The funeral arrangements for King Richard III’s dramatic final journey on Sunday were run by a 34-year-old woman who lives in Kibworth.
Jenny Gilbert became a medieval king’s undertaker, as a member of the family firm which runs both EC Gilbert Ltd of Great Glen and AJ Adkinson of Oadby, the company selected by Leicester City Council to organise the last Plantagenet’s funeral.
“Yes, we were Richard III’s undertakers,” Jenny told the Mail. “When the council rang up to tell us, I wanted to jump up and down with excitement.
“But it didn’t really sink in as to how big it was going to be. I’ve been working on the arrangements day and night since before Christmas.”
Looking carefully at pictures and TV footage from the funeral procession to Leicester Cathedral and you’ll spot Jenny or her father, company boss Fraser Gilbert (68).
Jenny said: “I travelled in the hearse, with an earpiece and a radio mic co-ordinating things, and making sure the timing was right.
“And it’s my father who was at the front, and who led the six pallbearers into the cathedral.”
Jenny said the occasion was “overwhelming, even though in basic terms it’s what we do every day”.
“We’ve done funerals in the past that have been mentioned on the news, but none have had their own dedicated TV programme,” she said.
And she was amazed by the number of people who lined the coffin’s route to the cathedral – in the villages of west Leicestershire as well as in the city of Leicester.
Jenny said: “When we rehearsed, we had driven through these tiny villages and there had been no one around.
“On the day of the funeral they were so packed with people you could hardly get up the road.
“There were an awful lot of people, but at the same time there wasn’t that much noise.
“People were respectful.”
She said the funeral team had practiced every aspect of the ceremony, even the carrying of a replica, correctly-weighted coffin.
“Because the coffin was lead-lined it was heavy and so we had six pallbearers instead of four, which presents problems in itself, with less room for each person to manoeuvre,” Jenny explained.
On the day, Jenny and Fraser were with the coffin every step of the way.
“It was a long day – from 8.30am to 7pm – but it went really, really quickly,” said Jenny.
“For me the most memorable moment was when the coffin was walked into the cathedral and there was no noise but the tolling bell and the footsteps of the men carrying the coffin, and I thought ‘we’ve done it!’.”
Meanwhile, Market Harborough building firm WW Brown & Sons put some of the final touches to the King Richard III Visitor Centre and its gardens beside Leicester Cathedral. The firm was asked to work on two aspects of the major project.
The first was to build a stainless steel protective area by the three pathways surrounding the £75,000 Towards Stillness sculpture, which tells the story of the excavation of King Richard III’s car park grave.
Secondly, it was asked to create the electric doors into the reception area of the £4million centre itself.
Mark Brown from the firm said: “We hope that our small contributions to this exciting project have helped to bring their ambitious plans to life.”
And, to mark the re-interment of King Richard III at Leicester Cathedral at 11.30am today (Thursday), the bellringers of St Dionysius in Harborough will be attempting a half-muffled quarter peal tonight. It is anticipated the attempt will last about 45 minutes.
This will form part of the countywide bellringing for the event.