At The Boar’s Head Parade
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
Passing St Mary Le Bow
Approaching the Mansion House
The Boar’s Head arrives at the Mansion House
Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien
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