With former PM Margaret Thatcher’s funeral held in London today, we take a look at five prominent funerals in the city’s past…

Queen Eleanor of Castile: King Edward I was lavish in his funeral for Queen Eleanor (perhaps in an effort to restore her reputation given suggestions she had been unpopular among the common people although it may well have simply been because of the king’s level of grief) and when she died at Harby, a village near Lincoln, on 28th November, 1290, he ordered her body to be transported from Lincoln Cathedral to Westminster Abbey where the funeral was held, with a series of elaborate memorial crosses to be built close to where-ever her body rested for the night. Twelve of these were built including at Westcheap in the City of London and Charing (hence Charing Cross, see our earlier post here), the latter thanks to her body “resting” overnight at the Dominican Friary at Blackfriars. Her funeral took place on 17th December, 1290, with her body placed in a grave near the high altar until her marble tomb was ready. The tomb (one of three built for the queen – the others were located at Lincoln – for her viscera – and Blackfriars – for her heart) still survives in the abbey.

St-Paul's-CathedralVice Admiral Lord Nelson: Heroic in life and perhaps seen as even more so after his death, Nelson’s demise at the Battle of Trafalgar was a national tragedy. His body, preserved in brandy, was taken off the HMS Victory and transported to Greenwich where he lay in state for three days in the Painted Hall. Thousands visited before the body was again moved, taken in a barge upriver to the Admiralty where it lay for a night before the state funeral on 9th January, 1806, more than two months after his death. An escort said to comprise 10,000 soldiers, more than 100 sea captains and 32 admirals accompanied the body through the streets of the city along with seamen from the Victory to St Paul’s Cathedral (pictured)  where he was interred in a marble sarcophagus originally made for Cardinal Wolsey located directly beneath the dome. The tomb can still be seen in the crypt of St Paul’s.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington: Given the last heraldic state funeral ever held in Britain, the Iron Duke’s funeral was held on 18th November, 1852, following his death on 14th September. His body, which had been brought to London from Walmer where it had laid in state by rail, lay in state a second time at Chelsea Hospital. On the morning of the funeral, the cortege set out from Horse Guards, travelling via Constitution Hill to St Paul’s. The body was conveyed in the same funeral car used to convey Nelson’s and accompanied by a guard of honour which included soldiers from every regiment in the army. Masses – reportedly more than a million-and-a-half people – lined the streets to watch funeral procession pass through the city before a service was held in St Paul’s Cathedral under the great dome and he was interred in a monumental sarcophagus alongside that Vice Admiral Lord Nelson. Like Nelson’s, it can still be seen there today.

Sir Winston Churchill: Widely regarded as one of the great wartime leaders of the 20th century, the former British Prime Minister died in his London home on 24th January, 1965, having suffered a stroke nine days earlier. His funeral (plans for which had apparently been code-named ‘Hope-Not’), was the largest state funeral in the world at the time of his death with representatives of 112 nations attending and watched on television by 25 million people in Britain alone. His body lay in state for three days (during which more than 320,000 people came to pay their respects) before on 30th January, it was taken from Westminster Hall and through the streets of London to a funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral. After the service, a 19 gun salute was fired and the RAF staged a flyby of 16 fighter planes as the body was taken to Tower Hill and then by barge to Waterloo Station. From there it was taken by a special funeral train (named Winston Churchill) to Bladon near Churchill’s home at Blenheim Palace.

Diana, Princess of Wales: Having died in a car crash in Paris on 31st August, 1997, her body was flown back to London and taken to St James’s Palace where it remained for five days before being transported to her former home of Kensington Palace. More than a million people crowded London’s streets on 6th September, 1997, to watch the funeral procession as it made its way from the palace to Westminster Abbey. Among those present at the funeral (which was not a state funeral) were members of the royal family as well as then Prime Minister Tony Blair, former PMs including Margaret Thatcher and foreign dignitaries and celebrities, the latter including Elton John who sang a rewritten version of Candle in the Wind. After the service, Diana’s body was taken to her family’s estate of Althorp in Northamptonshire where the “People’s Princess” was laid to rest.

Our new series will be launched next week due to this week’s events…

As we approach the end of the year, we’re taking a look back at our 10 most popular posts for 2011. We start the countdown with numbers 10 and 9…

10. LondonLife – The Royal Menageriein which, inspired by what was a new exhibition at the Tower of London, we take at the Royal Menagerie kept there by England’s monarchs for more than 600 years;

9. Treasures of London – Admiral Lord Nelson’s coat: part of a series looking at some of the many, many ‘treasures’ of London, this piece focused on the coat which Admiral Lord Nelson when he was fatally shot aboard the HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar and which can now be seen at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (complete with bullet hole).

Stay tuned by numbers 8 and 7 tomorrow. We love to hear from you if there was a particular post that was your favorite. Leave your comment below…

• Next year – 7th February to be precise – marks 200 years since the birth of celebrated 19th century novelist Charles Dickens and to mark the bicentenary, London institutions are among those across the country organising a raft of exhibitions under the banner of Dickens 2012. First up for us is a new exhibition launched this week at the British Library. A Hankering after Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural explores the way in which Dickens used supernatural phenomena in his works (remember the ghosts of A Christmas Carol anyone?), while at the same time placing them in the context of the “scientific, technological and philosophical debates of his time”. The exhibition includes a letter from Dickens to his wife Catherine written in 1853 (this alludes to a disagreement which arose between them after Catherine became jealous of the attention Dickens was paying to another lady; he apparently used mesmerism to treat Catherine’s “nervous condition”), an article in an 1858 Household Words magazine in which Dickens questions the motivation of the spirits who supposedly tapped out messages to spiritualists, and, a 1821 copy of The Terrific Register: or, record of crimes, judgements, providences and calamities, a publication which was one of Dickens’ favorite reads as a youth. There is a range of accompanying events including talks by Dickens’ biographer Claire Tomalin (author of Charles Dickens: A Life) and John Bowen, author of Other Dickens: Pickwick to Chuzzlewit. Admission is free. Runs until 4th March. For more, see www.bl.ukImage: Courtesy of British Library

• The Art Fund has launched an appeal to have Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle, currently sitting atop Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, relocated to a permanant home outside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. The fund, which has kick started the campaign with a £50,000 grant, needs £362,500 to buy the work – a scaled down replica of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory – which has been on display in Trafalgar Square since May, 2010, but is due to be removed in January next year. The replica work features 80 cannon and 37 sails, set as on a day of battle, and is made out of materials including oak, hardwood, brass, twine and canvas. For more, see www.artfund.org/ship/.

• The historic ship HMS Belfast, moored on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, has been closed until further notice after a section of gangway which provides access to the ship collapsed earlier this week. Two contractors received minor injuries in the collapse and staff and visitors were evacuated by boat. The HMS Belfast is described as the most significant surviving Royal Navy warship from World War II and later served in places like Korea. It contains extensive displays on what life was like aboard the vessel. Keep on eye on www.iwm.org.uk for more information.

Now On: Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Hyde Park’s annual festival of all things Christmas is on again and this year’s festive offerings include, an ice rink, circus, giant observation wheel, rides and the chance for younger people to visit Santa Land as well as a plethora of opportunities to purchase presents at the Angels Christmas Market and warm-up with some of the fare available at eateries including the Bavarian Village, English Food Fair, and Spiegel Saloon. Winter Wonderland is free to enter and open between 10am and 10pm daily. Runs until 3rd January. For more, see www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com.

It was roughly two hours into the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October, 1805, about 1.15pm, that Great Britain’s most famous seaman, Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, was fatally struck by a musket ball.

Fired by a marksmen in the rigging of the French ship Redoubtable, the musket ball struck him in the left shoulder as he stood on the deck of his flagship, HMS Victory.

Having fallen to his knees, he was spotted by the Victory‘s captain, Thomas Hardy, before he collapsed. Carried below the decks to the ship’s cockpit, it was there that he died (the Victory can still be visited at Portsmouth).

His damaged coat, meanwhile, was placed under the head of Midshipman George Augustus Westphal, who was being treated for his injuries nearby. Blood from the midshipman (late himself an admiral) stuck his hair to one of the epaulettes, part of which was was cut away and retained by his family as a memento.

The “undress jacket” was later returned to Nelson’s mistress, Emma Lady Hamilton, in accordance with his wishes. She later gave it to Joshua Jonathan Smith, Lord Mayor of London in 1810-1811, to as payment of a debt just prior to retiring to France in 1814. It was Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, who later purchased the coat for £150 from Smith’s widow and presented it to Greenwich Hospital in 1845.

The jacket can now be found in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (housed in a section of the former Naval College). Along with the fatal musket ball hole on the left shoulder, the tails and left sleeve of the jacket are stained with the blood of John Scott, Nelson’s secretary, who had died in the early moments of the battle on the spot where Nelson was later shot. It’s also possible to see where the epaulette was damaged during the treatment of Midshipman Westphal.

The front of the coat also features embroidered versions of the four orders of chivalry awarded to Nelson – these are the star of the Order of the Bath, the Order of the Crescent awarded by the Sultan of Turkey, the Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit awarded by Ferdinand IV of Naples, and the German Order of St Joachim. According to the National Maritime Museum, “Nelson habitually wore them on all his uniform coats”.

The coat’s right sleeve is positioned as Nelson would have worn it – in 1797 he had lost his right arm at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

PICTURE: Vice-admiral’s undress coat worn by Nelson (1758-1805) at the Battle of Trafalgar. There is a bullet hole on the left shoulder, close to the epaulette. (c) National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection.

WHERE: National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich, (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark or Greenwich mainline station); WHEN: Open 10am to 5pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.nmm.ac.uk.

Once a pivotal player in ensuring the UK’s navy remained on top at sea, the Historic Dockyard in Chatham has been involved in preparing ships involved in some of history’s greatest naval engagements – everything from England’s defeats of the Spanish Armada in 1588 to Admiral Lord Nelson’s famous victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Located 35 miles south-east of London on the River Medway, these days the dockyard plays host to tourists rather than hundreds of craftsmen who once worked there, eager to gain an insight into its rich history (as well as two film crews for movies and TV series).

While the history of the dockyard on its present site goes back to the 1600s, most of the surviving buildings date from between 1700 to the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, during which time the Chatham Dockyard built and launched 125 ships including Nelson’s Victory (which can now be found at Portsmouth).

The dockyard officially closed in 1984 and is now under the care of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.

Attractions these days are many and range from the chance to ramble over historic warships permanently docked there – these include the sloop, the HMS Gannet – launched in 1878 it served as an anti-slaver and later as a training ship, the HMS Cavalier – launched in 1944, it was one of 96 emergency destroyers built during the Second World War and, having served in various places around the world until being ‘paid off’ in 1972, is now preserved as a memorial, and the last vessel built for the Royal Navy there, the Oberon class submarine HMS Ocelot – launched in 1962.

Other features include the Wooden Walls of England – an interactive walk-through looking at what life was like aboard England’s timber-hulled vessels of the mid-1700s, No 1 Smithery which now houses the maritime model collections of the National Maritime Museum and the Imperial War Museum as well as paintings and other artefacts, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s collection of historic lifeboats and The Royal Dockyard Museum which houses a large range of artefacts.

Also well worth a visit is the still working Victorian Ropery. Its curmudeonly attendants who provide a fascinating insight in what life was like for those formerly employed there and you can see how rope is still made in the 346 metre long rope house which, when constructed, was the longest brick building in Europe.

There’s also a cafe on site and a range of other odd artefacts at various locations – including the railway carriage used by Lord Kitchener in Sudan in 3 Slip – The Big Space – as well as the historic buildings of the dockyard itself.

There’s certainly more than can be seen in a day but thankfully all tickets are valid for a year.

WHERE: Chatham, Kent (nearest railway station is Chatham). For detailed driving instructions see website; WHEN: Open everyday until 12th December from 10am-4pm (check for times after that); COST: £15 an adult/£12.50 concessions/£10.50 children (aged five to 15 years)/£42.50 for a family; WEBSITE: www.thedockyard.co.uk