At #3: Camels, a ship and a travelling oasis

In the early middle ages the real money was in pepper. Wars were fought, perilous crossings attempted and vast fortunes won in the battle to bring spices, dyes and especially pepper from Asia to Europe.

Grocers crest
Above: the Grocers' crest hangs over the door of Grocers' Hall on Princes Street.
Main picture by Anson Antony on Unsplash

In those days there was no sea route to India and Indonesia. Everything had to travel overland. Western traders would generally go half way, meeting their Asian counterparts in the deserts of what became known as the Middle East: Constantinople, Damascus, Baghdad. By the time a peppercorn reached London it had been traded many times and travelled thousands of miles by camel and cart.

This trade belonged to the Guild of Pepperers, a powerful institution even older than the Lord Mayor’s Show. Their status grew until in the 14th century the Guild was incorporated as the Worshipful Company of Grocers, one of the Great Twelve Livery Companies. Over 600 years later the Grocers remain a pillar of the City of London, closely engaged in its civic and charitable life.

The Grocers' Company took as its symbol the camel, in honour of the epic journeys undertaken by their merchants. You can see one at the top of their crest and over the centuries they have often paraded camels in the Lord Mayor’s Show. Queen Elizabeth I is said to have demoted the Grocers from first to second place in the order of precedence after she (as an honorary Mercer) had to travel behind one of the Grocers' camels and found out why the Lord Mayor's Show is always followed by the City's clean up crew.

Charles Bowman, Lord Mayor Elect for 2017, is a Grocer. This would once have meant that the Grocers' Company had to organise the whole Lord Mayor's Show, but these days they can leave that to the Pageantmaster. Instead they will celebrate by leading a camel train once again through the City of London, and not just the camels: there will be an oasis for the old trading posts, dancers, drummers and a boat on the high seas to represent the dangerous new habit of sailing around Cape Horn to trade directly in the Far East. The biggest challenge is to keep the camels safely distant from all the Show's horses, which they famously dislike.

We are thrilled to support fellow Grocer, Charles Bowman in what will be the 105th Mayoral year for the Grocers’ Company and its forebears since 1215. As one of the oldest Livery Companies in existence today we are really excited to be part of this fantastic occasion, which represents all that is good about our great City.
Rupert Gavin, Master of the Worshipful Company of Grocers

In modern London the Livery Companies still have some regulatory roles but their main purpose is charitable and educational. The Grocers' float will be accompanied by children from their affiliated schools The Elms School, Mossbourne Community Academy, Mossbourne Parkside Academy and Oundle School. They are led away by representatives from their military affiliates, 7 Rifles G Company and the nation's brand new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

To see the Grocers' preparations for the Show, follow
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