Photos – An overnight rehearsal of Lady Thatcher’s funeral

If you had been in the City of London early this morning it would have been very quiet – even quieter than normal for a 3am in the City of London – for a large section was sealed off so that the military could take over for a few hours.

Not a military coup, or a belated attempt by Lord Leveson to impose order on Fleet Street’s remnants, this was so that they could carry out a full dress rehearsal for Lady Thatcher’s funeral.

Soldiers march through the City of London

Arriving in the darkness from 3:30am, members of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force started forming up along the processional route that runs from the RAF church, St Clement Danes on the Strand to St Paul’s Cathedral.

At around 4:30am, companies started to head up towards the Cathedral, a solemn drum beat accompanying them as they marched through the city, which was deserted apart from a few night workers and the police.

Soldiers march through the City of London

I have attended and photographed loads of ceremonial events, but I had to say the drum beat sent shivers down my spine. It had a primal unearthliness that was in such stark contrast to what I usually expect.

To hear it in the middle of the night, in the deserted streets of London was even more unsettling.

Empty streets of London

Lining the route were personnel from the: Royal Navy and Royal Marines; Scots Guards; 1st Battalion Welsh Guards; and the Royal Air Force.

At 5:30, an empty coffin was carried from the Church onto a gun carriage, to be drawn to St Paul’s by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery. However, I had trotted off up the hill to get a better vantage point closer to the Cathedral so missed that bit.

More music

Based near the Thameslink station which offers a good view down Fleet Street, also offered the view of people on the first train of the day coming out of the station and staring in disbelief at what was going on.

After a while of hanging around, the music of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines could be heard in the far distance, and slowly the sight of approaching police horses could be seen — and obscuring the view of what was behind.

As the group approached though, each company lining the route bowed their heads and then came to attention.

The marching band passed by, and then came the horse drawn carriage with flag draped coffin on the top. I wasn’t sure if a mock-coffin would be used, but we were told earlier in the morning by a military officer that yes, the full package would be there.

The horse drawn gun carriage

At St Paul’s Cathedral, an honour guard of made up of 18 tri-Service personnel and a contingent of in-pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea lined the steps, as a bearer party carried the coffin up the steps. The bearer party was made up of all 3 Services, including those from ships, units and stations notable for their service during the Falklands Campaign.

The bearer party carry the empty coffin up the steps

The rehearsal included the final laying of the coffin in a hearse which is due to take place after the service.

Although a full dress rehearsal, the soldiers were in standard uniform for the practice, but will be in ceremonial uniforms on the day itself.

The final journey

As usual, the experience of photographing a major ceremonial event in the centre of London in the early hours with hardly anyone else around is a delightful one. But this time it felt odd because it was a funeral that was being rehearsed.

There was something slightly unsettling about photographing a coffin — even one that is empty — as it was drawn along the streets.

Some more photos over here and to license for reuse over here.

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5 Comments

  1. Good effort on your part to be there and capture the scene. I know what you mean about the drums. The bell sounding in Japan on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima has the same effect on me.

  2. Marc

    I came out of City Thameslink just before 06:30 yesterday morning. There were a few military officers outside St Paul’s discussing how it had gone, the Jaguar hearse was standing empty – and numerous piles of horse manure lay on the road. Must have been unplesant to march in, and then for comutters to cycle through in the rush hour.

    • IanVisits

      There would have been teams of cleaners working their way up the road cleaning up the horsey muck.

  3. Sam F

    Wow, a post mentioning Thatcher that didn’t descend into utter anarchy. Way to go Ianvisits peeps. =)

  4. Daniel Wiles

    Thank you for those photos. They conjure up a truly weird and spooky atmosphere. I only wish I wasn’t so fond of my bed, and had made the effort to go and watch. With that degree of preparation no wonder everything went so perfectly on the day.

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