Above: A scene that nearly everyone who saw Churchill’s funeral remembers – the lowering of the cranes beside the Thames as his coffin was conveyed from Tower Pier to Festival Pier at Waterloo.
Sir Winston Churchill died at the age of 90 on Sunday 24 January 1965 and his funeral took place only six days later. The State had been preparing for his death for over seven years under plans code-named ‘Operation Hope Not’. He was the only commoner to be honoured with a State Funeral throughout the whole of the 20th century.
This January sees the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s funeral. His body lay in State at Westminster Hall for three days. On Saturday 30 January it was taken from Westminster, via Whitehall, Strand, Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill for a funeral service in St Paul’s Cathedral. It was the largest military procession seen on the streets of London since the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.
It was Churchill’s wish to buried next to his father, in the family plot at St Martin’s Church, Bladon, near Woodstock, not far from his birthplace at Blenheim Palace. After the service his coffin was conveyed to Tower Pier where it was taken up-stream by MV Havengore.
In those days the wharves and warehouses on the Thames, in the Pool of London, were still being used to store produce brought by ship to London. By the time the coffin was on the boat, it was afternoon and, being a Saturday, the dockers would not normally have been at work. The crane-drivers were paid extra to remain in their cranes and to lower their jibs as the boat passed by. It is one of the small details that has stayed in the memories of nearly everyone who saw that funeral.
The coffin landed at Festival Pier and was taken to Waterloo Station where it and the family mourners travelled by a train, made up of Pullman coaches, hauled by a Battle of Britain class steam locomotive No 34051 ‘Winston Churchill’. Its destination was Hanborough, seven miles north-west of Oxford. From there the short journey was made by hearse to the parish church of Bladon for a private burial.
Although the events of the funeral were not connected with the closure of the docks on the Thames in any way, it was soon after that time that all the cranes started to be dismantled. The end had also come for the wharves and warehouses in the Pool of London. Between 1965 and 1975 all the cranes standing beside the river vanished, all the wharves lining the Thames closed down and all the docks (St Katharine; London; Surrey; West India; Millwall; East India; and the Royals) ceased to operate.