City pageant to revive historic Thames

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The Independent Online
COLIN BROWN

Chief Political Correspondent

The revival of the Lord Mayor's Show on the river Thames is being planned as a spectacular event in London to usher in the millennium.

The floating show of colourful barges, portrayed by Canaletto, last took to the river in 1856, but plans are quietly being laid by the Government and the City of London for it to be revived in 1999.

John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, is backing the idea, which he hopes will lead to a revival of private river traffic on the Thames to recreate some of the life on the river when it was portrayed bobbing with boats.

Launching the Lord Mayor's Show on the river was suggested by Dominic Reid, the Pageantmaster, who is responsible for organising the annual show through the City. "We are in the process of planning something which is going to be quite wonderful if it comes off. It will be magnificent because the City has 1,000 years of history upon which to reflect and it can also look forward," he said. Mr Reid is not trying to recreate the picture painted by Canaletto, however. It will feature modern craft, with extravagant floating sculptures, but it will be safer than it used to be.

The competition on the river between the livery companies was so great that in 1453 someone was killed in a clash between the Skinners and the Merchant Taylors, who were officially supposed to take the order of six and seven in the procession. They were said to have been at "sixes and sevens".

"It used to be fairly chaotic in a lot of ways. Barges were fairly common and they were quite spectacular. There were state barges with 18 oars and all the livery companies had barges with 12 oars," Mr Reid said.

The purpose of the procession, for which records go back to 1422, is to allow the Lord Mayor to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown. The ceremony used to be held at Westminster, involving a flotilla from the City to Westminster Steps, before being moved to the Law Courts. It was moved to dry land because the narrowing of the river to make the Victoria Embankment made it more difficult for the oarsmen to row against the tide. Mr Gummer is looking at ways of reopening the river to more access, a step which can be taken because of the protection from flooding offered by the Thames Barrier at Woolwich.

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