Attending the Traditional Cart Marking Ceremony in London, England

The Cart Marking ceremony at Guildhall in London (photo Credit: MCArnott)

The Cart Marking ceremony at Guildhall in London (Photo by MCArnott)

What do Montgomery’s Rolls Royce and a butcher’s handcart have in common? They appeared in a London ritual dating back to 1667: Cart Marking.

The first time I heard the name of this ceremony — Cart Marking Under the Worshipful Company of Carmen — I admit wondering who Carmen was. We now call them truck drivers.

In fact, celebrating trades from the past is part of London’s culture. It is also an interesting way to brush up on historic trivia. The Worshipful Company of Woolmen, for example, is recalling “ its traditional right to a sheep drive across the London Bridge.”

But I am at Guildhall Yard, in the oldest part of London known as the City. With some one hundred other spectators, I am here for entertainment and yet, cart marking is linked to transportation, itself the backbone of commerce and human mass movement.

In your Bucket Because…

  • Cart Marking is entertaining, informative, and free.
  • You enjoy the decorum of traditional ceremonies.
  • You are a fanatic of modern and vintage vehicles.
  • For anyone including families with children.

Who Are the Carmen?

London Lord Mayor and members of the Worshipful Company of Carmen (Photo credit: MCArnott)

London Lord Mayor and members of the Worshipful Company of Carmen (Photo by MCArnott)

As London’s population grew, cartage became costly, trash was uncollected, and streets needed help. In 1517, the carmen started a fellowship that pledged to “clense, purge and kepe clene all the Stretes of… Donge…” at a reasonable price. They got licensed for the trade of “plying for hire.”

Today, the Carmen Company is still a Guild of the City of London. As a Livery Company – entitled to clothe its members with its “livery” uniform – it supports the civic traditions of the City. It is also the oldest transport organization in the world.

Guilds of the kind existed all over Europe as a way to regulate their trade. Today, they still retain their rights under the title “Worshipful Company of…” But, as in the past, only a Freeman can be a member of a Company. It’s a complicated concept, but the present mission of these Guilds is to “bring together free men and women, for the purpose of charity, benevolence, education and social interaction.”

What is Cart Marking?

A Cart Marking plaque (Photo credit: MCArnott)

A Cart Marking plaque (Photo by MCArnott)

The licensing of vehicles was passed on to the Keeper of Guildhall in 1838. But imagine the practice of “standing for hire” in 1965! It interfered with street traffic and parking regulations and was abolished, except for cart marking. Today, the symbolic marking is branded on a wooden plaque attached to a side of the vehicle. All vintage and modern vehicles belong to members of the Company of Carmen.

Let the Branding Begin!

The branding of Montgomery's Rolls Royce (Photo credit: MCArnott)

The branding of Montgomery’s Rolls-Royce (Photo by MCArnott)

A fanfare gets everyone’s attention as the Guildhall School of Music and Drama marches in Guildhall Yard. The Master Carman’s procession follows them to the official tent.  There, one tradition calls for another: The Master Glover presents gloves to the Master Carman. Shortly after, the first vehicle appears in a drive-through passage to the Yard.

It’s the most recognizable symbol of London: a (1938) Austin Taxi Cab. It replaced the horse-drawn carriages and was the first electrically powered vehicle. Of better range, the gasoline-powered engine took over, in 1903.

The Master Carman begins his duty with the symbolic inspection of the cab. Then, with protective gloves on, the Hall Keeper uses a red-hot iron to brand the letter for the year on a wooden plate (X for 2015).

Enter a 1935 Albion Bakery Van: Lyon’s Swiss Rolls. It bears the Royal Warrant “By Appointment to his Majesty the King & H.R.R. the Prince of Wales.” The distinction is granted to trades that supply goods and services to the King and/or Queen, and to the Prince of Wales.

1935 Albion 5T Bakery Van at the Cart Marking ceremony (Photo credit: MCArnott)

1935 Albion 5T Bakery Van at the Cart Marking ceremony (Photo by MCArnott)

Today, the warrant is by appointment to her Majesty the Queen, but at the time, the King was her father: George VI. As for the Prince of Wales of the time, he would become King Edward III for one year (in 1936) before abdicating to marry Wallis Simpson.

Vehicles follow one another in ascending parade numbers, but in no particular order of make, type or year. For example, the program lists a 1932 Ford A Type Woody, followed by a 2008 FM440 Tractor Unit, and a 1890 Landau 2 Horses.

Forty-five minutes into the ceremony, a fanfare announces the car of Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress. In commendable British panache, Lord Mayor steps out wearing a red cape outlined with mink, a black plumed hat, and the mayoral gold collar. It’s his time to share in the marking duty.

The eclectic parade resumes with a c1920 Bumaree’s Handcart loaded with a fake meat quarter, a 2008 Vetrix Eco Scooter, and a glossy 1920 Fowler Road Locomotive.

Enter a clattering of hooves and a carriage pulled by two horses. Let’s imagine the first mass provider of land transport: a pack of up to 60 animals with the lead horse wearing a bell for warning. But, it’s now time for the cleaning crew to “parade” — just in time for the upcoming Rolls-Royce.

The model is listed as a 1938 Wraith Staff Car. My history-fanatic husband immediately recognizes Field Marshall Montgomery’s Phantom III. How does he know? “It has five stars,” he says, “He was the only British General with such status.” Yes, I notice the five red stars while an announcement acknowledges “Monty’s” car — and his now elderly chauffeur as the passenger.

About Guildhall and the Great Hall

One of 23 stained-glass windows in Guildhall Great Hall (photo credit: MCArnott)

One of 23 stained-glass windows in Guildhall Great Hall (photo by  MCArnott)

An amphitheater discovered under the actual Yard dates Guildhall back to Roman times. The actual building was built in the 15-th century and designed to reflect the importance of the ruling elite. The original word “gild” (it means payment) suggests that it was a place where people paid their taxes.

Inside, the Great Hall is where royalty and state visitors have been entertained over the centuries. It is also the venue for the meetings of the City of London, and for private functions such as the Cart Marking ensuing lunch. Being invited by a member of the Worshipful Company of Carmen is an opportunity to see the Great Hall otherwise closed that day.

Reminiscent of a cathedral, imposing columns support the ceiling. Massive chandeliers gleam on the statues of national heroes such as Sir Winston Churchill. In the crypt, stained-glass windows enliven the medieval architecture with the colorful shields of London’s 12 principal liveries.

It’s now time for the Master Carman to welcome the Queen and other royals as if they were in attendance. “Scite, Cite, Certo” is the Company of Carmen’s motto: “ Skillfully, Swiftly, Surely.” And so it remains.

Practicalities

  • The Cart Marking ceremony is a public event held annually in July (Wednesday July 13, 2016 at 10:30). It is free. Lunch is served in the Great Hall and is reserved for members of the Carmen Company and their guests.
  • The Great Hall is open to the public, except when meetings or functions are held.
  • Adjacent streets to Guildhall are closed around the time of the ceremony: Be ready to walk! Sitting is limited. Bring an umbrella!
  • Montgomery’s Rolls-Royce is otherwise on display at The Royal Logistic Corps Museum in Deepcut, Surrey, UK.
  • www.thecarmen.co.uk