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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Thomas Molloy

Earl and Countess of Wessex light candle in memory of Queen Elizabeth II during poignant visit to Manchester

As thousands queued in the capital to see Queen Elizabeth II lying in state, hundreds in Manchester greeted her youngest child Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex. While the crowds in the city centre were not quite on the same level as those seen in London at the moment, plenty of people still lined the barriers to pay their respects.

Outside the royals’ first stop - Manchester Central Library - one group draped a big Union flag over the metal railings in anticipation of their arrival at 11.45am. Others waved handheld flags and held flowers as the black BMWs and Range Rovers carrying the Wessexes pulled up and met the crowds.

Some of Manchester’s most significant civic figures, such as Mayor Andy Burnham, Council Leader Bev Craig, and Lord-Lieutenant of Greater Manchester Diane Hawkins, then brought the Earl and Countess of Wessex into the library and its incredibly atmospheric Wolfson Reading Room.

READ MORE : Emotions, aches and steely determination in the great British queue to pay tribute to a beloved Queen

Since Her Majesty’s death, references to Paddington Bear have been a common sight within the tributes, following the Queen’s memorable sketch with the character during the Platinum Party at the Palace. So it seemed quite fitting that the first card Prince Edward picked up in the library was one with Paddington on the front.

Crowds awaiting the Earl and Countess of Wessex outside Manchester Central Library (Vincent Cole - Manchester Evening News)

The circular room and its iconic dome amplified and echoed every camera click from the members of the press fortunate enough to be invited inside, and the Earl of Wessex even remarked on the “strange” acoustics that it created as he and the Countess of Wessex read through the cards and eventually the books of condolence that had been signed in memory of his mother.

Following Her Majesty’s passing, St Ann’s Square has been Manchester’s main hub for floral tributes and that was the next step for the Earl and Countess of Wessex, at around 12.15pm. Prince Edward lay some beautiful flowers at the front of the Richard Cobden statue and then made his way around to read some of the tributes left by mourners in the past week.

Sophie meanwhile took the time to speak to those who had come to visit, shaking hands and posing for photographs as she went. Prince Edward then spoke to the floral tribute volunteers who have helped to keep the display well presented to express his gratitude.

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex lays flowers for his mother, Queen Elizabeth II (Vincent Cole - Manchester Evening News)

Juliet Felstead, 27, has coordinated a team of around 160 volunteers. She told the Manchester Evening News: “He was just really grateful for all the volunteers who have taken the time out of their week to receive the tributes and he told us that he was touched by the messages from everyone and the kindness that has been shown.

“It’s been really nice to see people make their reflections and recall their memories of the Queen. It’s nice to see it all come together and see the impact it’s had. He was pleased that we’re managing to save the cards that people have been leaving as well, from the Manchester rain.”

Throughout the day, Prince Edward had seemed in good spirits, sharing a few laughs with those showing him around but the Earl and Countess of Wessex’s final stop at Manchester Cathedral was extremely poignant and moving, as they were both asked to light a candle in memory of their beloved mother and mother-in-law, respectively.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex spent time speaking to the crowds (Vincent Cole - Manchester Evening News)

It was just over a year ago that the Queen visited Manchester Cathedral during her last ever visit to the city and Prince Edward was visibly impressed with the cathedral’s gothic revival architecture, spending several minutes looking around the choir room, before emerging and eventually leaving, with Sophie, at around 1pm. They then spent the next five to ten minutes, taking their time to make conversation with and thank plenty of those who had come out to see them.

As their cars left the cathedral and departed Manchester, a few claps turned into a respectful round of applause. A fitting end for a royal visit at such a difficult personal time for those involved.

We have turned comments off on this story but you can share your tribute in our online condolence book.

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