Lord Mayor of London Afloat

1746 Canaletto "The River Thames with St. Paul's Cathedral on Lord Mayor's Day".
1746 Canaletto “The River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day”.

Louis Petrin writes:

Last year, Tim Koch wrote a wonderful article on “The Procession of the Lord Mayor for Presentation to the Lord Chief Justice and Queen’s Remembrancer at the Royal Courts of Justice”.

This year, on 16 November, marked 800 years since the first Lord Mayor of London was appointed and what follows is a little more history on this ceremonial event.

The Mayor of the City of London has been elected by the City, rather than appointed by the Sovereign, ever since a Royal Charter that allowed the City of London to elect its own Mayor was issued by King John in 1215, five weeks before he signed the Magna Carta.

But there was an important condition, every year the newly elected Lord Mayor must leave the safety of the City and travel to the small town of Westminster, appearing before the Lord Chief Justice and the senior judge at the Royal Courts who is called the Queen’s Remembrancer to swear loyalty to the Crown.

The Lord Mayor has now made that journey for 800 years, despite plagues and fires and countless wars, and pledged his (or her) loyalty to 34 kings and queens of England. This formal ceremony is called the Lord Mayor’s Show.

Before admission of the Lord Mayor, there is another ceremony, the so-called ‘Silent Ceremony’ that occurs on the Friday before the Lord Mayor’s Show at Guildhall. The symbols of office are withdrawn from the previous incumbent and presented to the new one. The ceremony is very complicated and is done in complete silence except for the Lord Mayor’s oath before the Aldermen and invited persons.

Traditionally the newly appointed Lord Mayor travelled through open countryside to get to Westminster to be presented to the King. In 1454, the newly appointed Lord Mayor, Sir John Norman Draper, held a water procession for the very first time. It is thought that his infirmity may have been the reason for the river procession instead of the customary horse riding parade. The Thames was an easier means of travel than the narrow and congested streets of the old city.

This yere

 

John Norman in his aldermanic robes.
John Norman in his aldermanic robes.

Norman, “who having at his own expense built a noble barge, had it decorated with flags and streamers, in which he was this year rowed by watermen with silver oars, attended by such of the city companies as possessed barges, in a manner so splendid that ‘his barge seemed to burn on the water’”.

Six years after Norman’s river ride, the commoners of London requested to have all future mayors go by barge to Westminster. 

Canaletto’s Westminster Bridge, with the Lord Mayor’s Procession on the Thames – 29 October 1746. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Canaletto’s Westminster Bridge, with the Lord Mayor’s Procession on the Thames – 29 October 1746. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

In this painting by Canaletto, you can see the blue canopy of the State barge. The fabric is called ‘Plunkett’ and shows that this is a civic event. ‘Murrey’, a red cloth, would have been used on Royal occasions. A more detailed picture is given at the bottom of the story along with a web link to view the painting in detail.

The barges that were used in this fashion are the origin of the word ‘float’, which is today used to describe decorated platforms or vehicles towed at parades.

The watermen wrote John Norman a song of praise, which began:

Rowe the bote, Norman, Rowe to thy Lemman.

Since HTBS readers love a good poem, maybe this ballad will bring some amusement:

The Lord Mayor's Show

River processions continued to be held for mayors until 1856, two years before the Great Stink. Many livery companies had got rid of their barges and the Thames was not in a good state, so the procession transferred to the land.

This year, the new Lord Mayor is Alderman Jeffrey Richard de Corban Evans, a Swedish-born maritime expert no less and a Lord already being 4th Baron Mountevans and so a British hereditary peer. Lord Mountevans is also a Member of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights and had served as its Prime Warden, or Master.

So, on 14 November, the Right Honorable the Lord Mayor, The Lord Mountevans, Jeffrey Evans (Alderman), was meant to travel in QRB Gloriana, the traditional Thames barge made famous in the Jubilee celebrations, with an accompanying procession of 24 traditional Thames boats from London’s livery companies and port authorities. Sadly the winds were so strong this year that Gloriana was unable to leave St Katherine’s dock so a standby pleasure cruiser was used in her place.

Gloriana, the Queen’s Royal Barge, marooned at St Katherine Docks.
Gloriana, the Queen’s Royal Barge, moored at St Katherine Docks.

 

2015 The Drapers at this years Lord Mayor's Water Procession. John Norman was a member of the Drapers’ Company.
2015 The Drapers at this years Lord Mayor’s Water Procession. John Norman was a member of the Drapers’ Company.

The journey begins at Pimlico and travels downstream, where the Tower Bridge opened in salute halfway along the trip when soon after the new Lord Mayor alighted at the Royal Naval Reserve base HMS President in Wapping.

The Lord Mayor arrives at Tower Bridge on the Golden Sunrise.
The Lord Mayor arrives at Tower Bridge on the Golden Sunrise.

 

Passing Tower Bridge that was opened for the water procession.

 

Flotilla coming up the rear.
Flotilla coming up the rear.

From there the Lord Mayor then reached Mansion House ready to join the procession in a wonderful state coach to the Royal Courts.CoachThe Lord Mayor’s Show was a procession of more than 7,000 people, 200 horses and 155 floats!

The escorts to the Lord Mayor’s coach are liveried watermen carrying oars: formerly, members of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen rowed the Mayor’s barge. Riding postilion on the Lord Mayor’s State Carriage are the two winners of the historical Doggett’s Coat and Badge.

This year’s Lord Mayor’s Show went ahead in London with flags at half-mast, fireworks cancelled and a two-minute silence at the Mansion House at 1 a.m. following the attacks in Paris. From 4:30 p.m. onwards Tower Bridge was lit up with the colours of the French flag.

More pictures of the procession:

1783
1783

 

1820
1820

 

1887
1887

 

Detail of the Lord Mayor’s float in Canelloto’s painting
Detail of the Lord Mayor’s float in Canelloto’s painting.

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