For over 800 years the newly elected Lord Mayor of London has made his or her way from the City to distant Westminster to swear loyalty to the Crown. Over the centuries this journey grew into the riotous medieval pageant known to all as the Lord Mayor’s Show, the first outside event ever to be shown live on television and still the oldest and grandest civic procession in the world. It’s a great free day out for the whole family, on the streets of the City of London on November 11th.
The event draws in huge crowds from across the world. These days, the parade is more of a celebration than a show of loyalty.
HISTORY OF THE SHOW
London in 1215 was already an independent-minded place; large, rich, well-connected and hard to rule. It was the largest city north of the Alps, with nearly 15,000 residents, and its power was growing. At the same time, King John’s disastrous reign was falling apart. His armies were retreating in France, he was running out of money and his Barons were on the edge of open revolt.
The city of London, squeezed by the King’s taxes and frequently held hostage in baronial disputes, had been trying since the late 1100’s too organised itself into a medieval commune. The King may have thought he was creating a powerful new ally when in 1215 he gave his support to the commune and issued a Royal Charter allowing the City to elect its own Mayor every year.
There was an important condition. Every year the newly elected Mayor must leave the safety of the City, travel upriver to the small town of Westminster and swear loyalty to the Crown. The Lord Mayor has now made that journey for over 800 years, despite plagues and fires and countless wars, and pledged his/her loyalty to 34 kings and queens of England.
The Mayor of London became the Lord Mayor about a century later and for the next few hundred years; Lord Mayor of London was by far the grandest position to which a commoner could aspire. The Mayor’s journey was the celebrity spectacle of its day and over the centuries it grew so splendid and so popular that by the 16th century it was known everywhere as the Lord Mayor’s Show. It features in the plays of Shakespeare, the diaries of Pepys and the adventures of James Bond and of course in the pantomime story of Dick Whittington, who really was the Mayor of London three times. In the 20th century, the Lord Mayor’s Show was the first outside event ever to be broadcast live and it still attracts a TV audience of millions.
The modern Lord Mayor’s procession is a direct descendant of that first journey to Westminster. The route and date have changed over the years but the pageantry of Hogarth and Canaletto can still be seen in its lively mixture of London’s past, present and future. The state coach is over 250 years old, and the pikemen who guard it are almost as old as the Show. Today you will see the City’s businesses, Livery Companies, charities, Her Majesty’s Forces, the City Police and Londoners from all walks of life come together to enjoy a splendid celebration of the City’s ancient power and prosperity, just as they did in the middle ages.
Whats happening at the event?
The ceremony will begin with a river pageant starting at QRB Gloriana at Westminster Pier, Victoria Embankment, floating downriver to pass through Tower Bridge for a Mayoral salute. Then join in the fun procession, as around half a million people line up along the route to watch the colourful parade travel across the City of London. And also there will be a spectacular fireworks display in the evening. For the best views, try the riverside between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges. Usually, event flows as follows
When the Lord Mayor’s journey began, London and Westminster were separated by open countryside. The quickest and safest way to get from one to the other was to travel up the Thames, and for the first few hundred years, the Lord Mayor’s Show did just that. If you’ve ever wondered why a carnival is made up of floats, that’s why Crowds would watch from the banks of the Thames.
Thousands of participants are expected to attend the big day. The Lord Mayor’s Show is a procession of more than 6500 people, 165 horses, 20 bands and 35 carriages. The liveliest crowd is from Bank to St. Pauls between 11.00 am and 12.30 am. Fully assembled it would measure over three miles long but it never is, as the route from Mansion House to the Royal Courts covers less than two miles. For a less crowded viewpoint, we suggest somewhere between Blackfriars and Mansion House station between 1.15 pm and 2.30 pm.
To mark the end of the Lord Mayor’s Show and the beginning of a new mayoral year, London’s newly confirmed Lord Mayor will launch a splendid fireworks display over the river. You can expect the display to last 15-20 minutes and the roads to reopen at around 6.30 pm.
The iconic golden Lord Mayor’s Coach can be seen at the Museum of London during the rest of the year.