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At The Ghost Parade

November 8, 2013
by the gentle author

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

Saturday sees the 686th Lord Mayor’s Show in the City of London yet, just to make sure it goes without a hitch, 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 on Tuesday night in the pouring rain dragging a cart around the route twice, just to get familiar with it, and, by the time Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I arrived in the Guildhall yard at 4:30am on Wednesday morning, they were returning from another circuit as the gleaming two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old coach was wheeled out. Here 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 last 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 Saturday there will be a three and a half mile procession, but tonight 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

The Lord Mayor’s Show is tomorrow, Saturday 9th November, commencing at 11am

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Paul Kelly permalink
    November 8, 2013

    The Gentle Author for Lord Mayor!!!

  2. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    November 8, 2013

    What a lovely blog it must look rather ghostly & mysterious to those who dont know whats going on!Would make a good ghost story,”The Phantom Procession!

  3. Sarah permalink
    November 8, 2013

    Poor horses, they must get so tired and cold.

  4. Jeannette permalink
    November 8, 2013

    so privileged to see this. thank you.

  5. SBW permalink
    November 8, 2013

    how fascinating, thank you for this. sbw

  6. s berris permalink
    November 8, 2013

    Many thanks for this lovely unexpected blog. Sorry the Coachman couldn’t leave his post for a closeup too. S Berris.

  7. John Campbell permalink
    November 8, 2013

    Aren’t bowler hats fantastic! Such a symbol of London. Long live the bowler! Think the coach looks more magical in the dark, Cinders returning from the ball. Hope TGA crept back under that patchwork quilt and caught up with his sleep after these nocturnal wanderings. Mr Pussy must be wondering what on earth is going on!

  8. Jaki permalink
    November 8, 2013

    I can’t help but think of the Lord Mayor Elect as Lucia from EF Benson’s fabulous books. 🙂

  9. November 8, 2013

    you couldnt make it up !
    Quintessentially British, the seriousness of it all , yet it looks like a wonderful fairytale caper.

  10. November 9, 2013

    The whole thing looks magical in a dark and empty city.

  11. Liveryman Chris Salaman permalink
    November 11, 2013

    What a truly wonderful and revealing depicture of what few people ever really see, and beautifully photographed in the bargain!

  12. Roy Stephenson permalink
    November 11, 2013

    The coach mysteriously returns to the City Gallery at the Museum of London tomorrow 13/11/13

  13. G Twist permalink
    September 12, 2014

    Have just been tolf at Guildhall art gallery that the ghost parade was also photgraphed by one Mr Parr on behalf od COL – he is to have an exhibition at the gallery in the future

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