After reaching 5 miles, line to view queen’s coffin closed off
By Isabella Kwai
LONDON — The line was 3 miles long Thursday (15). By Friday (16), it had grown to 5 miles. Then, in the morning, an update from the government: The line was full, and would-be mourners wanting to view the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II lying in state in Westminster Hall would be temporarily turned away for at least six hours, starting at about 9:50 a.m.
“We are sorry for any inconvenience,” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said in its post on Twitter. “Please do not attempt to join the queue until it re-opens.”
After the queen’s coffin was put on public display in London on Wednesday (14) evening, the line — known in Britain simply as the Queue — has become something of a phenomenon.
Hundreds of thousands of people have ignored stories about the arduous wait to join the monumentally long, slow-moving line stretching through London along the River Thames, aiming to pay their respects at the coffin before the queen’s funeral Monday (19) morning.
Even a line for those requiring easier access reached capacity Friday, officials said at around 1:30 p.m. London time.
The death a week ago of Elizabeth, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, has upended much of the normal programming in the country, and Monday will be a hastily declared public holiday.
But amid the solemnity and memorials, the Queue has emerged as an object of fascination, a miles-long stretch of ever-moving people trudging day and night alongside the Thames and past many of London’s landmarks.
“It reminds you of how beautiful London is. Makes you feel really quite proud,” said Sujata Mahendran, who lined up overnight Thursday with her husband. “This is not a gathering — this is respect.”
The Queue has affirmed the cliché about the affinity of Britons for lining up, and jokes about the wait were common even among those shuffling patiently along. With nothing to do but wait — and wait — many approached what has amounted to a public test of endurance with determination and a sense of camaraderie. Line buddies, strangers brought together by the moment, offered each other snacks and shared life stories.
Portable bathrooms and drinking stations have been set up along the route, and attendants have handed out wristbands to maintain order, allowing people to peel off at the cafes and bars along the route, a handful of which are staying open overnight. With the line continually edging forward, sleep is in short supply.
For those who are less patient, listings for the wristbands that designate a spot in line were being sold on eBay for as much as $400.
Some royalists and fans of the queen have been moved by the sheer dedication and symbolic expression of grief represented by the Queue. (As of Friday morning, the estimated wait time for people at the back of the line was 14 hours.) Former soccer player David Beckham said that he had spent about 13 hours in the line, telling reporters that he had wanted to celebrate the life of the queen during the wait.
“Something like this today is meant to be shared together,” he said.
Sarah Allchorne had travelled alone from Kent and whiled away the time listening to podcasts and chatting with Mahendran.
“Would I do this for another one? I’m not sure,” Allchorne said.
But, she noted, the queen had “given so much”.
Others expressed amazement that anyone would be willing to suffer through the gruelling experience to walk past a closed coffin for a minute or two.
By Friday morning, the line had spilled into Southwark Park, across the river and several miles east of the coffin’s location in Westminster Hall, prompting the decision to at least temporarily stop people from joining.
Despite pleas that no more people join, footage circulating on social media appeared to show that a queue for the Queue — in true British tradition — had already formed outside the gates to the park.
Officials have been posting live updates about the length of the line. They warned from the start that people would be turned away if it was thought they would not make it to Westminster before 6:30 a.m. Monday. That is when the viewings will come to an end, with the funeral starting about 4 1/2 hours later.
-New York Times