Monday, 9 January 2012

The Lord Mayor, the Silent Ceremony and the Lord Mayor’s Show

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The Lord Mayor in question is that of the City of London, the historic centre of London that is now the metropolis's financial district, informally known as the “Square Mile”. A new Lord Mayor is appointed every year and the public parade, the Lord Mayor’s Show that is made of his inauguration reflects the fact that this was once one of the most prominent offices in England.

The ancient position of Lord Mayor of London has a role in the Square Mile, whilst the Mayor of London (which has existed only since 2000) is a different individual entirely, namely the elected head of the Greater London area.

The office of Lord Mayor of London dates to 1189 and, by the early 13th century, the position was as powerful as any of the Barons of the land. King John granted a Charter to the people of London, allowing them to elect their own Mayor every year so long as the new Mayor “showed” himself to the Sovereign and the people and swore loyalty to the Crown.

The first recorded Mayor of London was Henry Fitz-Ailwyn 1189. Since then, some 700 men and one woman have over the centuries held the position of head of the City of London. Lord Mayors are elected for one-year terms; today by custom, they do not serve more than once.

The office was unique-and still is. It is an unpaid and apolitical and the Lord Mayor heads the City of London Corporation and its decision-making body and promotes the UK financial services industry at home and abroad as an international ambassador. Among many roles, the Lord Mayor is Chief Magistrate of the City of London, Admiral of the Port of London and Chancellor of City University. 

In addition to the very public Lord Mayor’s Show, each new Mayor has to swear an oath in a much more private and exclusive event.

On Friday 11th November 2011 I was very fortunate to witness an ancient ceremony, The Silent Ceremony. I was thrilled and excited to be seated in the Great Hall of the Guildhall for the installation of the 684th Lord Mayor of London, Alderman David Wootton.

The ceremony is known as the Silent Ceremony because apart from the short declaration of office spoken by the elected Lord Mayor, no other words are uttered. I was lucky to be seated on an aisle seat so that I could lean out and watch history unfold as it has done so many times before with all the previous Lord Mayors taking office.

The lights are lowered for an atmospheric occasion. The new Lord Mayor is sworn in and the retiring Lord Mayor passes on his symbols of office to the new Lord Mayor.

The principal items passed include the sword, sceptre, seal and inventory of the Corporations possessions (for which the new Lord Mayor takes responsibility) It is a ceremony full of pride and ritual with much bowing, or 'reverences' as they are called, as the symbols of Mayoralty pass from the old Lord Mayor to the new one. It was a wonderful privilege to witness such an historic and important event.

I was nearly as thrilled to see Stephen Fry who was also a guest as this ceremony will be incorporated into a TV film about the City.

The next day I also attended the public show.

The Lord Mayor’s Show, the City of London annual spectacle is the world’ oldest civic procession-a journey through eight centuries of London’s history-during which 6,000 participants will make their way along the three- mile route. It takes place the day after the Silent Ceremony, always on the second Saturday of November. It starts at 11.00am and concludes at 2.30 in the afternoon.

In the earliest days the Lord Mayor’s procession was a way of “showing” each new Mayor to the people they represented. But its main purpose was to travel to the Palace of Westminster to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown.

These days the oath takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice and the route is made by streets rather than the river (formerly the river was one of the routes used). The procession begins at Guildhall and along the route to the Royal Courts, the Lord Mayor stops at St Paul's Cathedral in order to receive a blessing from the Dean on the Cathedral steps.

The event is nowadays a street parade which in its modern form is a fairly light-hearted combination of traditional British pageantry and elements of carnival. Certainly worth attending!

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