This Wednesday, settle into the public gallery at the Royal Courts of Justice and watch the City of London pay its rent to the Crown. They don’t use anything as vulgar as cash; instead the Queen’s Remembrancer is presented with a pair of bizarre offerings: a sharp hatchet and a blunt billhook, which are tested on a bundle of hazel sticks. If the billhook makes no mark and the hatchet cuts through, the Remembrancer says: ‘Good service’ and the first part of the debt is settled. The second offering is a bundle of six giant horseshoes and 61 nails. Once they’ve been counted out the Remembrancers says: ‘Good number’ to acknowledge payment. The Remembrancer will give a talk during the ceremony. Arrive in good time, as there are limited seats: it kicks off at 3pm sharp.
When did it begin?
This curious arrangement dates back to the thirteenth century. The Crown has proven a lenient landlord: the rent has not risen in eight centuries.
Other ‘quit rents’ owed to the Crown outside London range from the nourishing (eel pies from Gloucester, herrings from Yarmouth and Norwich) to the challenging (a snowball in mid-summer from Fowlis Castle, near Dundee) and the occult: three glasses of port, set out each New Year’s Eve, for the ghost of James IV’s grandmother. This was a tradition in Sauchie Castle, Clackmannanshire, before it burned down. Visit the site with some tawny and toast the ghost.
By Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose, co-authors of ‘Curiocity: In Pursuit of London’.
More weird and wonderful things to do? Check out these unusual activities in London.