This walk on the South Side of the Thames happened during the mourning period for the late Queen Elizabeth. It was the Thursday, the first full day of the Lying-in-State event. Rumours of queues five and more miles long, queuing overnight, nowhere to sit, although plenty of toilets, water bottles, and food retailers along the route. I woke on Wednesday morning thinking I was mad; I shouldn’t go. Then I watched Princess Anne stepping out behind the coffin on the way to settling it in Westminster Hall. I thought, ‘if she can do it, I can’. After all, my train station was within easy reach of the route. If I really had to give up I could go home. At least I’d tried.
The South Side of the River Thames
As you can see from the map above, the plan for the Lying-in-State (LIS) queue was to walk along the south bank of the Thames. Most of that route is a nice walkway, although some dips in and out of office buildings and restaurant areas. It used to be wharves all along from about Waterloo bridge eastwards towards the Thames Estuary, matched on the north side from St Katharine’s docks–I’m talking my lifetime. Go back to mediaeval times and it was wharves and docks lining the banks from the City of London eastwards. The old City starts at around Blackfriars, and ends around St Katharine’s docks.
The south side of the Thames used to be a dirty, disreputable place. Over the years it’s gradually acquired more respectability. The South Bank complex of theatres, including the National Theatre, the British Film Institute, and the Royal Festival Hall, were the first things I remember on that side of the river. The four towers of Battersea Power Station were a symbol of industry. By the 1970s it was no longer in use, and thoroughly derelict. It featured in the TV series The Professionals on many occasions for a gangster chase or as a spy handover venue. Gentrification gradually worked its way east, with the new London Mayor’s offices (City Hall) being built right next to Tower Bridge in the early 2000s. That replaced the County Hall, a massive office block for the Greater London Council, defunct on the arrival of a London Mayor (not to be confused with the Lord Mayor of London, who is mayor of the City, not the metropolitan area of Greater London).
Joining the Queue
My guide was the DCMS information on queueing. I reckoned that by the time I got there, the end of the queue would have reached that large inlet to the east of Tower Bridge, on the way to Bermondsey. Rather than walk along from London Bridge station I took the tube one stop further, to Bermondsey. At one time I wouldn’t have dreamed of walking along Jamaica Road –how times have changed. It’s a perfectly respectable place now.
And as I joined that creek inlet, so did the queue. I didn’t take picture there, but I did of the alleys we walked through to get to Tower Bridge, our first half hour of walking. These are refurbished warehouses and granaries. I assume most are apartments, but also offices and restaurants, especially on the ground floor. They would open out on the Thames on the other side. You can see the gantries going across at higher levels. I imagine Fagin’s London would have been much like this, but more derelict, and less well-built buildings. In the second, you can make out the pale blue girders of Tower Bridge ahead.
Lying In State Queue wristband
One of the features of the queue was that you got a wristband to prove you were in the queue. This became important later. We had several areas where members of the public thought they could jump in. We waved our wristbands at them and explained the system, and most were convinced.
This happy event took place at our first formal ‘snake’ queue. This just managed to get a lot of people in a small area; in this case on the green (it can’t be green any longer!) between Tower Bridge and City Hall. A perfect place for pictures, as well. That’s the Tower of London opposite. Traitor’s Gate (used to be at river level), was where Tudor prisoners were led in, not expecting ever to leave again alive…
By now, we’d been queuing for over an hour. Our little gang of eight or so had exchanged life histories, news, and travel information. It’s what happens in Britain. Queues have a life of their own, as I expect you know. Once we got our wristbands, we could walk along the south side embankment guided by marshals every now and then. I was already walking much slower than most people. I’d had the foresight to bring my walking pole, which helps me stand tall, and also to lean on when things got tough. At this stage I was walking along okay, but my feet were sore, even in my well padded walking shoes, with extra arch support!
It was lovely strolling along for a bit, rather than the queue shuffle of earlier. But I wondered whether I could catch up my friends again. I took time to take pictures of things I’d not seen before–I think that’s the ‘mobile phone’ building, and the Shard overshadows Southwark Cathedral (with its clock stopped) since when did we get the Golden Hind in dry dock? The Globe Theatre is actually right beside Tate Modern, which is was its usual self (no busking) but I was surprised the Millennium Bridge looked so dull – I remember it being sparkly white. The London skyline did its thing with light and cloud on an autumnal day, and then the National Theatre, followed by the South Bank complex, busy as always.
It turned out I could rejoin my friends, and nobody minded, although the marshal did suggest I could go to the accessible queue if I wanted. I didn’t think I was ready for that yet.
Round the South Side Bend
We now headed around the bend of the river, the south side became the east side. The sun was in the west; it was already gone three pm. I ate my packed lunch on a bench while the queue walked past, then caught my friends up. Lots of people were doing this now, and we all settled down well.
Our next ‘sight’ was the London Eye, beside the old County Hall (now a Premier Inn, offices, restaurants…). After wiggling around the back of County Hall we emerged opposite St Thomas’s Hospital. We met people in the Faith Squad – marshals drawn from the clergy of the surrounding churches and cathedrals. Now we had views of our endpoint on the other side of the river. Not far to go. But other marshals were still saying four or five hours! By our estimates we’d reach the Westminster Hall by 6 pm, which was still three hours away. We couldn’t believe it could really be four or five!
We stepped down from Westminster Bridge, looking at our destination. On the wall opposite, organisations had painted red heart, and they were filled with names of loved ones. This is a Covid remembrance wall, and it stretched most of the distance to Lambeth Bridge, where we would turn. It took a long time to get along this stretch, and we were all starting to flag.
At this point, a marshal came along and asked me to join the other ladies he had with him; he was going to take us round the step-free way as there were stairs onto Lambeth Bridge. We’d been going over four hours now, and my hips were beginning to suffer. After a couple of ‘no, really I can cope’ I thought better of it, and went along. Then, when we got over Lambeth Bridge, they gave us yellow wristbands. That meant we bypassed the snake queue in the palace gardens (another hour at least), to go down to the security check.
After that stroll, I did take what I knew were shallow steps into the hall itself. (I’d been to the Queen Mother’s lying-in-state–when we queued all the way from Lambeth Bridge!) I was glad I did, as it’s a lovely view of the hall from the stairs, and you can really take in the coffin on the catafalque, the guards on their vigil beside it, and the dignified forward flow of the visitors.
I emerged from the Hall at 5.40 pm, according to Big Ben, and he should know. Later I watched the live feed from the afternoon on YouTube (or BBC iplayer) and found myself, identifiable by my yellow bag, paying my respects to the Queen (just before they cut away to a close up of someone the other side, if you want to find Thursday afternoon, 5.35 pm).
I was quite disoriented when I got out. In spite of knowing the area well, emerging into the busy London crowds from the orderly queue was quite a change.
I felt fine after sitting on my train for an hour and half, and drove home from the station feeling I’d achieved something. But the next day, the tendons at the tops of my quad muscles were killing me! Repetitive strain on them from queue shuffling, maybe?
Photos are mine (except Map by DCMS and screenshot as marked). Please ask if you want to use them.