Friday, December 3, 2010

The Lord Mayor's Show --
a story waiting to happen!

I've recently discovered a pageant which was made, if ever one was, for inclusion in a Regency-era story. This is The Lord Mayor's Show. The Lord Mayor in question is that of the City of London, duly elected every year (although earlier known as the Mayor of London) since about 1200 AD.

The City of London is the historic centre of the larger London, just about a square mile, a gleaming core of history, finance and government. The City of London Corporation governs it, and the Lord Mayor is the head of that Corporation.
 above The Lord Mayor in his Coronation Robes 1821

The Lord Mayor is elected every year at Michaelmas (September 29) by 'Common Hall'--the representatives of the City's Guilds or Livery Companies. He takes office on the Friday before the second Saturday in November. Then, on that Saturday, the Lord Mayor's Show is held.

 above Canaletto's view of the Lord Mayor's barges
on the river in about 1747
The Show itself is a procession--once undertaken on the river--from the Guildhall, to Mansion House (the Lord Mayor's Residence), past St. Paul's Cathedral to the Royal Courts of Justice in Westminster. The state coaches are accompanied by ranks of marchers, from members of The Great Twelve Livery Companies to privileged regiments like the Honourable Artillery Company and The Royal Fusiliers. A favourite component of the parade is the two wickerwork giants, Gog and Magog, who reflect the pre-Roman past of the City.

Imagine the excitement for Regency folk. I can see young people from the august streets of Mayfair, making their way with or without permission to see the spectacle; young ladies slipping away to meet beaus, or soldiers, in the parade; Members of Parliament entertaining parties of procession watchers, and hosting grand dinners in its wake.

In 1806 Benjamin Silliman from the United States was present. "Every spectator, however mean, seemed to feel some interest in the ceremony," he said, "and although I did not expect to be like Whittington, Lord Mayor of London, I felt a strong curiosity to see the King of the City on this his day of pomp and glory."

left Lord Mayor of London 1796 Brook Watson. He lost his leg in a shark attack as a boy!

In 1815 there were "small parties of horse soldiers arrayed as 'curriassiers' [sic] in the spoils so bravely won on the preceding 18th of June at the ever memorable Battle of Waterloo."

The wonderful Washington Irving apparently saw the Show in 1817 and wrote: "The Lord Mayor is looked up to by the inhabitants of Little Britain as the greatest potentate upon earth; his gilt coach with six horses as the summit of human splendour; and his procession with all the Sheriffs and Aldermen in his train, as the grandest of earthly pageants."

What could be a more fitting setting for a Regency day out or a Regency romance than a grand pageant? I think I feel a story coming on…

'Til next time,


My sources:
"My Lord Mayor and The City of London" by William Kent 1947 Herbert Jenkins Limited


Jana Richards said...

Hi Lesley-Anne,
Ah, those were the days! It must have been a very grand event indeed. And an ideal setting for a story. I'm sure you'll come up with something marvellous!


Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thanks, Jana, for the vote of confidence :) I believe the Show is still a huge event, bigger & better than ever.

Shannon said...

I always find it interesting to learn about the pageants and celebrations of yesteryear. Especially ones in other countries. Thank you for opening my eyes to another tidbit and feeding my curiosity.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

You are most welcome, Shannon. I just find history so fascinating that I'm glad to have this venue to share what I discover.