Hornsey Journal, 15 February 1952
The royal body passes through Hornsey
Silent crowds watch the train go by
They waited patiently in drizzling rain
The body of King George VI passed through Hornsey railway station at 2.37pm on Monday on its way to King’s Cross station, whence it was borne in procession to the lying-in-state in Westminster Hall. It was a dull, drizzly afternoon following a wet, cold morning but a crowd began to gather near the station, in the lower part of Tottenham Lane, at about 2.00pm. By 2.30pm the crowd was several hundred strong and filled the pavement opposite the station.
The atmosphere reflected the grave occasion; there was an expectant hush and an absence of idle chatter. A stranger passing would have been impressed by the solemnity of the crowd as they kept their eyes fixed on the railway lines beyond the smoke-grained fence. It was a half-toned silence, marred as it was by passing vehicles, but even their customary noise dwindled as they were forced to slow down and pass the crowds at little more than walking pace.
Gisburn Road appeared to be full of cars and vans, as if others had come from a distance to this vantage point. Hornsey Station itself was closed to the public and was deserted except for the stationmaster, Mr WW Lord, and one or two other members of the railway staff. As the time for the train to pass drew near, other railway men – engine drivers, firemen and cleaners, still in their overalls – gathered on the silence lines on the far side of the station and waited.
Out of the Mist
It was 2.37pm exactly. On this dull day visibility was bad, and out of the mist the train seemed to leap at the station. It was travelling at a high speed. One saw the gleaming and highly polished engine, the simple black coach with purple-lined windows in the centre – and then it was gone. The railway men on the tracks had not missed it, and they had whipped off their greasy caps, but many in the crowd appeared to have been taken unawares. There was that short, stunned silence that so often greets that fulfilment of expectation. Then the crowd slowly dispersed, the women wheeling or leading their children, and all in a subdued mood.
The King had passed through Hornsey for the last time, as his illustrious father had done before him.
People began to take up positions overlooking the railway an hour before the Royal train passed by. They came slowly, talking in lowered voices. By 2.15pm some hundreds were waiting silently, never letting their gaze stray from the line. Two shunting engines at the head of a long goods train hauled their heavy load up the line, their steam forming two white pillars against the grey rain-laden sky. A few minutes later Harringay Station was closed, and a policeman stood guard on the footbridge.
A butcher in his white apron stood next to a florist, who still had her scissors in her hands; a chemist in his white coat helped a baker’s assistant to take her place at the fence.
At 2.30pm the metallic clink of shunted trucks ceased. In the signal box south of the station 60 year-old Tom Bates glanced at his clock and waited for the signal on his telegraph, which by sharp rings would tell him that the express train carrying the body of the King had entered his section of line. It was not the first time he had awaited such a signal. He was on duty when the body of Queen Alexandra and, later, the body of King George the Fifth, passed his signal box in similar circumstances.
The station staff, headed by Station Master, Mr GA Baker, lined the platform. Farther up the line a gang of platelayers put down their picks, shovels and hammers and stood beside the line. At 2.35pm the telegraph clicked, Mr Bates pulled over a lever, and a signal at the end of the platform swung up. On the path the crowd leaned forward on the fence, a shower of snowflakes drifted over the tracks. Trailing a plume of white smoke in the grey mist, the shining train, with one black coach bearing the Royal Crest, sped almost silently though the station. All heads were bared. “God bless him”, whispered a woman with tears in her eyes. The crowd remained still for about half a minute. Then they went away. Their King had passed by.
At Finsbury Park
Crowds gathered on the muddy slopes near the Finsbury Park footbridge two hours before the Royal train was due to pass. Overalled workers at a nearby factory crowded on to a small iron balcony. Everywhere people stood silent.
From beyond the footbridge, shrouded in a damp mist, a train was signalled. All waited expectantly. There was a flurry of white smoke and an engine was seen coming from under the Stroud Green bridge. It was the Royal train. Men bared their heads and stood stiffly to attention. On the opposite platform stood an old lady, a handkerchief in her hand. As the black coach carrying the King’s body flashed by the policeman saluted. The station clock said 2.40pm. The last carriage disappeared and the spectators departed. And on the shining metals fluttered a scrap of crumpled black crepe.
Website editor’s note
King George VI died at Sandringham House on 6th February 1952. On 11th February his coffin was taken to London by train. This account places the Royal train passing through Hornsey first (2.37pm), when chronologically, it had passed through Harringay slightly earlier (2.35pm).