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Looking back at the historic origins of our Fine City's most special celebration

PUBLISHED: 10:36 07 February 2015 | UPDATED: 10:41 07 February 2015

Lord Mayor's Procession. Pictured: Colmans Mustard float. Date: Jun 1978. Picture: EN Library

Lord Mayor's Procession. Pictured: Colmans Mustard float. Date: Jun 1978. Picture: EN Library

Archant

From its religious roots to Georgian excess and then the parade which we all know that started in the late 1970s.

Guild Day in 1822

The year saw Robert Hawkes, born in Caister in 1774, become the Lord Mayor.

His mayor-making Guild Day happened to coincide with the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and so he wanted it be an event of even greater splendour than usual.

Between 1811 and 1821 grew from a city of 37,000 to one of 50,000 so Hawkes presided over a growing and prosperous city.

Hawkes came from humble beginnings, working as a shop boy in the county, but he prospered in the era of Norwich’s industrial revolution.

In the district of St Martin-at-Oak, where many of his employees lived, the parish was decorated with green boughs, flowers and flags in his honour.

He later rewarded them with barrels of strong beer.

The Guild Day in 1822 began with the ringing out of the bells at St Peter Mancroft.

The Mayor-elect had breakfast with the Recorder, the two sheriffs and eighteen Aldermen before the true festivities of the day.

“Old Snap” led the procession through the city with its horse drawn carriages and early Victorian pageantry.

The route ended at the cathedral doors where after nine ceremonious knocks at the great west doors a choral anthem met the new Lord Mayor.

At six o’clock Hawkes entertained 700 people to a banquet in St Andrew’s Hall and treated them to fine wines from his own cellar.

They drank 24 toasts to the new mayor and feasted on salmon, turbot, venison and leverets.

Dancing lasted into the early hours of the morning at the Assembly House.

Just 13 years later the Guild Day was resigned to history only to return some 150 or so years later as the Lord Mayor’s Procession.

The love of a Fine City has always been at the heart of the Lord Mayor’s Procession.

For centuries the idea has been a notable feature of civic life in Norwich and the earliest recording of “old Snap”, the dragon who leads the procession, was from 1408.

The earliest history was as a celebration of the feast of St George, a largely religious event which the people of the city would enjoy.

It developed into an annual procession of civic pageantry for the new Lord Mayor being sworn into office.

The Georgian era was famous for the frivolity of the upper classes and the pomp and splendour of the events was demonstrable.

Norwich’s population boomed during the industrial revolution when the textiles industry brought factory to the city and a need for labour.

It was known as Guild Day and was a mark of Norwich’s power as the former second city of England and was supposed to rival the City of London’s Lord Mayor’s Day.

The event dwindled after the passing of the Municipal Reform Act in 1835 which did away with the unchecked power of many boroughs in England.

It was not until 1976 that the Procession as we know it was reborn.

In 1971 a proposal for a “Grand Norwich Festival” was put forward by a former colleague of the Evening News, the then advertising manager of Eastern Counties Newspapers, Harry Boreham.

His vision was for a festival of pageants, displays and activities which widely resembles the weekend we know and love today.

Mr Boreham wrote in a committee paper that he wanted to see a gala: “matching in brilliance the wine festivals and Mardi Gras known on the continent.”

Years of planning went into the eventual recommencement of the procession in 1976 – and since then it has evolved into the carnival atmosphere of today.

Despite its different guises and continual development, it is – and always has been – a spectacle that celebrates all the best things about our city.

Are you entering a float this 
year? Email george.ryan@archant.co.uk

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