Obstacles and explosions

History of the Lord Mayor’s Show Obstacles and explosions

The Lord Mayor's Show has survived several bouts of the plague, the great fire of London, city-wide riots just before the 1830 Show and a particularly thunderous 1867 editorial in the Times which declared that "the Show will vanish but the Banquet is safe".

It has moved from land to river and back again while a modern megacity grew up in the open space that once lay between the City of London and the remote village of Westminster.

We have occasionally had to adapt to circumstances. 1915 was a recruiting Show, in which thousands of volunteers were supposed to fall in behind the Coach but were deterred by the terrible weather. 

In World War 2 the Show became frugal, with the State Coach packed away and the pageantry reduced to a brisk military parade, but even so the Lord Mayor still travelled to Westminster at the height of the Blitz to pledge his loyalty to the Crown.

In 2020 of course we were locked down by the Covid pandemic and for the first time since 1852, when the Show gave way to Wellington's funeral and a million people lined the streets of London, the Show did not go ahead.

The route of the modern show was fixed in 1952, but the constant rebuilding of London means that it often has to work around building sites and take a diversion around roadwork. This too is not new. In 1676 the Court of Aldermen approved a change of route because:

The passage ... being now obstructed by the great quantities of stone laid there for the convenience of St Paul’s Church

St Paul's is now our main landmark on the way to the Royal Courts and perhaps the biggest change in the Pageantmaster's role in recent years comes from the security requirements of a modern event. In 1761 the Prime Minister - William Pitt - took part. He was so much loved at the time that the crowds mobbed his carriage and kissed his horses.

Main image: St Paul's rises above the smoke and dust of the Blitz on 29 December 1940. The picture was taken by Herbert Mason from the roof of the Daily Mail office and featured on their front page the next day.

These days, even if the prime minister were that popular, the security around the modern Show makes a mass horse-kissing unlikely. The policemen and women that you see on the day are the visible and friendly tip of a huge security operation that keeps both the procession and the spectators safe. Just one example: every single one one of the 3,500 manholes and 197 vacant properties on the route will have been searched and sealed before you get there on the day.