Day of Duty – Sheep Drive & The Costermongers’ Pearly Kings & Queens Harvest Festival

Chris Hayward and I headed out for our first day of duty as Sheriffs. On a drizzly Sunday we attended two events. The first is the now traditional Sheep Drive & Wool Fair. This event is kindly hosted by the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, with much other livery support, and this year the organisation was led by a great friend of ours, Judith Pleasance CC. The event itself was inaugurated by the World Traders (have to get that inter-livery rivalry in).

Past Master World Trader Robert Alston and his wife Pat, together with John Burbidge-King and a team of overstretched helpers, organised the first Sheep Drive in 2008 during the Mayoralty of Sir David Lewis, a Welsh hill sheep farmer. The advantage for City of London Freemen being allowed to drive their sheep across London’s then only bridge was that they thus avoided tolls and brought their product more cheaply to the City’s slaughterhouses.

The Worshipful Company of Woolmen continue the annual event and their red-caped freemen act as marshals for the teams of freemen driving rather tame animals across part of London Bridge. All teams pay an entry fee which goes to charity. This year’s celebrity was Michael Portillo, who truly got into the spirit and dress of things.

But that didn’t fill the day. We went on to meet the Pearly Kings & Queens led by the indomitable Doreen Golding for the Costermongers Harvest Festival. I was called upon at short notice to give a short address to some 750 people in Guildhall Yard. Fortunately, I remembered my days at the local pub The Pearly King (sadly no more) in Bow Road, managed to work the rhyming slang of ‘Berk’ into my comments, and paid tribute to Henry Croft.

We then danced the Maypole led by the lithe and enthusiastic Donna Maria, watched and listened to some amazing drummers, Morris dancers, and the 17th Pals’ Battalion Band, before they led us marching through the City streets to St Mary-le-Bow. Revd George Bush organised a moving service for the Harvest Festival. Somehow, afterwards, there we were in a pub singing our hearts out. Thus ended Day 3.