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Lord Mayor's CoachCustoms and Traditions of the City of London

The subject of our November talk was on the Customs and Traditions of the City of London by Mark Lewis.  Mark amazed members with the extraordinary number of rituals and pageantry, some very eccentric and some downright bizarre.  Of course, we had all heard of Dick Whittington (1354-1423) who became a very successful businessman, an Alderman and was Lord Mayor of London four times. One of the strangest ceremonies, when authority transfers from one Mayor to the new Mayor, is The Silent Ceremony.

The Silent Ceremony

After the huge, colourful, procession, the new Lord Mayor is sworn in and signs an oath of allegiance.  After that, the rest of the ceremony is completed in complete silence.  This was because several hundred years ago the ceremony was often very vocal and even violent.

In the early days, the procession was always on the river Thames, as captured by the artist Canaletto.  The word float that we now use in Carnivals to describe the moving decorated trailers derives from the original Lord Mayor flotilla.


One extraordinary sight is ‘freemen’ of the city driving sheep across London Bridge.  The Worshipful Company of Woolmen which has been around since the 11th century is responsible for the whole affair.

In the past, sheep drives across London Bridge were common practice to transport them to market in the city; nowadays, the Company conducts the event to promote the wool industry.  The event raises an enormous amount for charity as nowadays you can sponsor a sheep!

Knollys Rose

The Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames organise another ceremony with a great history; this is the Knollys Rose Ceremony in June every year.  The ceremony revives a custom in which a rose was given as payment for a fine.

Back in 1381, Lady Constance Knollys erected a footbridge, without permission, between two properties owned by her on Seething Lane.  Her husband, Sir Robert Knolly, was away fighting alongside John of Gaunt, and his wife, reputedly annoyed with the chaff dust blowing from the threshing ground opposite their house, bought the property and turned it into a rose garden.

She then built a footbridge over the lane to avoid the mud but without planning permission.  The penalty was that a red rose ‘rent’ from the garden had to be paid annually to the Lord Mayor.  Whilst the footbridge has long disappeared, the legal requirement for the payment of this ‘quit-rent’ was established as one of the City’s traditions.

And many more old traditions…

We learnt about many more fascinating sounding ceremonies and traditions including the

  • medieval ceremony of The Freedom of the City of London,
  • Goldsmith’s Company – Trial of the Pyx,
  • Cart-Marking Ceremony, and
  • Worshipful Company of Butchers and their Boar’s Head ceremony.

A fairly gruesome tale was that of Sir John Cass and the Red Feather.  In 1710 Alderman Sir John Cass, concerned with the education of the people of the City, wrote his will bequeathing his fortune to a primary school.  Before he had completed it, he suffered a massive brain haemorrhage and died.  The quill feather pen he was using became stained with his blood.  Being incomplete the will was contested but was finally upheld by the Court of Chancery.  To commemorate this success a red feather is worn by the representatives on Founder’s Day.

Pancake Race

A fairly new tradition is the Annual Pancake Race.  This brings together teams drawn from livery companies linked in some way to pancakes.  It sounds great fun as some competitors dress in their ostentatious regalia and some in fancy dress.  The Lord Mayor’s Charity receives a donation of the money raised from the event.  This event sparked a great deal of interest for a future event in the village?

Happy Christmas

PAWS wish all those reading their articles a very happy Christmas!

Next Meeting

There is no meeting in December.  The next meeting will be on Tuesday 22nd January 2019 when PAWS will welcome Colin Hopper.  Colin’s topic will be ‘The World of Optical Illusion‘.  Details of all meetings and speakers are on the calendar of the home page of this website. If you would like further information about PAWS please ring either of the following committee members:

  • Lorraine Davies 01206 735348, or
  • Jane Anderson 01206 735239.