Museums across the UK are preparing to close on Monday 19 September for the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
All national museums in the four nations will be shut for the day, and most other institutions are following suit to give staff and visitors the opportunity to take part in the national day of mourning. Some institutions with outdoor spaces, like the Horniman Museum & Gardens in London and St Fagans near Cardiff, plan to keep their gardens open to the public.
A national moment of reflection, marked by a one-minute silence, will be held at 8pm on Sunday, the eve of the funeral. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has produced a toolkit of guidance and visual assets for organisations that wish to take part.
Many museum staff are planning to collect objects and responses related to the historic occasion – but are mindful of doing so in a respectful way.
“It feels important to collect local responses but asking for donations right now feels pretty insensitive,” says Eleanor Root, collections and learning curator at Colchester & Ipswich Museums. “But much will be ephemeral so if not collected right away will be lost.”
Dorset Museum is gathering recollections of the Queen from visitors throughout the 10-day mourning period, which will form a Book of Memories that will become part of the museum’s collection.
The state funeral will be particularly sensitive for museums with specific audiences. “Veterans visit us in large numbers,” says a spokesperson for Nothe Fort, a military history museum in Weymouth and Portland. “They swore a lifelong oath of allegiance to the monarch. We feel acutely the responsibility to consider our response with sensitivity and to do everything precisely right.”
Nothe Fort is hosting a candlelight vigil the night before the funeral and will close on the day itself, with no negative impact on holiday entitlement or pay for staff. It has also half-masted flags as per protocol and enlisted its gunnery volunteers to fire cannons.
Museums in Edinburgh and London formed the backdrop to historic queues this week as members of public flock to view the Queen's lying-in-state. Mourners in their thousands filed past the doors of National Museum of Scotland earlier in the week on their way to St Giles Cathedral.
Following the transfer of the coffin to London, Tate Britain, which is the starting point of the accessible queue, set up portaloos and comfortable chairs for mourners as they make their way to Westminster Hall.
However the unscheduled bank holiday has also brought disruption, particularly for self-employed museum workers. “As a freelancer who works in galleries and museums I’ll be mourning the loss of income,” says artist Phill Wilson-Perkin.
Another museum worker said the response to the state funeral stood in contrast to her institution’s usual policy on compassionate leave, particularly for front-of-house staff. “Recently a number of colleagues went through this, including myself,” says the worker, who says she was not given leave to attend a loved one’s funeral recently because it was overseas.
“Two of [my colleagues] were told that the compassionate leave wouldn't apply since the dear ones weren't considered ‘imminent family’. Leave, a day off or even a swap of shifts weren't granted due to ‘being short staffed’.
“Now the Queen's death has made a contrasting difference showing what a museum as a company is able to offer. My question is, what support is there to be given when a cultural icon passes away and what support is given to workers in reality?”