You either find the idea of grown men in odd costumes taking a branding iron to a modern truck very funny or a moving illustration of how London’s history is still very much alive. Or possibly both. Either way, that’s what you can see every July at the Guildhall when the The Worshipful Company of Carmen, one of London’s Livery Companies, enacts a ceremony dating back to the 16th century.
The Company (founded in 1517) controlled the access of carts and wagons to the City. Vehicles were branded with a new mark every year to show they were allowed within the city walls – an early form of tax disc, if you like. In return, the Company provided a price control on fares and kept the roads free of dung.
This monopoly has, of course, long fallen away but the tradition continues every year, mainly to raise funds for charity with what is basically a display of lovely old goods vehicles, cars and coaches. However, there are always a few bang-up-to-date vehicles, such as the very latest in electric or hydrogen technology, adding even more to the incongruity.
As each vehicles comes into the Guildhall yard, it stops in a front of a stand of dignitaries where a wooden board is branded with a hot iron letter (‘S’ for 2010). Electric ovens keep the two branding irons hot and a key part of the start of the ceremony is the handing over of the protective gloves to the Master Carman. The Lord Mayor (or, as in 2010, his locum) also helps brand a few vehicles.
The ceremony runs from about 10.30am to 12.30pm and in 2010 it finished with a cheque for £25,000 being handed to charity. Quite a serious business, then.