When Prince Albert breathed his last at 10.50pm on the night of Saturday 14 December 1861 at Windsor, a telegraph message was sent within the hour to the lord mayor that the great bell of St Paul's Cathedral should toll out the news across London. Everyone knew that this sound signified one of two things: the death of a monarch or a moment of extreme national crisis such as war.
People living in the vicinity of the cathedral who had already gone to their beds that night were woken by the doleful sound; many of them dressed and began gathering outside St Paul's to share the news with shock and incredulity. Only the previous morning the latest bulletin from Windsor had informed them that the prince, who had been unwell for the last two weeks, had rallied during the night of the 13th. The whole nation had settled down for the evening reassured, hopeful that the worst was now over.