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No one was meant to be there. Signs around Windsor called for restraint among the public grieving for Prince Philip, asking people to “not gather at royal residences”.
But by lunchtime yesterday, so many people had come to lay flowers for the Duke of Edinburgh that Castle Hill, the street leading to Windsor Castle, had to be blocked off for safety. “There were just too many vehicles and too many people”, said a staff member. “It was too dangerous – we had a few near misses this morning.”
Measures are expected to stay in place for the rest of the week, with mourners instead having to take a detour along the high street then on to the Long Walk.
“We didn’t expect the visitors’ entrance to be closed off”, said Catherine Crampton, 61, who came from her home in Windsor to lay flowers with her daughter and two granddaughters. “We were able to lay flowers eventually after [walking for] about 10 minutes … We wanted to be here to pay our respects.”
It was a day where the Duke was remembered in church services up and down the country. In a service at Canterbury Cathedral, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, focused on the personal loss to the Royal family. “For the Royal family, as for every other, no words can reach into the depth of sorrow that goes with bereavement”, he said, and the pain caused by the Duke’s death was “not obliterated by the reality of a very long life remarkably led”.
He said the Duke’s life had been “inspiring” – but warned people not to exaggerate. “The Duke would have been the first to harrumph strongly at over-spiritualisation of the world he found, let alone of himself”, he said. “We should not become hyper-spiritual or idealistic.”
Only a very select few were allowed into the cathedral for the service, but by 5 o’clock, it had been watched 24,000 times online.
Crathie Kirk, Aberdeenshire, held a service for Prince Philip, who had frequently worshipped at the church during visits to Balmoral. A restricted group of just 30 congregants came together to hear a sermon from Reverend Kenneth MacKenzie, who spoke of how the Duke’s death was a loss to the local community, according to the BBC.
In Chester Cathedral, a service of thanksgiving was attended by the High Sheriff and Lord Mayor of Cheshire. “Let us offer thanks to our Heavenly Father for his example of duty and commitment, his leadership and wisdom and his faithfulness and loyalty to God which we have witnessed through his life”, said the Very Rev Dr Tim Stratford, Dean of Chester, in his welcome. Prayers were offered for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, as well as the Royal family.
The Archbishop of York, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, focused on the intimate relationships of the Duke in a service from York Minster. In his sermon, he spoke about how the Queen described her husband as her “rock”. “I suppose [that] means that she found in him a strength and a dependability and a security, even a foundation, upon which life could be built”, he said. “And we all know that the most extravagantly beautiful buildings require the firmest foundations.”
He went on to draw comparisons between Prince Philip living in his “adopted home” of the UK and how Jesus reached out to the Apostle Thomas to “form a new household and a new humanity where the old boundaries and divisions no longer count”.
The Archbishop’s predecessor, Dr John Sentamu, defended the Duke’s “gaffes” on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One, saying that they were part of his love for debate and he was always looking for someone to challenge him.
“Behind those gaffes was an expectation of a comeback”, said Dr Sentamu. Unfortunately, this did not always happen as people could be “too deferential to Philip” because of his status.
“He would make an off-colour remark but if somebody challenged him you would enter into an amazing conversation”, he said. “The trouble was that, because he was the Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of the Queen, people had this deference.”
Back in Windsor, the public kept coming. While members of the Royal family gathered for their own small service at All Saints Chapel, a separate church named All Saints Church just a couple of miles away dedicated its Sunday worship to the Duke. A commemoration book for parishioners to note down their favourite memories of him was laid out.
Reverend Peter Wilson of All Saints Church said he had prayed with the Duke several times. The Rev Wilson described him as “a most interesting and stimulating person”, who had left a great legacy in the town, including founding a debating salon in the grounds of Windsor Castle.
Outside the castle walls, the crowds spilled out down the high street, all the way to the train station. Police patrols tried to get the people to follow social distancing rules. By lunchtime, the flowers were six bouquets deep at the castle gates.
Around noon, a group of 13 veterans of the Household Division arrived on motorbikes. Mick Thomas, president of the Household Division Veteran Riders’ Club, said: “We’ve all sent a large portion of our career guarding the Royal family, among other things, and so we all held him in high respect”.
With Mr Thomas was John Shipton, who was in the Household Division and also a guard, who said he had fond memories of the Duke’s sense of humour. “I turned up to a royal function with a cane as I’d been injured not that long before”, he said. “The Duke told him: ‘I hope you’ve got a ruddy rubber bottom for that thing, or you’ll ruin my dancefloor’.”
The mourners weren’t all locals, either. Despite road signs instructing people to “avoid non-essential travel”, people came from far and wide to pay their respects. Adam Drozd flew in from Poland to “do his duty” and leave flowers at the castle gates. “I feel very proud of having paid my respects,” he said. “Prince Philip always supported everyone and had a mentality of ‘never say never’. He always seemed to have the space and time for everyone, and he supported Her Majesty the Queen every single time.”
Eventually, as rain and then briefly sleet arrived, the public slipped away. But they will be back in greater numbers on Saturday.