This past Saturday, the Thames played a central part in the Lord Mayor’s celebrations. Kicking off the morning, onlookers gathered along the riverbank to see the flotilla and gathered once again to watch the fireworks display to conclude the festivities in the evening.
The flotilla embarked at Westminster boating base at 8:30am and traveled downstream, through Tower Bridge which rose in salute, and disembarked at the HMS president near St. Katherine’s Docks.
The procession was to mark the beginning of office for the Lord Mayor of London. A position not to be confused with the Mayor of London! The Lord Mayor, mainly a ceremonial role, is also an elected official and is Head of the City of London. Mayor of London, the infamous Boris Johnson, on the other hand is the elected position created in 2008 and is in charge of the strategic government for Greater London.
This year’s newly appointed Lord Mayor, Fiona Woolf, led the flotilla procession on
board the Queen’s Royal barge, Gloriana, and was followed by 24 traditional Thames boats from London’s livery companies and port authorities. It was a historic day as Ms. Woolf is only the second woman to hold this office in the 798 years of the parade’s running.
The flotilla and Lord Mayor’s celebrations have a very long history. The river pageant began in 1453 and subsequently coined the term ‘floats’ used for modern day parades. Several centuries ago, London and Westminster were two small towns separated by open country side and the Thames provided the fastest form of transport between the two.
According to the Port of London Authority, the celebration took place on the river for 400 years until responsibility for the Tidal Thames changed hands in 1857. The land-based parade took over but returned to the river for one year only in 1953 to mark the 500th anniversary of the pageant. It was not until 2011 that the river-based event returned to the annual celebrations.
It was very exciting to stand on the embankment at the base of Tower Bridge and watch almost 800 years of tradition sail past. For me, the highlight was not the bridge salute, but the sight of the Royal barge gliding past the Tower of London and Traitor’s Gate. It invoked images of times long lost and monarchs traveling between palaces.
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