Had you been in Westminster at 4am this morning, a most unusual sight would have greeted you. Not the occasional night bus, delivery truck or worker, but the whole area was sealed off and given over to the military.

For this was the traditional early hours rehearsal for the State Opening of Parliament.

The roads usually close at 3am, so it was a bit alarming to see them still in use when I arrived, but lots of police around suggested something was afoot, and indeed, this time they decided to close the roads at 4am, as frankly, that’s when it all starts.

The military form up along the route, just as they will on the formal event, although this morning having the luxury of wearing normal uniforms and not the heavy full regalia of ceremonial dress. That aside, what takes place is exactly as will happen at the main event.

A pleasant morning weather turned wet for a while, but calmed down enough to cope with. The police were, generally, in the usual chatty mood that I find on this early rehearsals. There’s hardly anyone around, so the job of crowd control is replaced with chatting to the few bystanders who know what is happening, or the occasional people passing through who needed redirecting.

At around 4:20am, the musical marchers turned up and found their place, along with lots of shouting in the distance for the honour guards that lined the route. Around 4:40 the main action commenced, and royal carriages made their way down Whitehall to the Sovereign’s Entrance (built above a sewer by the way) and passed within to the courtyard on the other side.

A suitable delay and off back out they went. The horses trotted off, and slowly the military formed back up and left.

The next army took over — the army of street cleaners to remove the muck the horses leave behind, and slowly at 6am, normality returned to Westminster.

Tomorrow, the whole thing happens again, with more crowds, and more soldier bling.

With little added commentary, some photos:

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In case you’ve ever wondered, that’s what the barriers look like when closed.

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Floodlit Westminster

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Marching bands

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Looking down up towards Whitehall

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Adding more sand and raking it in.

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The first of several carriages.

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Though the Sovereign’s Entrance to the courtyard beyond

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A period of empty calm.

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A police escort for The Queen

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A new State Carriage for The Queen to arrive in

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Don’t stand here if you want a good view of the action.

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Another line of honour guards.

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Speech delivered to the MPs — time to head home

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Charging up Whitehall

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Typical shouting.

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Heading back to barracks.

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A bizarre sight — throughout the rehearsal, a couple doing the Japanese bridal photos, and doing everything they could to ignore what was going on.

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Street sweepers take over

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Deserted Westminster

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And finally, where there had just been pomp and ceremony, a lonely dustcart stands neglected.

For comparison, how it looked further up Whitehall, on a previous overnight rehearsal event.

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