One of the joys of being a Rotarian in London is being able to participate in some of the finest British traditions. And there is nothing more traditional than the Lord Mayor of London’s show – one of the biggest and best parades of the year. It dates back to the early 13th century, when King John allowed the City of London (the small central area north of the River Thames which was historically the business district “the square mile”) to appoint its own Mayor, but insisted that each newly-elected Mayor should come to Westminster to swear loyalty to the Crown. The Mayor of London has now been making that journey for over 800 years, and around it has grown up the noisy, joyous procession that is the Lord Mayor’s Show.
Rotary in London participates in the show (held on the second Saturday of November) to raise awareness of Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign. Our float consists of a wonderful traction machine, a threshing engine built in 1915, pulling a trailer with a magnificent fairground organ on board. The procession starts mid-morning from Mansion House, the home and office of the Lord Mayor.
As we set off, ahead of us we had marching bands, including the Air Cadets, – a volunteer-military youth organisation sponsored by the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Air Force with over 50,000 members in 1,000 branches. It’s for youngsters who love aviation, action and service. How many of them may one become Flying Rotarians.
We made our way west, towards the City of Westminster, passing the Bank of England (no windows so you can’t see how little gold is left in there now).
As we continued on, the crowds were growing. As we past St Paul’s the organ starting playing what might be our unofficial anthem “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machine.
Then it was on down Fleet Street, formerly the home of Britain’s newspaper industry before it moved to London Docklands until we arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice where the new Lord Mayor takes the oath of allegiance. With well over 100 entries in the parade (including 2 live camels), we had to continue several hundred yards/meters beyond the Courts before we could stop for lunch.
Then, Lord Mayor duly approved, the procession returns back along the Thames Embankment to Mansion House for the great and the good to enjoy a ceremonial lunch.
This year, it was a beautiful sunny day, and crowds lined the streets the entire length of the route. The BBC television cameras were present at five points along the route giving the event nationwide coverage. The fascination of a living traction engine, puffing smoke and chugging away, coupled with the magic of the music of the fairground organ meant ours was a float that got plenty of attention and photos – I can’t guess how many pictures were taken of our float – and of our End Polio Now message. It was one of those days when it genuinely felt good to be a Rotarian.
Let me end with a few more of the photos of what your President does when he’s not flying. It was a wonderful day where service was really a pleasure.