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Exercising an ancient right as a Freeman of the City...

Woolmen allow Liveryman and Almoner, Gill King, to take her sheep across London Bridge....

Like many City customs which still survive today, when we become a Freeman of the City of London we are told that apart from the right to be hanged by a silken rope (if such circumstances should arise) we are also granted the right to take our sheep over London Bridge.     

On 24th September this year, I exercised this right which is rooted in 800 years of tradition, going back to medieval times when London Bridge was the only crossing over the Thames and the sole route into the City for trading.  Freemen were granted the right to bring the tools of their trade into the City, which would have included sheep and cattle going to market.  

 The Worshipful Company of Woolmen, one of the  City’s oldest Livery Companies has upheld this  ancient tradition by  organising an Annual Sheep  Drive over London Bridge and inviting Freemen from  other Livery Companies to participate.

 The event is usually opened by a celebrity - this year it  was Mary Berry.  Previous personalities have  included Barbara  Windsor and Nigel Mansell.  Each  year the event raises thousands of pounds for the  Lord Mayor’s Appeal which in turn is  distributed to  various charities of the Lord Mayor’s choosing for  that particular year.

No - It's not difficult to get your own bunch of sheep to cross the Thames within an allotted time....  of course not...

Real sheep are brought into London specifically for the drive and participants are organised into groups and given timed slots for their walks.  

 (Having had a foot operation in May this year and a further procedure the week before the Drive, I was a bit concerned about having a sheep tread on my foot; but in fact they were very well-behaved and walked in front of us rather than amongst us.)  When each group comes to the end of their walk, each person is given an individual certificate to confirm their completion. 

If anyone is interested in signing up for next year’s Sheep Drive bookings will commence from the end of April 2018 As with all livery events there is a great sense of camaraderie and we get the chance to meet people from many other disciplines - we had an Apothecary in our group. 

The next tradition on my walking calendar is of course the Lord Mayor’s Show on Saturday, 11th November when I doubt the weather will be as kind to us as it was for the sheep drive.  




Gill King
Liveryman and Almoner