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At The Boar’s Head Parade

December 4, 2014
by the gentle author

Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & I were greeted by Neil Hunt, Beadle of The Worshipful Company of Butchers, when we arrived at their Hall in St Bartholomew’s Close, Smithfield, yesterday to join a small crowd eagerly awaiting the annual appearance of the celebrated Boar’s Head in the first week of Advent, marking the beginning on the Christmas season in London.

This year sees the sixtieth anniversary of the revival of this arcane tradition which has its origin in 1343 when the Lord Mayor, John Hamond, granted the Butchers of the City of London use of a piece of land by the Fleet River, where they could slaughter and clean their beasts, for the token yearly payment of a Boar’s Head at Christmas.

To pass the time in the drizzle, the Beadle showed us his magnificent staff of office dating from 1716, upon which may be discerned a Boar’s Head. “Years ago, they had a robbery and this was the only thing that wasn’t stolen,” he confided to me helpfully, ” – it had a cover and the thieves mistook it for a mop.”

Before another word was spoken, a posse of members of the Butcher’s Company emerged triumphant from the Hall in blue robes and velvet hats, with a livid red Boar’s Head carried aloft at shoulder height, to the delighted applause of those waiting in the street. Behind us, drummers of the Royal Logistics Corps in red uniforms gathered and  City of London Police motorcyclists in fluorescent garb lined up to receive instructions from Ian Kelly, the Master of the Company.

Everyone assembled to pose for official photographs with the perky red ears of the Boar sticking up above the crowd, providing the opportunity for a closer examination of this gloss-painted paper mache creation, sitting upon a base of Covent Garden grass and surrounded by plastic fruit. As recently as 1968, a real Boar’s Head was paraded but these days Health & Safety concerns about hygiene require the use of this colourful replica for ceremonial purposes.

The drummers set a brisk pace and before we knew it, the parade was off down Little Britain, preceded by the police motorcyclists halting the traffic. For a couple of minutes, the City stopped – astonished passengers leaned out of buses and taxis, and office workers reached for their phones to capture the moment. It made a fine spectacle advancing down Cheapside, past St Mary Le Bow, with the sound of drums echoing and reverberating off the tall buildings.

The rhythmic clamour accompanying the procession of men in their dark robes, with the Boar’s Head bobbing above, evoked the ancient drama of the City of London and, as they paraded through the gathering dusk towards the Mansion House looming in the east on that occluded December afternoon, I could not resist the feeling that they were marching through time as well as space.

Neil Hunt, Beadle of The Worshipful Company of Butchers

The Beadle’s staff dates from 1716

Leaving St Bartholomew’s Close

Advancing through Little Britain

Entering Cheapside

Passing St Mary Le Bow

In Cheapside

Approaching the Mansion House

The Boar’s Head arrives at the Mansion House

Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. December 4, 2014

    Boar’s heads must be particularly Christmassy.
    I *think* the Boars Head Carol is the oldest known Christmas Carol in this country

    Nice to know about this, thanks :)

  2. December 4, 2014

    What a fun tradition, and I must admit, I find the idea of the boar’s head replica much better than using a real one! Valerie

  3. Gary Arber permalink
    December 4, 2014

    Are the marchers in this procession actual butchers ? What does this guild do for the butchers in the high streets of Britain ?
    Information please from your vast knowledge G.A.
    Gary

  4. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    December 4, 2014

    What a wonderful tradition & how nice that it still goes on in amongst the glass high rises of modern London!

  5. Pauline Taylor permalink
    December 4, 2014

    Thanks for another fascinating piece of history but how ludicrous that a real boar’s head cannot be paraded for health and safety reasons, I have no tome for this sort of nonsense!! I am all for protecting animals but the boar’s head that would have been used will be being used for other purposes anyway, and a decorated boar’s head is a tradition in this country, we always had one for our annual Art School Christmas party donated and decorated by a friend’s mother.

  6. Sarah C permalink
    December 4, 2014

    We had a Boar’s Head fete every December in boarding school. Glad to see the real thing.

  7. Ron Pummell permalink
    December 4, 2014

    Good to see City traditions being maintained. Pitiful about ‘Elf and Safety’ and the boar’s head.

  8. December 4, 2014

    A right piggy pudding…love that this tradition continues.

  9. Ellen in NEW England permalink
    December 5, 2014

    Here in NEW England, we have a taxidermied boar’s head for our “Make We Joy” celebrations. The president of the college acts as the head cook.

  10. December 5, 2014

    Thank you for yet another excellent blog capturing the spirit of a fine London tradition. I was guiding a group following this procession and exploring other City ceremonies, everyone was excited to be part of an ‘unknown’ annual event.

    One small correction. Ian Kelly is Past Master, the current one is Alderman Nick Anstee, who is a former Lord Mayor.

  11. December 7, 2014

    proper order,!
    so happy to find my way back to your good self (and others) G.A

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