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At The Ghost Parade

August 26, 2014
by the gentle author

Lord Mayor’s Coach of 1757 stands outside St Paul’s Cathedral at 5am

Just to make sure the Lord Mayor’s Show goes without a hitch in the City of London, each year a nocturnal rehearsal is held at dead of night known as the ‘Ghost Parade.’ This is necessary because, although the Show has been running for centuries, there are new performers every year, namely the Lord Mayor Elect and six dray horses.

The dray horses were out in the pouring rain dragging a cart around the route twice, just to get familiar with it, even before Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I arrived in the Guildhall yard at 4:30am in the morning. Just as they were returning from another circuit, the gleaming two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old coach was being wheeled out. We were greeted by Dominic Reid, Pageantmaster for the last twenty-one parades, and successor to his father, John Reid, who oversaw twenty before him. “We have six minutes to get from here to the Mansion House,” he assured me, checking his watch conscientiously.

Already, the shining dray horses were being harnessed to the golden fairytale carriage as Fiona Woolf, the second-only female Lord Mayor in eight hundred years, was posing for photographers in front of it. A team of maintenance men stood by to ensure that there was no repeat of the previous year, when one of the wheels on the antiquated coach got stuck after sand clogged the axle. Men in bowler hats and long brown twill coats conferred, reconciling their plans before they set off. On the day of the parade there would be a three and a half mile procession, but that night it was just the coach and six.

Into the empty square outside the Bank of England rolled the carriage as police riders held back the traffic until the Lord Mayor Elect had descended outside the Mansion House, taking tactfully delivered instructions from the Pageantmaster upon protocol – different ways to remove her hat, different hand shakes and, above all, where to stand. Then the constituencies gathered around a wooden table, including a posse of fellows in sharp suits, military representatives who would have their men here on Saturday en masse. Rehearsing the signing of the Mayor’s treaty of allegiance to the Armed Forces was the matter of attention. “What happens if it rains?” asked a naive first-timer. “It gets wet and we sign another later,” replied the voice of experienced pragmatism.

“She’s not of Royal stock, so she has to rehearse,” whispered a helpful policeman, leaning in close and enunciating into my ear, as before my eyes the Lord Mayor Elect reached from the carriage with her tricorn hat in hand and waved to the non-existent crowds in Poultry. Beneath the spire of St Mary-Le-Bow they passed and skirted the great cathedral to arrive outside the west front of St Paul’s. Whilst at the south entrance,  the Lord Mayor Elect practised receiving a bible presented by the Bishop of London and holding her hat at the same time, the empty coach waited.

Beneath the overhanging frontage lowering in the gloom now the flood-lights were off, the golden carriage glowed mysteriously, lit from within and reflecting in the pavement that had acquired a sheen from the gently falling rain – as if it were an apparition materialised from the ether.

The dray horses appear on the screen in the Police Control Room in Wood St

Dominic Reid, Pageantmaster since 1991

The Coach stands waiting the Guildhall Yard

David Scott, Coach Doorman since 2007

Harnessing the dray horses

Fiona Woolf, Lord Mayor Elect – the second female in eight hundred years

Press photographers and the Lord Mayor Elect

Men in bowler hats make plans

Pageantmaster confers with Lord Mayor Elect and Lord Mayor Elect’s husband, Nicholas Woolf

Empty streets at the Bank awaiting the procession

Police rider halts the traffic

The coach passes the Bank of England

Descending at the Mansion House

Pageantmaster explains what is required of the Lord Mayor

Waiting to practise signing the treaty with the Armed Forces outside the Mansion House

Practising climbing into the carriage

Practising waving

The coach approaches up Cheapside past St Mary-Le-Bow

Arrival at St Paul’s

“Beneath the overhanging frontage, lowering in the gloom now the flood-lights were off, the golden carriage glowed mysteriously”

“as if it were an apparition materialised from the ether”

Returning home

Night shift office worker gets a surprise

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

10 Responses leave one →
  1. August 26, 2014

    Lovely photography.

  2. Melvyn Brooks permalink
    August 26, 2014

    I would love to be present. Looks great.

    Melvyn Brooks Karkur, Israel, Apothecary and Freeman of the City of London

  3. August 26, 2014

    What exciting pictures, it never occurred to me that they went through a rehearsal like this when I saw my one and only Lord Mayor of London parade the day before leaving London in 2005 on my one and only visit to my home town in more than 50 years.

    I hope they gave those horses an extra load of oats after pulling that carriage around London a couple of times.

  4. Rosemary Hoffman permalink
    August 26, 2014

    Thought that Fiona Woolf is Lord Mayor now, the new ome will be in November

  5. the gentle author permalink*
    August 26, 2014

    You are correct Rosemary but, when these photos were taken, she was Lord Mayor Elect.

  6. August 26, 2014

    That’s VERY special!

    Love & Peace

  7. Jane B permalink
    August 26, 2014

    And by the Silent Ceremony of 7 November 2014 it will be Adrian Waddington — although the world is not really meant to know until the ‘election’ of 29th September in the Great Hall! …even though Gresham College has already circulated the information when announcing their Lord Mayor lecture June 2015. It’s a secret as open as the Guildhall itself 🙂



    And GA, its perhaps worth asking Adrian as Alderman about his Ward float currently being built for the men and women of his Bridge Ward for this year’s Show — in that it takes it all back to the pageant’s origins on the river, giving the word ‘float’ a bit more meaning other than reminding us of milk floats! I hope you don’t have to walk to far in the rain today to bring back your story 🙂

  8. Jill permalink
    August 26, 2014

    The stuff of magic! Lovely words and pictures.

  9. Pauline Taylor permalink
    August 26, 2014

    Everything looks wonderful except for the step provided for climbing into the coach, surely someone could have come up with better steps for a lady!!

  10. August 29, 2014

    London is full of secrets!

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