The Lord Mayor’s Show is 805 years old. It has been a fixture of London life for centuries, from its origins as a way to make the city behave through medieval carnival and imperial spectacle to become the world’s greatest unrehearsed civic procession and its longest-running TV show.
The modern Show is a joyful and diverse civic parade of over 6000 people, with dozens of marching bands, military detachments, carriages, dance troupes, inflatables, giant contraptions and ceremonial displays. Every year is different and surprising, combining London’s ancient pomp, rowdy patchwork heritage and modern dynamism to create a spectacle unlike anything else in the world.
Every year the newly elected Lord Mayor is required, by the Royal Charter issued in 1215, to “leave the safety of the City, travel upriver to Westminster and swear loyalty to the Sovereign”. The Lord Mayor has now made that journey nearly 700 times, despite plagues, fires and countless wars, and pledged his or her loyalty to 34 kings and queens of England. The early river-borne journeys gave rise to the term ‘Float’ applied to procession exhibits.
The Mayor’s journey was the celebrity spectacle of its day and over the centuries it grew so splendid and so popular that by the 16th century it was known everywhere as the Lord Mayor’s Show. It features in the plays of Shakespeare, the diaries of Samuel Pepys, the adventures of James Bond and of course in the pantomime story of Dick Whittington who really was the Mayor of London three times. In the 20th century the Lord Mayor’s Show was the first outside event ever to be broadcast live and it still attracts a TV audience of millions.
The modern Lord Mayor’s procession is a direct descendant of that first journey to Westminster. The route and date have changed over the years but the pageantry of Hogarth and Canaletto can still be seen in its lively mixture of London’s past, present and future. The state coach is over 250 years old, and the Pikemen who guard it are almost as old as the Show.
Today you will see the City’s businesses, Livery Companies, charities, Her Majesty’s Forces, the City Police and Londoners from all walks of life come together to enjoy a splendid celebration of the City’s ancient power and prosperity, just as they did in the middle ages.
Further information is available at the Lord Mayor’s Show website.