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At The Boar’s Head Parade

November 28, 2018
by the gentle author

The annual Boar’s Head Parade in the City of London takes place this afternoon at 3pm

When I arrived at The Worshipful Company of Butchers, I was greeted outside their Hall in St Bartholomew’s Close by Neil Hunt, the Beadle. Already a small crowd were gathered, eagerly awaiting the annual appearance of the celebrated Boar’s Head, marking the beginning on the Christmas season in London.

This arcane tradition 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 me 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 me, 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 I 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 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 winter 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 © Estate of Colin O’Brien

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    November 28, 2018

    I love it that this sort of event still happens in the City of London!

  2. Helen Breen permalink
    November 28, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    Long live the tradition. I love that section of London!

  3. November 28, 2018

    Thank you for capturing this occasion, I had no idea events like this still took place.

  4. November 28, 2018

    “The boar’s head arrives…….”. And we, your lucky readers, were there to enjoy it.
    As the year comes to a close, I thank you for taking us along on so many adventures,
    excursions, beanos (couldn’t help it…..), and other fascinating forays.
    Hurrah and huzzah, GA!
    Snow-crusted greetings from the Hudson River Valley.

  5. December 2, 2018

    Hopefully one day I will get to witness this historic event for myself. At George Cromar Goldsmiths we are proud to have been able to contribute to this event and the Worshipful Company of Butchers via our workshop services. Long may the day be marked in this way!

  6. EJ Wilkinson permalink
    December 28, 2018

    I always found it a bit odd passing the Butchers Guild Hall when heading for Bart’s Hospital appointments. It was located next door to one of the hospital buildings I visited shortly before surgery! Thanks for the story as always.

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