In his final year, Gladstone had become increasingly unwell and was residing in his Bournemouth property. His doctors concluded that recuperation in this seaside resort would not serve any further useful purpose and at the end of March 1898 he returned to Hawarden Castle, his home near Wrexham, north Wales. He travelled on Tuesday 22 March from what the Times refers to as the east station at Bournemouth having driven up Holdenhurst Road from his Forest House property; I take this to be Bournemouth Central station. He travelled in the royal saloon which appears to have been attached to an ordinary service train which proceeded via Oxford to Wrexham. The saloon was detached at Wrexham and coupled to a Wrexham, Mold and Connah’s Quay locomotive which conveyed the carriage over that railway to Hawarden station. This was Gladstone’s last journey whilst still alive, for he died within two months, on 19 May. It was not his last railway journey though.
I start off with a record made by the District Railway itself, listed in its own chronology:
Remains of W E Gladstone brought from Broughton Hall to Westminster by LNWR, arr 1:4 am
At 6 o’clock in the evening the body was removed from Hawarden Church and carried to the station for the journey to London. The procession to bear the remains was composed of the family, representatives of organizations, friends and neighbours Vast crowds lined the route, afoot and in every kind of vehicle. The cortege stopped at the entrance to the Park – Hawarden Lodge, and sang one of Mr. Gladstone’s favourite hymns. Again, when the procession reached the Castle, it paused at the entrance and sang another hymn loved by the late resident of the house, and went on its way to Broughton Hall Station. Every step of the way, after leaving the park, was again lined with sympathetic spectators. While at the station the spectacle was remarkable for the surrounding crush of human beings. A special train was provided for the body and the family. As the body of Mr. Gladstone was placed upon the funeral car the sorrow of the people was manifest. The representatives of the Earl Marshall, of England, took possession of the funeral at this point. Henry and Herbert Gladstone accompanied the body to London and Mrs. Gladstone and family returned to the castle to follow later.
All along the route to London grief-stricken people were standing to view the funeral train as it passed at Chester, Crewe, Rugby, Stafford and Tamworth until the darkness and lateness of the night shut out the scene.
When the train reached London and passed to Westminster, it was early in the morning. A group of some thirty gentlemen, connected with the ceremonies, was at the station; among them the Duke of Norfolk, About two hundred people looked silently on while the body was removed from the train to the hearse, and the funeral cortege moved on to Westminster Hall at once and entered the Palace Yard just as “Big Ben” tolled the hour of one like a funeral knell.
On 25 May 1898 a funeral train was organized to take the body of Sir William Gladstone from Hawarden via Brougham [Broughton] station to Westminster (Metropolitan District Railway) via Willesden and Earls Court. Train was hauled by Hardwicke class No. 136 Gladstone painted completely in black. On 27 May the main party of mourners was taken from Brougham to Euston for the actual funeral: it is probable that it is this train which is illustrated.
Mr Gladstone’s body was brought by special train, pulled by the Brighton Railway locomotive Gladstone, from Broughton Hall to Westminster Station on the District Railway, which was hung in black for the occasion, and then through into New Palace Yard and into the Great Hall.
Hamilton and the Duke, whom the former found ‘a charming man to work with – such a gentleman’, had made arrangements for the body to lie in state in Westminster Hall. It was brought to London during the night of 25-26 May on a special train pulled by the engine ‘Gladstone’ (now in the Railway Museum at York), the train also containing the large crowd of journalists and illustrators who had gathered at Hawarden. On reaching Willesden in north London, the coffin was transferred to the District line of the Underground, in which company Gladstone had been a shareholder since its flotation. The underground train took the coffin to Westminster station, from which it was carried into the Hall across the road. Part of the aim of this operation had been to avoid a procession: there seems to have been general agreement among the organisers that a procession, which would inevitably involve soldiers or police, would be inappropriate in Gladstone’s case.
Rugby was made at 10:40, and at this point an extraordinary scene was witnessed. The platform was densely packed with people, and as the train passed slowly through the station the solemn strains of the Dead March in Saul were distinguished floating upon the stillness of the air into the silent night. Nothing more deeply impressive can be imagined than the sight of this vast assemblage watching bareheaded the passage of the train while the band rolled out the massive tones of Handel’s stately and awe-inspiring music.The rest of the journey was uneventful. Willesden was reached at 12:29 this morning, and the train was there taken on to the high level of the London and North-Western Railway and run to Addison-road, which station was reached at 12:43. At Earl’s Court it passed on to the District Railway, where it was received by Sir Charles Dalrymple, M.P., director, and Mr Powell, manager. It ran thence to Westminster-Bridge Station, arriving there at two minutes past 1 o’clock.
THE ARRIVAL AT WESTMINSTER.
Waiting on the platform to receive the coffin were the Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal, Mr. Edward Green, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant at Arms, and Mr. E. Bellasis, Lancaster Herald (both of the College of Arms), Canon Wilberforece, chaplain of the House of Commons, Sir Algernon West, and Mr. W. Jones and Mr. Thomas Exall, secretary and chief inspector of the District Railway Company respectively. The dimly lighted station was not draped for the occasion, except at the gate of exit, where the walls were hung with black. None but officials were permitted on the platform. Some five or six minutes after the arrival of the train a procession was formed, and the coffin was borne from the platform, up the stairs of the station, through the subway into Palace-yard, and so on through the north door into Westminster-hall, where it was immediately placed on the catafalque which had been prepared for its reception. Immediately before the coffin, which was covered with a beautiful white silk embroidered pall, bearing the words “Requiescat in Pace” walked tho Officers of the College of Arms followed by the Duke of Norfolk and Canon Wilberforce. The coffin was followed by Mr Henry Gladstone and Mr. Herbert Gladstone, Sir Algernon West, and other mourners. In Westminster Hall the whole of the temporary wooden structures which have been erected for the purpose of the lying in state, bad been simply draped with black cloth. There was no attempt at ornamentation of any kind ; and the only dressing of the bier consisted of a pimple brass cross standing immediately behind the head of the coffin (which points to the south), and four largo candles, placed one at each corner of the bier, and burning in tall silver candlesticks.
The old subway connection with the Palace I well recall. With the booking hall reconstruction and building of an MP’s annexe over the station in the late 1990s the arrangements have necessarily been altered. There is now a secure subway beneath the road linking the annexe with the palace and from here a discreet entrance to the ticket hall is available for those with appropriate security passes. I’ve used it myself and don’t think it would be suitable for conveying expired statesmen for resting in state at Westminster Hall.
Next time I’m in the railway museum at York I’ll be paying my respects to Gladstone and thinking of its rather unusual visit to the London Underground.