Poignant footage shows thousands queuing for King George VI's coffin in 1952

·3 min read

Hundreds of thousands of people have been patiently lining up this week to see the Queen’s coffin lying-in-state in Westminster Hall.

Yesterday the queue through central London reached nearly five miles, with mourners waiting more than nine hours to say goodbye to Britain’s longest reigning monarch.

It has been estimated that 350,000 fans of the Royal Family will come to see the late head of state before her state funeral at Westminster Abbey on Monday.

The line to view the Queen’s casket starts at Westminster, stretches back to the South Bank of the River Thames, and even reached Southwark Park in Bermondsey on Friday morning.

12th February 1952:  Boxer Alex Buxton in the queue of mourners waiting to pay their last respects to the late King George VI, lying in state in Westminster Hall, London.  (Photo by Monty Fresco/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Boxer Alex Buxton in the queue of mourners on February 12, 1952. (Monty Fresco/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
February 1952:  Policemen organise the crowds of people queuing to view King George VI lying in state at Westminster Hall. The line stretched across Lambeth Bridge down to Albert Embankment and Westminster Bridge, where it turned back on itself.  (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Mourners patiently waited in the rain. (Evening Standard/Getty Images)

This morning the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport warned that the queue had reached capacity and entry had been halted for six hours to let numbers die down.

Images of long lines of people snaking through the capital’s streets are reminiscent of the scenes following the death of Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI.

Black and white photographs from February, 1952, show thousands of people waiting to pay their last respects to the king, who died in his sleep, aged 56, after a battle with lung cancer.

While much about Britain has changed over the past seven decades, one thing that has remained the same is the nation’s enthusiasm for maintaining orderly queues.

Read more: Queen's funeral: How to watch Monday's ceremony at Westminster Abbey

The queue to file past the catafalque of King George VI in London's Great Hall of Westminster now stretches for miles on February 13, 1952. It reaches from the Great Hall itself along the river to Lambeth bridge. It is a double queue and each queue is about six or eight people deep. (Photo by - / INTERCONTINENTALE / AFP) (Photo by -/INTERCONTINENTALE/AFP via Getty Images)
The queue to file past the coffin of King George VI went on for miles and stretched back past Lambeth Bridge. (INTERCONTINENTALE/AFP via Getty Images)
13th February 1952:  Police organising crowds of people queuing to pay their last respects to King George VI in Westminster Hall. The line stretched across Lambeth Bridge down to Albert Embankment to Westminster Bridge where it turned back.  (Photo by Don Price/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Police officers organising crowds of people queuing to pay their last respects. (Don Price/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

An estimated 305,806 people filed past the king’s coffin over the space of three days, with the queue peaking at around four miles long.

Britons waited in the rain and freezing temperatures in what was nicknamed by Londoners as ‘The Great Queue’, stretching from Westminster well beyond Lambeth Bridge.

In an address to the nation following the king’s death, prime minister Winston Churchill said: ‘We cannot at this moment do more than record the spontaneous expression of grief.’

Here’s a look back at how people waited to pay their respects all those years ago.

Read more: Devoted royal fan travels 11,000 miles for Queen’s funeral and procession

12th February 1952:  A section of the queue which formed in order to file past the body of King George VI as it lay in state at Westminster Hall in London.  (Photo by William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
More than 300,000 people queued to see King George VI's coffin in the space of three days. (William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Mourners filing past the coffin of King George VI inside Westminster Hall after his death in 1952
Mourners filing past the coffin of the king, who died aged 56. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
13th February 1952:  An Indian wearing a turban and his young son are among the mourners who are queuing to pay their last respects to King George VI at Westminster Hall, London.  (Photo by Don Price/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Mourners braved the cold weather to say their final goodbyes to the king (Don Price/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
February 1952:  People queuing along Lambeth Bridge to pay their last respects to King George VI, who is lying in state at Westminster Hall. The line stretched along Albert Embankment to Westminster Bridge where it turned back on itself.  (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
People queued along Lambeth Bridge to pay their respects to the king, who died following a battle with lung cancer. (Evening Standard/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: People queue to visit the Palace of Westminster where the body of Queen Elizabeth II is lying in state on September 15, 2022 in London, United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth II is lying in state at Westminster Hall until the morning of her funeral to allow members of the public to pay their last respects. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born in Bruton Street, Mayfair, London on 21 April 1926. She married Prince Philip in 1947 and acceded to the throne of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth on 6 February 1952 after the death of her Father, King George VI. Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on September 8, 2022, and is succeeded by her eldest son, King Charles III. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
The queue to see Elizabeth II's casket reached nearly five miles yesterday. (Carl Court/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2022/09/15: Mourners wait in a line at the start of the queue near Lambeth Bridge. The queue for Queen Elizabeth II's lying-in-state stretches for several miles, as people wait for hours to view the Queen's coffin. The coffin has been placed in Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster where she will remain until her funeral on 19th September. (Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
On Friday the governent said the qeue had reached max capacity and that entry had been halted. (Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)