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Customs and Traditions

Dr Johnson Birthday Celebrations

Held on Market Square on the Saturday following the 18th September.

Dr Johnson Birthday CelebrationsAt noon the Mayor, Sheriff and civic party, accompanied by the President and members of the Johnson Society and staff and pupils from King Edward VI School (Dr Johnson's old school), walk in procession from Guildhall to the Johnson statue on the Market Square. The Mayor places a laurel wreath on the statue and the choir sings a setting of Johnson's Last Prayer, followed by appropriate hymns. The Mayor and dignitaries then return to the Guildhall to toast "the immortal memory of Dr Johnson".

The Birthplace Museum is decorated with flowers and bunting on this day. Admission to the Birthplace is free of charge throughout the year.

 

The Sheriff's Ride

Sheriff's RideCommences from Guildhall at 10.30 am on the Saturday nearest to 8th September.

The Ride dates from Queen Mary's Charter of 1553 in which Lichfield was separated from Staffordshire and made a separate County with a right to appoint its own Sheriff. The Charter commanded the Sheriff to "perambulate the new County and City annually on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 8th September".

Today, holding true to custom, the Sheriff commences the Ride at Guildhall at 103.am, and followed by a retinue of about 50 50 riders commence the 20 mile perambulation of the city boundary. The northern and eastern boundaries are covered in the morning, arriving in the grounds of Freeford Manor for lunch.

The Ride then resumes to complete the circuit of the boundary, stopping for tea at Pipe Hall. Returning into the City, the Sheriff and riders are met by the Sword and Mace Bearers at approximately 6.15 pm to be escorted down Beacon Street to the Close where they are greeted by the Dean, before returning to the Guildhall at about 6.30 pm.

 

Shrovetide Fair and Pancake Toss

Pancake Race

Held on Shrove Tuesday at noon on the Market Square and in Bore Street.

The Shrovetide 'Old Fair' was probably in existence long before it was confirmed by Royal Charter of James 1 in 1623, and is still opened with the ancient ceremony. The civic procession arrives at the Market Square for noon, here the Town Crier makes the proclamation to open the fair. The "pan on bell" then sounds from St Mary's steeple and, led by the Mayor and city officials, children rush to claim their traditional free ride.

In former times a court of "Pie Powdre" was then held in Guildhall for "the redressing of all grievances or complaints that shall happen to arise during the time of the fair", but although this is still included in the Crier's proclamation, the Civic party now process to the front of Guildhall to view the more recent custom of the pancake races. The Mayoral party then retires to Guildhall for refreshments and a slice of Simnel cake.

One explanation of the origin of Simnel cake is that a man called Simon and his wife Nell could not agree as to whether the 'plum pudding' should be boiled or baked so the cake was first boiled and then baked producing the Simnel.

 

St George's Court

Held at noon on St George's Day, 23rd April, in Guildhall (admission free, but space limited).

St george's CourtThe Court Baron and View of Frankpledge, commonly known as St George's Court, is an ancient manorial court. The manorial rights of the Barony of Lichfield were transferred by Charter of Edward VI in 1548 to the Bailiffs, Burgesses and Commonalty of the City, which in today's terms are the Mayor, councillors and citizens. The Court is now held in a lighthearted manner but still appoints the ancient officers of the Manor: 2 High Constables, 7 Dozeners (or petty constables), 2 Pinners and 2 Ale Tasters. The High Constables report on their work over the past year, and a jury is empanelled which imposes fines on those who have rejected the summons to attend, after first hearing their amusing excuses.

 

Court of Arraye

Held at 10.30am on Spring Bank Holiday Monday in the Guildhall (admission free, but space limited).

The origin of the Court of Arraye or View of Men at Arms is unknown, but the custom of holding the annual assembly to review local defence forces existed in the 12th century and was confirmed by the Statue of Winchester in 1285 which commanded that "every man between 15 years of age and 60 years shall be assessed and sworn to armour" according to their wealth and means.

The statues of Arraye were repealed in the reign of James I but the Court has continued to be held, albeit in a lighthearted manner, being described even in 1806 as "an idle and useless ceremony adapted for the amusement of children".

An assembly of men in medieval amour is inspected by the Mayor, Sheriff and City Officials who then bear the reports of the Dozeners as to the state and preparedness of the defences of their area of the City. The Mayor, Sheriff and High Constables then join the Bower Procession through the City.

 

Greenhill Bower

Green Men at The BowerThe Lichfield Bower takes place on Spring Bank Holiday Monday, immediately after the Court of Arraye. A procession of marching bands and carnival floats makes its way through the city, where the Bower Queen is crowned outside the Guildhall at noon. There is also a fun fair in the city centre, and a fair and jamboree in Beacon Park.

The Bower dates back to the middle ages, when the townsfolk, after fulfilling their duty of attendance at the Court of Arraye, were given the rest of the day as holiday.

For more information please visit the Lichfield Bower website.

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