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Everything you need to know about the Lord Mayor's Show

Written by
Robert Lordan

On Saturday November 14,  the Lord Mayor’s Show comes to town. Nothing to do with Boris, mind - this is the original Mayor’s bash, a huge parade full of pomp, tradition and eccentricity. And this year is extra special because, incredibly, it is the show’s 800th anniversary. Here’s all you need to know about this age-old ceremony.

Clive Totman

 1. In the beginning

The Lord Mayor is head honcho of the historic Square Mile, the original London which now forms the financial district. The role dates back to 1215 when King John’s reign started going all pear-shaped. Knowing he needed The City on side (even in those days it packed serious economic clout), the King decided to drop a sweetener by allowing London to elect its own Mayor. There was one condition though - the Mayor had to travel to Westminster once a year to swear loyalty to the crown. It is this annual pilgrimage which has become the show we know today.

Lord Mayor Elect Jeffrey MountevansCity of London

 2. Against all odds

Although London’s been through a lot over the centuries, the Lord Mayor’s Show has gone ahead every single year since 1215 without exception, regardless of war, plague or terrorism. During WWI, this stoicism resulted in the rather unfortunate sight of captured German troops being paraded on the march. Thankfully, things today are a lot more chilled.

The Lord Mayor's Procession on the Thames by Canaletto, 1746.

3. Floats

Back in the day when roads were nothing more than muddy, rut-ridden lanes, the Thames offered the most practical route between The City and Westminster. Mayors in centuries past would therefore make the journey in a convoy of boats known as a flotilla. Although the parade has now switched to tarmac, the elaborately-decorated vehicles are still referred to as floats, a term adopted by processions the world over. This year, in honour of the 800th anniversary, a flotilla will once again take to the river with the Mayor departing Vauxhall on the Queen’s barge, ’Gloriana’ at 8.30am, sailing to St Katherine’s Dock in time for the main road procession. 

© Museum of London

 4. Pimp my ride

When the parade first took to the streets the Mayor travelled on horseback. However, after Sir Gilbert Heathcoate took a tumble and snapped his leg in 1711, it was decided it would be far safer to stick the Mayor in a coach. The one currently in use was built in 1757 at a Holborn-based workshop and boasts some serious bling, including gorgeous side panels painted by Italian artist Giovanni Battista Cipriani. When it’s not in use, the coach is kept on display in the Museum of London. 

 5. The route

At 1.7 miles long the ground covered is relatively short. However, with 7,000 people, 200 horses and 150 floats, the column itself stretches for three miles so there’s plenty of scope to get a good look. The head of the parade sets out from the Mansion House (home of the Lord Mayor) at 11am and makes its way to Cheapside, past St Paul’s Cathedral, along Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street to arrive at the Royal Courts (the dividing line between The City and Westminster) at 11.30am. The line then snakes back to Mansion House via Victoria Embankment, Blackfriars and Queen Victoria Street. A map can be found here and there’s even a handy app.

Effigies of Gog and MagogThe Unhived Mind

 6. What to look out for

Better get your cameras charged. This year’s show is set to feature all manner of performers from Taiko drummers to unicyclists. Dublin’s ornate state coach will be making an appearance too, as will an array of vintage steamrollers, penny farthings, tractors, fire engines, armoured vehicles, a replica of Noah’s Ark and even the Batmobile. Good thing there’s no congestion charge on the weekend. Look out also for the CCA art bus. It's a double decker decked out in dazzling pop art which was designed by Peter Blake - the artist behind the iconic ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ cover. And be sure to catch old favourites, Gog and Magog; two mythical giants who are traditionally regarded as The City's formidable guardians.

Clive Totman

 7. Want more?

To mark the show's 800th anniversary, St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside will clang its bells 800 times at midday (those are the famous bells which you must be born within earshot of to be deemed a true cockney). After the procession ends at 3pm, City of London guides will be on hand to offer free walking tours and keep you occupied before the grand finale.

Flickr / Garry Knight

8. And finally

Spare a thought for the city's sanitation department. By tradition, they’re always the very last group on the procession… probably something to do with all of those horses that have gone before.

Find out more about the Lord Mayor's Show and Fireworks.

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