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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Lord Mayor's Show

State Coach, Lord Mayor of London, Lord Mayor's Show

Other cities may well have their own, rudimentary, mayoral celebrations, and jolly fine they undoubtedly are.  But the Lord Mayor’s Show is the one that takes place annually in the City of London.  Its origins date back more than 800 years and the associated procession is claimed (by its organisers) to be the longest and best prepared in the whole wide world.

City of London Police, independent police force, Lord Mayor's Show

Nor should anyone confuse the Lord Mayor of London, a title first recorded in the year 1189, with the new-fangled, plain, Mayor of London, a political post which has existed merely since the year 2000.  The City of London is a distinct local authority area within the wider metropolis, based on London’s historic heart, and these days the main financial and business district.  It is often referred to simply as, ‘the City’ and, sometimes, as ‘the square mile’ (surprisingly, because it’s about that small).  You can identify a City of London address by its ‘EC’ post code.  In the City, only the Sovereign takes precedence over its Lord Mayor, who is the annually elected head of the City of London Corporation - reputedly the oldest continually elected body in the world.  The most famous Lord Mayor of London is probably Dick Whittington – an actual, not a pantomime, figure who really was mayor three times in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.  The recently invented Mayor of London, a post held by Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, is directly elected every four years and has a serious strategic remit for the greater London area as a whole, whereas the theoretically non-political Lord Mayor of London’s role is more ceremonial and ambassadorial – and focussed on the City.  Got it?

Lord Mayor's flotilla, Southwark Bridge, London Bridge, Tower Bridge

13th century London was the largest city in Northern Europe, with a population somewhere between 15 and 20,000.  As an institution, it was rich, influential and hard to control.  Possibly hoping for powerful support in his disagreements with virtually everyone, King John confirmed the office of Lord Mayor by a charter in 1215, which granted Londoners the right to choose their own mayor each year.  It was a condition of this that each newly elected mayor should travel upstream, beyond the security of the City boundaries through what was then countryside, to the much smaller town of Westminster, in order to pledge loyalty to the Crown.

QRB Glorianna, Lord Mayor, livery craft, London

Shortly after this, the Lord Mayor of London was one of the 25 barons – and the only one there in an official capacity – to put his signature to Magna Carta.  Clause 13 of the Great Charter confirms that “The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water.”  It then goes on to confirm similar rights to “other cities, boroughs, towns and ports”, so I’m not sure of the particular significance of this clause; nor does there appear to be any reference to precisely what ancient liberties etc London enjoyed before 1215.  This could keep a lawyer happy for hours.

Lord Mayor's flotilla, Blackfriars Bridge, pageantry, London

I digress.  The journey the Mayor first made to Westminster to swear his fidelity to bad King John has, so they say, been repeated every year subsequently without fail, whether at time of war, peace, plague, or whatever, to swear loyalty to the 34 kings and queens who have reigned ever since.  Presumably, the Lord Mayor swore allegiance to Parliament during the interregnum.  In any event, it is from these old roots that today’s Lord Mayor’s Show, part pageant, part carnival, has evolved.

Canaletto, painting, Westminster Bridge, Lord Mayor's Show

Details vary from year to year, but in recent times there have been three main parts to the show.  It begins with a flotilla of boats and barges on the Thames, a river pageant. This celebrates the mayor’s original journey, which would have been by boat.  Next comes the parade, a procession of something like 7,000 participants in the region of 3 miles long, crammed into a 1.7 mile route from Mansion House, the Lord Mayor’s official residence in the City, near Bank, to the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in Westminster.  In the evening, the grand finale is a spectacular firework display over the Thames.

The State Coach, Lord Mayor, St Paul's Cathedral

Lord Mayor's Show, Britain's armed services, Royal Marines

The Lord Mayor’s Show is a key event in the London Calendar and always takes place on the second Saturday of November.  Most roads in the City are closed all day and the Embankment is closed until the evening.  Trying to move around by road in the area is hopeless – it has always been a day to avoid when coordinating weekend work in the capital.  Sometimes, the weekend of the Lord Mayor’s Show coincides with that of the National Service of Remembrance, held in Whitehall on the Sunday closest to Armistice Day, 11th November, which causes further road closures around that part of Westminster.

The Lord Mayor's Show, commando, 19th century policeman, Viking

In any event, despite living and working in and around London for many years, I had never seen the Lord Mayor’s Show until we visited London for other reasons in 2014.  In fact, it was only when we spotted the grandstands near St Paul’s the night before that we realised the Lord Mayor’s Show was taking place.  So in the morning we took the opportunity to stand on the Millennium Bridge to watch the flotilla, grabbed some breakfast and then parked ourselves on Ludgate Hill and saw the entire procession go by – which I can tell you took about 2 hours.

Livery companies, fruiterers, solicitors, pipe-makers and tobacco blenders, actuaries, men with funny hats

The first carnival floats ever were the decorated barges that took part in the medieval Lord Mayor’s procession centuries ago.  The flotilla we saw was astonishing.  Like a scene from a bygone age, the Queen’s Royal Barge, Glorianna, carrying the Lord Mayor, was surrounded by the traditional craft of London’s livery companies and port authorities.  It reminded me of an old oil painting – the Venetian artist Canaletto painted the Lord Mayor’s Show five times.

Magog, Gog, ancient guardians of London, Thames Tideway Tunnel, Chinese dragon, ladies from Malaya

London’s livery companies have evolved from the medieval guilds – essentially trade associations regulating standards and training, which were once extremely powerful.  The oldest is the Worshipful Company of Weavers, which was founded in 1155.  According to the Corporation of London, there are 125 livery companies, covering every trade and profession you can think of and many that don’t immediately spring to mind: grocers, ironmongers, drapers, actuaries, mercers, fletchers – even the more modern information technologists and world traders.

Lord Mayor's Show, music, Christ's Hospital School Band, Royal Yeomanry, London Scottish

The colour and flamboyance of each company’s livery (yes, that’s why they’re called livery companies) is an essential part of the procession.  This also includes units of the armed forces with London associations, educational establishments, marching bands, civilian services, figures from history, costumes – a mixture of all sorts of things.  It is a glorious cacophony of music, noise and colour, which changes every year.  Somewhere near the front, ever since the reign of Henry V (1413-1432), will be Gog and Magog, traditional guardians of London, descended from the pagan giants who once inhabited these islands.  You’ll be glad to know that the ones in the parade are just effigies.  Somewhere near the end comes the State Coach, a completely over-the-top fairy-tale vehicle built 250 years ago, which can be seen in the Museum of London when not in use.

Napoleonic Society, centenary, Battle of Waterloo, 1815, Napoleon

Household Cavalry, Royal Horse Artillery, carriages, Lord Mayor's Show

So, if you happen to be near London on the second Saturday in November, you might want to take a peek at the Lord Mayor’s Show.  It’s a piece of living history – and particularly good if you’re fond of men in funny hats and tights.  Mind you, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  Samuel Pepys, the 17th century diarist, allegedly found it quite irritating and wrote that he regarded the pageantry as “poor and absurd”.  But what did he know?

Lord Mayor's Show, State Coach

State Coach, Museum of London

I hope my meagre pictures capture something of the atmosphere of the event for you.  As usual, hover your cursor over an image to see an explanation.


To find out more, visit the official website for the Lord Mayor’s Show.

Pikemen and Musketeers, Honourable Artillery Company, HAC

39 comments:

  1. Very good, made me feel like I was there. Must admit I would love to see it

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  2. I wonder what Pepys would say about Tampa's Gasparilla parade. Great place to take pictures of people in funny hats. I'll be sure to do a week long sharing of this February's gala.

    enjoyed

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  3. I've never seen this "in the flesh" and I'm not sure how I've missed it. Maybe next year; your photos certainly inspire me to go.

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  4. A most lovely collection of photos, almost as good as being there, so I'm happy you finally watched it. The synergy between the people and their history is always a remarkable thing, if only more could be shared in such unison day to day too. Why not the Viking indeed! The over the top coach is remarkable and your capture of the reflection makes it quite stunning! Thank you for sharing, and for those of us over here there is still time to book tickets and make this year's event!

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  5. Very interesting and I didn't know the difference between the Mayor of London and the Lord Mayor of London. Great photos.

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  6. Another reason to be in London in November besides the first Sunday of Advent at St. Paul's Cathedral. So much tradition and pageantry in England. I love it! Wonderful accompanying photos!

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  7. Oh my, what a grand post and marvelous photos. It was most interesting to learn difference between the Lord Mayor of London and the Mayor of London. Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

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  8. Must be fun rowing that ceremonial barge. I would think the urge to race would be great. :-)

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  9. I had no idea there was such an event or that there was a difference between the mayors. A great post, Mike!

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  10. Another reason to be in London in November besides the first Sunday of Advent at St. Paul's Cathedral. So much tradition and pageantry in England. I love it! Wonderful accompanying photos!

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  11. I love a bit of pageantry. The Glorianna is truly magnificent. I knew about the Lord Mayor's show but have only seen it on TV. Your photos are superb. You could have done a great commentary between the policeman and policewoman in your second picture, or the cyclists!

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  12. We saw Cleese and Idle in Savannah, Georgia, they're doing a southern tour here. Started in Florida and will finish in Baltimore, Maryland. It was incredible. We have seen the Aspen show and they showed a clip of it during this show.

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  13. I've never seen it but always thought it would be an amazing event. My Dad always had an expression "After the Lord Mayor's Show, comes the muck cart" which was his way of saying that it doesn't matter how posh someone or something is there's always reality to deal with. (horse dung in this case!)

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  14. Ah, so that's what the term means. I'd wondered what the position was. Beautiful shots!

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  15. Fabulous photos and commentary Brian - my husband is a Freeman and Liveryman, but doesn't bother to go now we no longer live near the city.

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  16. Few countries can match the pageantry of Great Britain. Love the color and energy in your pictures.

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  17. Wow, that was wonderful! I have seen the carriage which is a show all by itself. I would love to see it all.

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  18. So much colour and pageantry. I like you lived and worked in and around London for many years and not once have been to this. The closest I have been to the coach is in the Museum of London and that was mind blowing at how opulent it is. I couldn't imagine Boris Johnson parading around London like that... mind you I bet he would love it!

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  19. I am of the opinion that no country does pomp and ceremony as well as the British, tres impressive to see and beautifully shown here Mike, merci beaucoup.

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  20. I am of the opinion that no country does pomp and ceremony as well as the British, tres impressive to see and beautifully shown here Mike, merci beaucoup.

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  21. When we were in London in 2014 we visited the Museum of London and saw that ornate carriage. We particularly liked the ancient history portion of that museum.

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  22. Is Lord Mayor of London an inherited title? Please forgive me if you already covered that. My reading is still not as good as I would like it to be.

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  23. A fascinating history of the event! Thank you Mike! I hope that you get to go again sometime and I hope that I get to go one day too!

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  24. Wow, amazing photos!
    I like all the river shots.
    As always well done!

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  25. A really interesting account. I have yet to make it to the procession so maybe this year with your well timed reminder I might actually get there.

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  26. Another new one for me! Sounds like quite the event.

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  27. How fascinating. I've lived in London for nearly 50 years and never seen The Lord Mayor's Show. Not even watched it in television. But the bit on the river quite attracts me. Almost Venetian don't you think?

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  28. I have never heard of this show before. Your post is very informative and illustrated very well. You can't beat the pommies for pomp and ceremony.

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  30. What an absolutely wonderful post Mike.
    I enjoyed all your photo's too.

    We do do pomp and circumstance so well ... love it!

    All the best Jan

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  31. Men in fur hats and tighs? I have to come to that show some day!

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  32. Great post Mike, being a Londoner made me a bit home sick.

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  33. Well captured photos. I always tend to think of London as almost a separate nation existing within the UK as it's population and income dwarf Scotland and Wales combined. Even the rest of England north of Oxford fails to match its clout on the global stage in any competition so it's interesting to wonder about its potential size and influence in 50 years time.

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  34. Marvelous showmanship! We have an apple blossom parade (in Winchester, Virginia) that's now split into two parades, the traditional one and the firemen's parade the day before. The traditional one goes on for hours! We went one year and got tired after a couple of hours and left to find a restaurant.

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  35. what a great post and photos! i really enjoyed it all!

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  36. fascinating! looks so vibrant!

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  37. Wow, this look like quite a production! There's so much color and so many participants! Thanks for sharing.

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  38. I LOVE this post, Mike!! I find anything to do with medieval traditions/ceremonies so interesting. The flotilla is beautiful, especially the "Glorianna." I love the State Coach, even if it is over the top. :) All the costumes in the parade are wonderful -- such a great variety. I don't do crowds very well, but I'd sure love to see this event. No one does pomp and circumstance like the Brits -- wonderful.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Denise at Forest Manor

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.