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The Lord Mayor's Show

The Lord Mayor's procession moves through nearly 800 years of London's history, marching unharmed through everything from the Black Death to the blitz. In the twentieth century it was the first event ever to be shown on television. In the 21st, it is a day out for half a million people, with 3 million more watching on the BBC.

The Mayor must still make his way to the Queens Bench to promise loyalty to the Crown, just as Dick Whittington did for the first time in 1397 together with his black cat. As you watch the Lord Mayor's coach go by, remember that someone stood in exactly that spot four hundred years ago and marvelled at the sight of a camel on its way to meet Elizabeth I.

The 674th show was this November 2001. But before any of the tourists and Londoners arrive to watch, all the marchers practice in the middle of the night. The 6 black and white horses that pull the coach belong to Young's Brewery in Wandsworth. Their normal routine of delivering beer is interrupted by the show, and this is one of the few times 6 horses will work together as a team. They are probably the largest Shire horses in the world, with the two wheelers (those in front of the coach), "Wandle Buster" (18 hands 2 inches) and "Wandle Robin" (19 hands) weighing over 1000 kilos each. Up since 1am, to be groomed and prepared for this rehearsal, they will munch through 6 gallons of feed for breakfast before they pull the weight of the State Coach. Fortunately, they are given the rest of the day off after the rehearsal. Young's still deliver beer by horse to pubs in and around Wandsworth and the horses live in splendid Victorian stables at the Ram Brewery, headquarters of Youngs, in Wandsworth, London.

Sir Gilbert Heathcote was the last Lord Mayor to ride on horseback in 1711. He fell off during the show and inconveniently broke his leg. Successive Lord Mayors have resorted to the dignity and safety of a coach. The current coach was constructed in 1757 and is of "modern" Berlin style. Interestingly, the number of horses you may use is determined by your rank. Commoners (that's you and me) get 2, Lords and Nobles only 4, whilst the Lord Mayor enjoys the pulling power of 6 (with the Royal Family topping the bill with 8).

The Lord Mayor's Show The Lord Mayor's Show The Lord Mayor's Show The Lord Mayor's Show

With 6,000 participants, 2,000 soldiers, 200 horses, 220 motor vehicles, 56 floats, 20 marching bands, 18 carriages and the glorious State Coach, the procession is nearly two and a half miles long. It's the largest parade of its kind in the world.

The exact order of the procession is a closely guarded secret, nobody except the Mayor knows until the beginning of the march.

The start of the procession is at 11.00 am marked by a thrilling aircraft flypast over the Royal Exchange, Mansion House and St Paul's Cathedral. The procession then follows a specially designed route through the streets of the City to the Royal Courts of Justice.

The procession pauses as the Lord Mayor takes his oath and then sets off on the return journey from Victoria Embankment to Mansion House. The Lord Mayor arrives to be greeted by the City Aldermen and Livery Company Masters in their colourful gowns and a spectacular firework display.

3,500 manhole covers, 4,000 seats and 6,300 steel crowd barriers, and that's before the Show even starts. The Pageantmaster's role is not a purely ceremonial one.

Dominic Reid, who took over the role from his father in 1993, is responsible for every aspect of the Show, from working out the length of each float to feeding 6,000 people in the 45 minutes between the outward and return legs of the procession. (The sand is for the horses' feet).

© Jeremy Moor

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