The Lord Mayor’s Show: A Return To Its River Roots

Pic 1
“Westminster Bridge with the Lord Mayor’s Procession on the Thames” by Canaletto, 1747. The ‘Lord Mayor of London’ is different from the American style ‘Mayor of London’. Picture: Wikipedia.

Tim Koch writes:

For centuries the ‘Lord Mayor’s Show’ has been a part of the London scene. Formally it is called “The Procession of the Lord Mayor for Presentation to the Lord Chief Justice and Queen’s Remembrancer at the Royal Courts of Justice”. To quote its excellent website:

The Lord Mayor’s Show has marched (and floated and trotted, and occasionally fought) through 799 years of London history, surviving the Black Death and the Blitz to arrive in the 21st century as what must be the oldest, grandest and best-loved civic pageant in the world…

(In 1214 King John) tried to win London’s support by allowing it to choose its own Mayor, but he insisted that immediately after election the Mayor must leave the safety of the City of London, travel upriver to distant Westminster and swear loyalty to the Crown.

As several previous Hear The Boat Sing posts have pointed out, in past times travel by river was considerably faster, safer and more comfortable then journeying by road. In 1214, London and Westminster were two small towns separated by open countryside but joined by the Thames. The website continues:

Over the centuries this inconvenient journey became one of London’s favourite rituals. It moved from river barges to horseback and then into the magnificent State Coach, and around it grew a rowdy and joyful medieval festival that became known as the Lord Mayor’s Show.

Pic 2
The scene depicted in Canaletto’s painting as it is today. Westminster Abbey with its twin towers is clearly visible on the right of the 1747 painting but in the modern photograph only the top of one of the towers is just visible on the extreme right.

Thus the Show actually began as a River Pageant (hence the term ‘float’) as little boats tagged along with the official craft and turned a solemn event into a bit of a party. The eclectic mix of the serious and the quirky is something that continues to this day. The website says of the 2014 procession:

It has over 7000 participants, with 21 bands, 180 horses, the State Coach, 22 other carriages carts and coaches, 140 more vehicles including vintage cars, steam buses, tractors, ambulances, fire engines, unicycles, steamrollers, a spitfire, a Viking ship, along with, Shaolin kung-fu dancers, the Magna Carta*, a grand piano pulled by bicycles, Napoleon and a tank.

(*The City of London has its own original copy of the 1297 Magna Carta – it’s that sort of place).

Some sources are confident enough to date the first recognisable Pageant as taking place in 1453. According to the Port of London Authority, the Show only moved to dry land in 1857 after the Corporation of London gave up its responsibility for the tidal Thames.

In 1953, the River Pageant was brought back for one year only to mark the 500th anniversary of the first event and, as this contemporary Pathe newsreel shows, it was a splendid effort in a time of austerity.

Pic 3
Former Lord Mayor, Sir David Wooton in his role as a Henley Steward.

Rowing and the river finally returned to become a permanent part of the Lord Mayor’s Show in 2011 when a keen oarsman became the 684th Lord Mayor of London. Sir David Wooton was captain of Jesus College, Cambridge, Boat Club in 1972 and rowed in the College First Eight which went Head of the River. He is a member of London and Leander and is now a Henley Steward. When he became Lord Mayor he decided that he wanted to arrive on the day of the Show in a rowing boat and to do this he enlisted the help of the Thames Traditional Rowing Association (TTRA) and its tireless secretary, Malcolm Knight. The TTRA has as its ‘mission statement’: ‘To support and promote the sport of fixed seat rowing and sculling on the River Thames in Waterman’s Cutters’. This apparently simple aim in fact requires enormous planning skills, fortunately something which Malcolm and his colleges have in abundance. In 2011, twenty-two traditional Thames Cutters escorted the new Lord Mayor aboard the shallop ‘Jubilant’ through the centre of London. This became an ‘instant tradition and has happened every year since. It developed into even more of a spectacle when the magnificent ‘Queen’s Row Barge (QRB) Gloriana’ became available as the mayoral transport.

Pic 4
Three men who make things happen on the Thames. On the left is Peter Warwick, Chairman of “Thames Alive”, ‘the one-stop-shop for any organisation wishing to arrange an event, small or large, on the River Thames’. In the centre is Lord Stirling, who initiated the project to build the Gloriana. On the right is Malcolm Knight who is event manager for the Gloriana, secretary of the TTRA and a director of Thames Alive. He has, as he says, ‘a flair for organising rowing events’.

At this year’s Lord Mayor’s Show, held on 8 November, Malcolm was kind enough to arrange for me to have access to the arrival point of the Gloriana and her very important passenger, the Lord Mayor of London for 2014-15, Alderman Alan Yarrow. After her journey through the centre of London, Gloriana passed through Tower Bridge and immediately moored at HMS President, a shore establishment of the Royal Naval Reserve.

Pic 5
HMS President. This picture was taken later in the day, after Gloriana and her following craft had moored at the President’s pontoon.

The other guests and I were shown great hospitality in HMS President’s Wardroom (the naval term for the officers’ mess) while outside on the terrace a Royal Navy guard of honour and Royal Marine band prepared to greet the Lord Mayor and his ‘fleet’. Appropriately, the office of Lord Mayor also brings the title ‘Admiral of the Port of London’.

Pic 6
The Commanding officer of HMS President, Commander John Harriman (far right), briefs his commissioned officers and petty officers prior to the arrival of the Mayor. As the glasses of rum and the barrel with the brass lettering, ‘THE QUEEN GOD BLESS HER’ indicate, Commander Harriman had given the order to ‘splice the mainbrace’. This command was originally a term for one of the most difficult emergency repair jobs aboard a sailing ship and it later became a euphemism for the celebratory drinking afterward. Later still, it was the name of an order to grant the crew an extra ration of rum. Today the phrase has become an invitation to have celebratory drinks.
Pic 7
The QRB Gloriana and her accompanying craft go through Tower Bridge. It was, of course, not necessary for the bridge to open to allow them to pass but it was done as a form of salute.
Pic 8
The flotilla raise their oars in salute.
Pic 9
The QRB Gloriana about to dock at HMS President. The men in the red caps are Doggett’s winners and those in black caps are people who usually row in cutters belonging to livery companies. There was a shortage of Doggett’s men as many were elsewhere preparing to take part in the land procession.
Pic 10
Dr. Ian Frood, the Master of the Worshipful Company of Coopers, observes the scene.
Pic 11
The cutter of the 550 year old Tallow Chandlers Company.
Pic 12
The 600 year old Founders Company and their cutter. The boat on the right is from the Ahoy Centre, a watersports based charity.
Pic 13
The Lady Gillett belongs to the London Port Health Authority.
Pic 14
The Royal Thamesis is from the Worshipful Company of Drapers, another 600 year old institution. The slightly larger boat is a private yacht belonging to the billionaire, Shahid Khan. Perhaps prefacing his name with the epithet ‘billionaire’ is superfluous?
Pic 15
Having disembarked from the Gloriana, the Mayor, Alderman Alan Yarrow, salutes the guard of honour on the terrace of HMS President. The others in the group are Commander Harriman, the Lady Mayoress, Mrs. Gilly Yarrow and, on the right, the Swordbearer to the Lord Mayor, James North. Swordbearing is just a part of Mr. North’s job and he mostly operates under the more boring title of ‘Senior Programme Manager to the Lord Mayor’ – which is a ‘real job’.
Pic 16
Alderman Yarrow ‘splices the mainbrace’ in President’s Wardroom. I am sure that he does not usually drink spirits at 9.30 in the morning but the historical conventions of the Royal Navy were followed. Churchill famously observed that the traditions of the Navy were in fact ‘rum, buggery and the lash’, but we just stuck with the rum.
Pic 17
Three of the Doggett’s men who were onboard the Gloriana. On the left, in the traditional ‘coat and badge’, is Gary Anness (Doggett’s winner in 1982). In the centre is Scott Neicho (1984) in the livery of the Watermen’s Bargemaster. On the right is Robert Prentice (1973) wearing the livery of the Fishmongers’ Company Bargemaster.
Pic 18
Pic 18. The Master of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames, Jeremy Randell. Despite appearances, he did not make his robes from the curtains hanging behind him.

The completion of the River Pageant at 10am was not the end of the day for the Doggett’s men. Fourteen of them had roles in the main land based pageant, including one of great honour – escorting the magnificent State Coach carrying the Lord Mayor. This was an acknowledgement of the part once played by Watermen when the Lord Mayor’s Show took place entirely on water. I based myself outside of St Paul’s Cathedral where I took the following pictures.

Pic 20
These two senior Doggett’s winners marched with the Fishmongers’ Company (who are responsible for the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race).
Pic 21
These three coaches each have two Doggett’s men riding on the rear as ‘boxmen’. The first two carriages each carry a Sheriff (who are assistants to the Mayor) and the third transports the ‘Late Mayor’, Fiona Woolf.
Pic 22
One of the Sheriff’s coaches.
Pic 23
The ‘Late Mayor’. The accompanying Yeoman Warders (‘Beefeaters’) are wearing their everyday dress uniform and not their red and gold ‘State Dress’. I presume that this is because the Show is not a ‘State Occasion’.
Pic 24
A place of honour for the Waterman as they escort the Mayor’s State Coach.
Pic 25
Leading the four Doggett’s winners in their scarlet is, in blue, Scott Neicho, the Watermen’s Bargemaster, and in purple, Robert Prentice, the Fishmongers’ Company Bargemaster.
The Lord Mayor’s 1757 State Coach. Allegedly it is ‘the oldest ceremonial vehicle in regular use in the world’. The accompanying pikemen are drawn from the reserve infantry regiment known as The Honourable Artillery Company. The HAC was incorporated in 1537 by King Henry VIII and is the second oldest military organisation in the world. Only the Pope’s Swiss Guard is older.
The Lord Mayor’s 1757 State Coach. Allegedly it is ‘the oldest ceremonial vehicle in regular use in the world’. The accompanying pikemen are drawn from the reserve infantry regiment known as The Honourable Artillery Company. The HAC was incorporated in 1537 by King Henry VIII and is the second oldest military organisation in the world. Only the Pope’s Swiss Guard is older.
Pic 27
The State Coach pauses at St. Paul’s Cathedral while the Mayor receives an alfresco blessing from the Dean.
Pic 28
The Lord Mayor at St. Paul’s. In front of him is (on his right) his Swordbearer and on his left, carrying the Grand Mace of Government, the symbol of the Mayor’s authority, is the Common Cryer and Serjeant-at-Arms.
Pic 29
The Procession Order for the Lord Mayor’s Show says of the final vehicle in the parade: “154: The City of London Corporation Cleansing vehicles always bring up the rear”. They clear up the dung left behind by the horses and the expression ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ has entered everyday use in Britain. It means a disappointing or mundane event occurring straight after an exciting or magnificent one. Paradoxically though, the ‘cleansing vehicles’ always get a big cheer.

Photographs © Tim Koch

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