Following immediately after Halloween and Bonfire night is another great spectacle that of the Lord Mayor’s Show.
Our collection of books on customs cover great ceremonial occasions and the Lord Mayor’s show is one of the best. It takes place annually on the second Saturday in November and this year it falls on 10th November – best of all its free!
The post of Lord Mayor of the City London dates back more than 700 years and it was in the reign of King John who needing the support of the city in 1215 against rebellious barons gave the citizens of London the right to elect their own Mayor.
As the choice of Mayor has to be approved by the monarchy, each year (he or she) proceeds through the city to swear and oath of loyalty at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Up until 1453 the procession went through the City of London and was a great public holiday. One of the highlights of the procession was a chariot containing the two fearsome giants, Gog and Magog, who normally lived at the Guildhall. They represent the ancient legend that London was founded in the year 1000 by Trojan invaders after they had been helped by the two giants. Apparently these were made of wickerwork and were frequently eaten by the rats in the city. Therefore in 1708 two wooden figure were carved which unfortunately were later destroyed in the Blitz – luckily another pair were made and can still be seen in the Guildhall.
After this date the Lord mayor travelled to Westminster by barge in a river pageant – similar to the one we saw this year for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Apparently some of barges were so big that in one report they could hold a dinner and dance for eighty people. There were musicians, flags and guns firing along the way and on some occasions there were boats with dragons casting fire over the water. Unfortunately the river pageant ceased in 1856 and it went back to the processional route along the streets.
The Lord Mayor now travels through the City from Mansion House the official residence of the Lord Mayor to the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand and returns in procession to Mansion House to hold a huge banquet. He travels in a richly decorated state coach. The coach was built in 1757 and cost the grand sum of £1065 0s 3d. It weighs over 3 tons and is 19.8 metres long (approx 65 feet).
The procession is held each year and there is great account in the Illustrated London News of 17th November 1883 describing all the floats. You can also find them on our online database Times Digital Archive which include such wonderful phrase as “the window of the houses were filled with persons mostly ladies of most respectable appearance” and in the procession an “ancient knight mounted on a charger armed cap a pie in suit of polishes tell armour and plumed”.
Some famous Lord Mayors include Richard (Dick) Whittington who really was Lord Mayor three times and which I have found out was worth the amazing sum of £7000 at his death in 1423. Sir William Walworth, was the Lord Mayor who killed Wat Tyler during the peasants revolt of 1381. One of the more inept Mayors was Sir Thomas Bludworth who famously underestimated the impact of a small fire in Pudding Lane in 1666, the result of which was the burning down of most of London, more famously known as the Great Fire.
- You can find out more about these characters in another of our online databases the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- For more information on the upcoming Lord Mayor’s Show please vist the City of London, Lords Mayor’s Show website.
Bibliography for the above blog post, was done using the following references:
- Roud, Steve, London Lore the legend and traditions of the world’s most vibrant city , London, (Random House) 2008
- Brentnall, Margaret, Old customs and ceremonies of London, Norfolk, (B.T Batsford Ltd) 1975.
- Hayward Girtin, T, The Lord Mayor of London, London, (Oxford University press) 1948
Karen Ullersperger, Tri-Borough Reference Manager