Ahead of Queen Elizabeth II’s burial in Windsor, tourists and mourners flocked to the town, “where she loved to be”, to pay their respects and buy souvenirs featuring the late head of the Windsor dynasty.
Sales of memorabilia featuring Queen Elizabeth have soared since her death on September 8, according to Samy Kesavan, who runs the “House of Gifts” souvenir store at the foot of Windsor Castle, west of London, where the queen spent most of her time since the pandemic hit.
“People are desperate for a memento of the queen,” he told AFP.
T-shirts and bags with the inscription “RIP Queen Elizabeth II 1926-2022” had pride of place at the front of his shop, but are now out of stock.
Instead, he is having to offer items made for the queen’s platinum jubilee in the summer, which marked her 70 years on the throne.
Along with the traders, local police are also gearing up for the funeral procession through the town on Monday, their largest-ever test.
The hearse carrying the queen’s coffin will arrive in Windsor at 3:06pm (1406 GMT), following the funeral at London’s Westminster Abbey, which will host thousands of heads of state, international royalty and other guests.
After a private ceremony inside the castle walls, the sovereign will be buried at St. George’s Chapel, alongside her husband Prince Philip, her parents, and her sister.
“It’s a historical moment. We wanted to be there,” said 48-year-old Yo Cousins, who was sat with her 10-year-old daughter on the grass beside the “Long Walk” — the 2.5-mile (four-kilometre) route leading to Windsor Castle.
“Windsor is her home, where the queen loved to be,” added the teacher, who had brought a bouquet of red roses and was writing several farewell messages to leave in tribute to the late monarch.
Before they could even see the gates of the castle, the family, from Stubbington on England’s south coast, had to join the procession of several thousand people winding its way along the town’s streets and through massive security gates.
Having finally arrived in front of the castle, mother and daughter left their cards at the foot of the gates alongside hundreds of other messages, photos, drawings and candles.
Guards come to collect the written tributes at 10 pm each evening, taking them to be displayed in the royal vaults, according to Neil Holt, a security guard wearing a fluorescent vest.
The bouquets are passed through security screening before being placed in an enclosure on the royal property, forming a long, colourful bed in front of the castle.
“When the hearse of Her Majesty passes through the gates, it will go along the long path of flowers to St. George’s Chapel. It will be beautiful,” said the security guard, visibly moved.
Business in the town is booming, according to the merchants, particularly considering the time of the year, which is usually quiet.
“We all wondered what the town would look like when the queen died; it’s beautiful,” Donna Lumbard, manager of the “Plate at No. 6” restaurant, told AFP.
The 32-year-old restaurateur says she is “extremely proud” that Britain’s longest-serving sovereign will be laid to rest in Windsor, and believes that the town will become a “pilgrimage site”.
Pub manager Denise Hucinova has been drafted in to help swamped staff at “The Prince Harry”, which was overflowing with patrons on the eve of the funeral.
“Windsor is also the favourite residence of the new Charles III, along with Balmoral,” she explained.
Hucinova hopes that the regular visits of the new monarch, along with the recent move of heir to the throne Prince William and his family from London, will attract tourists to the bucolic town.
Shopkeepers, meanwhile, vowed to keep alive the memory of Queen Elizabeth II.
Lumbard’s restaurant has already planned to add a new cocktail to its menu.
She does not yet know what it will be called, but said “it’s going to be purple or pink because she loved wearing bright colours.”