With a short pennant strapped to the back of his fluorescent orange vest, Kofi Frimpong walked along the south bank of the River Thames to mark the end of the already mile-long queue of mourners waiting to pay their last respects to Queen Elizabeth II.
“As of now we’re at 1,066 people. I can’t predict how long it will be,” he said, glancing down the path that stretched to Lambeth Bridge. “Hopefully it will be a long line.”
It was a hope quickly fulfilled. Less than 20 minutes later, the queue tripled to 3,145 people, with Frimprong repeatedly updating the figures in his notepad as additional mourners were corralled to the back of the rapidly lengthening line.
Hundreds of thousands of the late monarch’s admirers are expected to wait potentially many hours over the next few days for their chance to file past her coffin, which began lying in state at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday. Frimprong was one of the marshals on hand to try to maintain order for a queue that could stretch as long as five miles, part of a round-the-clock operation until the queen’s funeral Monday.
The line began forming well before daybreak Wednesday. Nearby, others had camped out overnight on the Mall outside Buckingham Palace to watch the casket’s somber procession from the monarch’s official London residence to Parliament’s Westminster Hall for the lying-in-state period.
By morning, despite London’s fickle weather, swarms of people — students, pensioners, Londoners, out-of-towners — thronged the cordoned-off walkways near the palace and the Houses of Parliament. One of them was Shannon Drinkwater, an e-commerce businesswoman who had traveled from New York for the occasion and was now standing in line to enter Westminster Hall with her husband, Guy, and her 10-year-old son, also named Guy (“He’s Guy Drinkwater the Third,” she said with a smile).
“I’m very enamored with powerful women, and she’s been an inspiration my entire life, since I was 4 years old,” Drinkwater said of the queen. “She led me, and I’m not even from this country.”
Standing beside her were Michaela Ohenlen, 55, and Tish Cochrane, 62, who carried a simple bouquet of red roses. Hearing Drinkwater’s words, Cochrane nodded and added: “For someone of 96 to still be working two days before her death — it’s an inspiration.”
For Ohenlen, who is originally from Hamburg, Germany, but now lives in London and has British citizenship, marking the queen’s death was another way to bid farewell to her own grandmother.
“She was born the same year as my grandmother. And the queen passed away almost a year after she had, so she always reminded me of her,” she said. But it was also a way to honor a figure who had been a “constant” in her life.
The procession delivering the coffin to Westminster Hall began at exactly 2:22 p.m., with the sounds of a funeral march played by the bands of the Scots Guards and Grenadiers and Big Ben’s tolls providing accompaniment to the queen’s departure from Buckingham Palace for the last time.
Walking a short distance behind the coffin were the queen’s four children: the new King Charles III, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Charles’ sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, followed. Only Andrew and Harry were not in full military dress uniform but instead in suits, since they are not working royals.
Many of the roads near the procession route were blocked off, with hundreds of police officers and other safety personnel moving crowds along walkways to prevent bottlenecks.
The procession went along the flag-lined Mall and past London landmarks, including the Whitehall government quarter, the clock tower that holds Big Ben (the name of its giant bell) and a statue of Winston Churchill, the first prime minister of the queen’s reign. People, many of them hoisting themselves up on railings, lifted their phones to record the carriage’s passing.
The cortege arrived at Westminster Hall’s gates precisely 38 minutes later, at the top of the hour, and the coffin was placed on a catafalque, or stand. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and other members of the clergy conducted a service.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you,” Welby read from the Gospel of John.
At the conclusion of the service began the royal guards’ vigil, which ushered in the start of the lying-in-state period at 5 p.m. Authorities say it will continue until 6:30 a.m. Monday and could entail a gargantuan 30-hour waiting time for those wishing to enter Westminster Hall. The line could grow to 10 miles long.
Strict rules for the viewing of the coffin are in force. Mourners can bring only one small bag with a single opening or zip. Phones must be put on silent and cannot be used for photographs. Flowers and other tribute items are prohibited.
The restrictions and the long wait didn’t faze Alan Clark and his wife, Angela, both 69, who traveled down to London from the northern English city of Manchester that morning. Though their train had rolled into the station only an hour before, they joined the queue as soon as they could with their luggage in tow.
“We loved the queen. She’s always been in our life,” Alan Clark said, adding that he had been born in June 1953 — the same month the queen was crowned.
The couple were on a tour of Buckingham Palace on Thursday when news came of the monarch’s death. It was an emotional moment, Angela Clark said.
“She was the same age as our parents, and they’ve all gone,” she said, her eyes glistening for a moment.
The couple came prepared with a hamper of supplies including chicken, bread rolls and other items from a Marks & Spencer supermarket.
“We also attended the lying-in-state for the Queen Mother,” Alan Clark said with the air of a knowledgeable veteran, referring to the death of the late monarch’s mother in 2002. “It took us 12 hours, so we know how it is.”