Cortege at Hay's Wharf

Cortege at Hay’s Wharf

In 1965, on the death of Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the day Harold Wilson addressed the nation and described him as the “the greatest man any of us have ever known” and as such would be accorded a State Funeral. Almost forty years later in 2002 on a TV show Mo Mowlam put forward her case for Winston Churchill as the Greatest Briton. The nation agreed with her and he was voted the Greatest Briton that had ever lived.

On 30th January 1965 the Second Battalion of the Grenadier Guards placed the flag draped coffin on to the Havengore at Tower Pier. Royal navy pipers played a lament. As the Havengore set off westwards to the Festival Pier there was a nineteen gun salute and Rule Britania played as Churchill went on his last journey on the Thames. The little survey vessel of the Port of London Authority went upstream against the flood tide. Crowds of people lined both banks of the river and the bridges that the Havengore would pass.

Tower Pier 1965

Tower Pier 1965

The BBC commentator described this area of the Thames as “the industrial sea port of London”. During the river procession the BBC coverage included, U.S. President and friend of Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower paying his tribute, saying:

“Upon the mighty Thames , a great avenue of history, move at this moment to their final resting place the mortal remains of Winston Churchill.”

One of the iconic images of this day was of the cranes which had been erect dipping in a salute as the cortege passed. Just four years later this extraordinary gesture could not have been made as by then all the cranes were gone. To mark the anniversary I traced the procession and reflected upon the changing face of the river some forty years on. The cranes of Hay’s Wharf on the south bank have now been replaced by County Hall and Hay’s Galleria. Hay’s Wharf had extended from London Bridge to Tower Bridge and had traded from 1710-1969. Further downstream Butler’s Wharf is still there but is now home to several restaurants. The Tower of London remains a constant.

Former site of Hay's Wharf

Former site of Hay’s Wharf

Butler's Wharf montage

Butler’s Wharf montage