This Saturday (18th Sept), over 40 historic and interesting road vehicles will roll into Guildhall Yard to take part in an ancient ceremony. They are there to take part in Cart Marking, a 500+ year old tradition where the Sheriffs and ritually robed Carmen brand each ‘cart’ with a red-hot iron – the origin of vehicle licensing.

In past times, each year the carts licensed to use the road in the City of London would have an annual mark branded into them to show they are roadworthy and have paid their fees. The need to brand a hot iron into a vehicle has long since ceased to be a legal requirement, much to the relief of motorists, but each year, a selection of vehicles still perform the ancient ceremony.

The main difference today is that plank of wood is attached to the vehicle, and it’s that which gets the hot iron. They also pay the same 25p (five shillings) license fee as was set in 1838, which is when licensing passed from the Worshipful Company of Carmen to The Keeper of Guildhall.

The ceremony is free for anyone to watch and is one of my highlights of the City’s annual ceremonial calendar (although missing it this year due to commitments elsewhere). Normally, it’s held during the week, so this year is also the first time it will take place on a Saturday so more people can turn up and watch.

The range of vehicles can be anything from a Smithfield meat cart to old wagons, steam engines, buses to the very latest in electric cars and lorries. It’s a very eclectic mix.

Carried out by the Worshipful Company of Carmen, the cart marking starts at 10:30am and lasts around 2 hours — there’s usually seating in the Guildhall Yard so get there early if you want to grab a chair.

A catalogue is usually produced so bring some cash, and commentators on the day will bring to life the history of this ancient ceremony and its relevance to London.

Some photos from previous ceremonies:

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