It was a jolly occasion when King Charles – prince, as he was then – visited the south Wales valleys town of Treorchy, named as having the UK’s best high street in 2020, on a sunny day in July. Crowds lined the streets, schoolchildren decorated the red phone box, a male voice choir sang, and Charles pulled a pint in the Lion pub.
The mood was much more sombre on Monday, a grey day in the town, in Rhondda Cynon Taff. As the Queen’s funeral began, the streets emptied and people headed home or gathered at the Lion to watch.
Steven Williams, an HGV driver, followed the funeral from a corner of the pub with his six-year-old daughter Harper. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing for my generation,” he said. “We’ll never see a queen again. She’s worked all her life and I think we can all take one day off to spend time reflecting on her. It’s nice to come together as a community.”
Harper asked a string of questions: how old was the Queen, what happens next, will the King visit here again? “She’ll remember this bit of history for ever,” her father said.
Most people opted for cups of tea or coffee, soft drinks and slices of toast rather than alcohol for the funeral service itself. The two-minute silence was carefully observed, the busy clatter from the pub kitchen suddenly ceasing.
The landlord, Adrian Emmett, said he felt it was important to give people the chance to come together to watch the funeral on the pub’s 12 screens. “Pubs are at the heart of the community for all times, the good and the sad,” he said. “You celebrate the good times, you mark the bad times.”
He recalled with fondness Charles’s visit in the summer. “Days like that are fantastic for the community. It was a proud day.”
There has been some anti-monarchy feeling in Wales, with critics bridling at the bestowing of the Prince of Wales title to William. Charles was booed by a few people when he visited Cardiff on Friday.
“Some people are for the monarchy, some people are against,” said Emmett “You put that aside on days like this and say goodbye to someone who has given us 70 years of service.”
The royals have long had a close relationship with the people of the valleys. The Queen, in particular, had a strong link with nearby Aberfan after the tragedy of 1966 when an avalanche of coal waste crashed into the school and homes, claiming the lives of 116 children and 28 adults. Gaynor Madgwick, who survived the disaster as an eight-year-old girl, laid a bouquet of flowers in the memorial garden at the foot of an amber tree planted by the Queen. She said the Queen’s visits in the years after the tragedy helped the community hugely. Madgwick said: “It has been eerie to be here today, it was deathly silent, every door was shut. The Queen meant so much to us.”
Suzanne Rees was in the Lion on Monday with her 13-year-old granddaughter Summer Rowe. “We’re big royalists. I got to shake Charles’s hand when he came here. The Queen was a good age but it was still very sad.”
After the service, more people began to arrive and customers opted for beer and wine rather than hot drinks.
Among them was Diana James, 85, who emigrated to Australia in 1960 and was back in Wales visiting her 80-year-old brother, Anthony Watkins. James toasted the Queen with a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Watkins with a glass of Welsh Tiny Rebel beer.
James said: “I loved the service. I cried and cried. I’ve lived in Australia for 60 years but will always be Welsh and a Brit. This has been a special day.”
Whenever there was a chance, Xander Morgan-Roe, 19, a bar worker and college student, took time to watch proceedings unfold intently. “It’s a crucial moment in our history. It’s quite an honour to experience this. I’ll remember it all my life,” he said. “The Queen is such an important figure not just in Britain but across the world. She had an impact on everybody’s life. It feels very important for me to watch and pay my respects.”