Had you been in the City at the dead of night on yesterday morning, you would have seen the Lord Mayor of London’s golden state coach being pulled through the dark streets by six Shire Horses — for this was the rehearsal for the Lord Mayor’s Show this coming Saturday.
The Lord Mayor’s Show has been happening, on land, for over 150 years, but generally each year there’s a new Lord Mayor who needs to check he or she knows what to do on the day, and with staffing changes for the new people to make sure they know where to stand and when to make sure all goes with pinpoint precision.
This year there was an added importance to the rehearsal, as there wasn’t a show last year meaning a longer gap than usual to remember everything, but also there’s been road changes around Bank to make it more pedestrian-friendly, and that means the horse and coach have to make some changes to their traditional route.
The State Coach, all three tons of it is currently on display in Guildhall, and after being pulled into the yard, and the horses lead into position, a briefing from the Pageantmaster, Dominic Reid to make sure everyone knows what to do, and the Lord Mayor Elect, Alderman Vincent Keaveny gets ready to be paraded through the empty streets where no one will see him waving his hand to the absent crowds.
In fact, a handful of night workers will have seen the procession, surrounded by more hi-vis and police outriders to hold back the night buses and delivery vans from intruding. A fierce bellow at a black cab that parked in the wrong spot by Mansion House, and an incorrectly parked van caused a delay. Obviously, for the Lord Mayor, the van had to be a Waitrose one.
But these issues are why the rehearsal takes place.
Does the coach stop where it should, does the Lord Mayor Elect carry out his duties correctly at Mansion House and St Paul’s Cathedral, will the honour guards line up in the correct spots. All checked and rechecked by people with lots of clipboards and stopwatches in the dark night before dawn.
For the officials, this is all very serious work.
For the rest of us who are allowed to trot along, it’s a wonderfully surreal sight of a 264-year old State Coach being pulled through the largely deserted streets in the darkness, with police escorts and the occasional bewildered passerby wondering what’s going on.
And as much as it means we all have to get up at an ungodly hour to arrive on time, I’m told that the horses are generally less annoyed at being woken up than the humans.
And after all the rehearsing is done, comes the second army, the one that sweeps and washes to remove all the sand and other doings from the road so that as the City wakes and commuters start to pour out of the tube stations, there’s no sign that anything unusual had been going on when sensible people are still in bed.
The Lord Mayor’s Show takes place this Saturday in the morning, starting at Mansion House from 11am, with the procession heading along Cheapside to St Paul’s where it turns to go around the south side of the Cathedral, then progresses along Fleet Street to the Royal Courts of Justice. Following the swearing of the oaths, the carriages pick up the route on Embankment and head along Queen Victoria Street to Mansion House.
A route map with times is here.
On the day St Paul’s Cathedral is also open for free, and weather permitting there will be a flypast over Central London at 11am.