Thursday, 18 August 2016

The City's Annual Cart Marking Ceremony

On the 13th of July 2016 I was privileged to attend the City's annual Cart Marking ceremony as a guest of one of the Wardens of the Worshipful Company of Carmen. Although I had previously researched and written about the Cart Marking ceremony this was my first visit to see the event performed live.

I headed into the City early in the morning and saw many of the vehicles due to participate in the ceremony lined up on Gresham Street and London Wall. It soon became obvious the ceremony would be quite a long affair as there were over 50 vehicles by my rough count. One thing that immediately stood out about all the vehicles, no matter their age or purpose, was the high standard to which they were maintained and presented. Clearly Cart Marking is a matter of pride for the vehicle owners and operators.

Cart Marking is an early form of vehicle registration and was a necessity in the days when members of the Carmen's Company had designated 'stations' in the City from which they could conduct their trade. Hand and horse drawn carts were the main means of conveying goods and property into and out of the City for centuries; records show that during the Great Fire of London carts were being hired for as much as £20 (approximately £3,000 in 2016) by residents desperate to salvage their worldly goods from the advancing fire. Thankfully rates for couriering goods within the City have settled back to more reasonable prices in the 21st century. 

The Cart Marking ceremony takes place in the spacious Guildhall Yard. The ceremony is open to the public and photography is permitted, a brochure outlining the ceremony and vehicles involved is also available.  Within Guildhall Yard there is an enclosed area for members of the Carmen's Company and their guests - this is where I headed. I was lucky enough to be seated in the front row, very close to the action and adjacent to the area where vehicles pull up to be marked.

The ceremony commenced with the arrival of the Aldermanic Sheriff and the Lady Mayoress who joined the Master Carman and other dignitaries at a covered podium facing out from the Hindu-Gothic entrance to Guildhall. The Master Glover provided heat proof gloves with which the marking party held the branding irons that were used during the ceremony. 

Our commentator provided a brief introduction to the history of Cart Marking, introduced the dignitaries and explained the process of marking each cart (vehicle). At 11:00 it was time for the marking ceremony to being in earnest.

An eclectic mix of vintage and modern vehicles passed, one-by-one, into Guildhall Yard through the covered entrance that converts in to a glass garage designed to hold the Lord Mayor's coach in the weeks prior to the Show. Each vehicle was introduced with a brief explanation of its history and usage. The vehicles ranged in diversity from a hand-drawn funeral carriage used during World War I to a modern Fire Engine still undergoing pre-operational testing for the London Fire Brigade. There were horse drawn carriages, motorbikes, modern buses and a plethora of haulage vehicles of various ages a selection of which may be seen below.
A hand drawn coffin carrier
A London bus from the inter-war years
Pugh, Hugh, Barney-Magrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb?
When did dentists perform home visits?
An original Royal Mail carriage with postilion sounding the Post Horn
Each vehicle pulled up in from of the Master Carmen and the other dignitaries to be marked on a wooden plaque fixed to the vehicle for the purpose. A heated branding iron was used to mark the plaque with the letter 'Y' (for 2016), often alongside letter marks from previous years. All the vehicles were owned by members of the Carmen's Company preserving the City custom that only Freemen and members of the Carmen's Company could bring their carts into the City.

A marking plate with the letter 'Y' for 2016 and letters from previous years. Note the arms of the City of London and the Carmen's Company.

The Cart Marking ceremony lasted a full two-hours and was followed by a drinks reception in Guildhall and the obligatory lunch - unfortunately I wasn't able to stay for the lunch owing to work commitments, but the day was none the less enjoyable and I thoroughly recommend a visit to a future ceremony.

Further details of the Cart Marking ceremony and the background to this ancient City tradition may be read on the website of the Carmen's Company.




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