; “Is this sufficiently different from all the other inks that I already have?” and “Would my spouse approve?” and “What is WRONG with me?!” However, it is lovely ink, and it is important to support such wonderful shops.
All in all it had been a remarkable and memorable day. And my phone tells me I walked 7.87 miles so that’s good.