The Lord Mayor’s Show: A Return To Its River Roots
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
Excellent & commendable article.