When King Richard the Lionheart was off fighting his battles in Jerusalem, his younger brother John, later King himself, allowed the merchants in the city to form a society. When he was King, in 1215, he allowed them to elect a mayor, but demanded that the mayor come from the city to Westminster every year when elected to pay homage to the monarch. The present Lord Mayor’s show is the continuation of that – the newly-elected Mayor makes his way from the City of London to the City of Westminster to swear his allegiance. He is accompanied by worthies of the City – made up of the City police, and Livery companies, for the most part. The livery companies are like very early trade unions in origin; groups of tradesmen who formed companies to regulate apprenticeships, support other tradesmen, etc. They still survive today, although more as dining and charity organisations that anything else. They also still have their old uniforms – so the show features many ruffles, breaches, and sparkly shoes.
My father used to bring me to the show every year when I was a child. It starts just after 11am, but we used to bag our places on the embankment along the Thames about 9am. The mayor, guarded by men marching in read coats and frills carrying pikes, makes his way in his gorgeous coach to the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, where he goes inside and swears his oath to the Master of the Rolls and the Lord Chief Justice. (Important judges, and representatives of the Queen.) He then wends his way back slowly to the City, accompanied by his vast marching entourage.
Later, after dark (about 5pm), he sets off a firework display on the Thames, which can be seen from some distance – this year we could see it from our flat a mile or so north of Fleet Street.
London, United Kingdom
November 28, 2001
From journal The greatest city in the world - London