Central London often goes into lockdown for various events, with the London Marathon and the Tour de France coming to mind as recent examples. But every now and again, these events are far more bizarre; the Lord Mayor’s Show is a case in point.
The Lord Mayor of the City of London is a title that dates back nearly eight centuries – this year being the 799th incarnation of the event – to a time when London was a small town separate from surrounding locations such as Westminster. Today, he is the head of an archaic, incredibly convoluted political system relevant only to the City, the financial district of London. He is elected by the businesses of the area – a vibrant mix of trades until a few decades ago, but dominated by financial services these days.
The City of London is sometimes accused of using its unusual political structure and powers beyond those of other local authorities to turn the area into a tax haven for its businesses. As such, it seems particularly poignant that a tiny group of almost unbelievably privileged people spend a day every year marching through London in the traditional dress of their positions. I don’t feel like these images contribute to a particularly humble or inclusive image.
Thousands of people line the streets for the Lord Mayor’s Show, presumably to see the fantastical outfits and costumes on show. Nevertheless, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the ceremony looked an awful lot like plebs cheering their betters as they parade the spectacular wealth that they represent – and which most of us will never benefit from.
Fortunately, though, obscure City officials are just a small part of the show. Charities, youth organisations, military divisions and a few local businesses all had floats or marching bands. This part of the parade had a far more relaxed feel to it, with lots of interaction between parade and crowd. Of course, most military participants were in full recruitment mode, but it was nice to see an aspect of life that most of us don’t normally get to see. One of the most photogenic military groups was the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army, who rode on the Battle Bus, one of the last surviving London buses that were converted to carry troops to the front in World War I.
And, coming just a year before the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, huge numbers of historical re-enactors took part to practice for their big show next year.
Over the years, these people gradually assemble more and more parts of their respective period’s uniform – some are foot soldiers, others are officers. Many wives and girlfriends also join in: during the parade they acted as camp followers, handing out flyers and sweets. They’re certainly a photogenic lot!
I’m not entirely sure what to make of the Lord Mayor’s Show. On the one hand, it seems like a fun occasion for a parade, making for a good day out in a car-free City. But on the other hand, only a very select few people actually get to dress up, and the outfits only reinforce a social divide that seems as unbridgeable as ever these days. What do you think?