The Silent Ceremony

Every year, on the Friday before the second Sunday in November, the new Lord Mayor is sworn into office at the Guildhall. On Michaelmas Day we, the Liverymen of the City of London, elected Alderman Andrew Parmley as Lord Mayor[i] and today I attended the ceremony which is known as Silent because, apart from the vow of the incoming Lord Mayor, it is held in total silence. Silence that is apart from the heavy tread of the officers as they process in and out of the Guildhall.

The ceremony is witnessed by the Aldermen, the City officers, Masters of Livery Companies and hundreds of their fellow Liverymen. It is as rich in pageantry as it is ancient in history and though it only lasts some twenty minutes or so it is a great piece of theatre. It starts with the usual procession, though this time the Masters were not required to process as it is not Common Hall. The Lord Mayor’s and Sheriffs’ Committee go first followed by the other City Officials, then the Aldermen, and finally the Lord Mayor Elect, the City Marshal, The Lord Mayor’s Chaplain and the outgoing Lord Mayor, the Rt Hon Lord Mountevans.

The Lord Mayor-Elect Alderman Andrew Parmley swore his oath of office.  The outgoing Lord Mayor then moved to his left and summoned the incoming Lord Mayor to his seat. The new Lord Mayor then donned his tricorn hat and exactly simultaneously the newly late Lord Mayor removed his, thus symbolising the transfer of power. The officers then took it in turn to present their symbols of office, the Sceptre, Seal, Purse, Sword,  Mace, Collar of SS and Badge, each one taking three steps forward, then bowing, then presenting the symbol. The new Lord Mayor touches each one in turn and then the officer takes the symbol and walks backwards, bowing, essentially reversing the process.  Then the incoming Lord Mayor undertook to safeguard the silver and furniture at Mansion House, signing for the “plate”.

All is watched by the huge audience in reverential silence. Both power and responsibility have been smoothly transferred. The verbosity of endless speeches of congratulation is unnecessary. Congratulations are offered but just with handshakes and smiles, but still all in silence. The processions then go out in reverse with the new Lord Mayor triumphantly in the lead.

He then takes his Mayoral limousine with his Lady Mayoress to their new home for a year, the largest council house in London, Mansion House.  Before they depart it is reputed that the Swordbearer removes his fur hat and takes out the key to the seal of Christ’s hospital. It is handed to the outgoing Lord Mayor, who passes it to the new Lord Mayor, who returns it to the Swordbearer, who promises to “keep it under his hat”.

On the following day the new Lord Mayor, preceded by a procession, travels to the Royal Courts of Justice at the Strand to swear allegiance to the sovereign before the Justices of the High Court. This ceremony demands that the Lord Mayor “show” himself at the High Court and so it is named the Lord Mayor’s Show, not because of the entertainment value of the procession.

In fact his day begins with a splendid flotilla on the River Thames including QRB Gloriana and many other traditional Thames barges from the livery companies and Port authorities. They set off from Westminster at 8.30am and Tower Bridge opens in salute at 9.25. The world famous Lord Mayor’s golden coach sets off from Mansion House at 11.05am, but in fact the various floats will have begun some time before this starting at different points. After the Lord Mayor has sworn his allegiance the procession returns via the Victoria Embankment.

For a few years now the Marketors have had their own float[ii] and I have participated in the past three. But this year we decided to re-join the other Modern Livery Companies and parade with them. At least that way we’ll sit down for lunch onboard HQS Wellington, the Livery Hall of the Master Mariners.

My great grandfathers’ first cousin Sir John Bell was Lord Mayor in 1907-8, having been Master of the Fan Makers in 1897. A brewer, and Chairman and Managing Director of Wenlock Brewery Company, he was born in London and educated at Brompton Grammar School. In 1882 he joined the Court of Common Council representing Coleman St Ward and in 1894 joined the Court of Aldermen, being elected Sheriff in 1902. He revived interest in the Lord Mayor’s Show making it a spectacular pageant, which it still is today. It has been held every year since 1215 except for 1852 when on 18th November the State Funeral of the Duke of Wellington took precedence. It carried on even in wartime to maintain morale.

[i] See my blog Election of the Lord Mayor 1st October, 2016

[ii] They are called floats as originally they only ‘processed’ on the river.

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