Regular watchers of London’s Lord Mayor’s Show parade will be familiar with the two giants Gog and Magog who for centuries have been an integral part of the procession. But just who are the two stern figures who strike fear into the hearts of all they pass (well, perhaps not so much the fear)?
While the names Gog and Magog appear several times in different contexts in the Bible came t0 epitomise the enemies of God, legend has it that the Gog and Magog seen in this context were leaders of a race of giants who inhabited Britain in times of prehistory.
Defeated by Brutus, a descendent of the Trojan Aeneas and the founder of London and first king of Britain, they were then chained to the gate of his palace which stood on the site of where Guildhall – home of the City of London Corporation – now stands.
Seen as guardians of the City of London, figures of the giants have been carried in the Lord Mayor’s Show – the annual procession surrounding the election of the new Lord Mayor – since as far back as the reign of King Henry V (originally made of ‘wickerwork and pasteboard’, they were later replaced with wooden ones).
The seven foot high wicker versions of the giants which are now carried in the parade were donated by the Worshipful Company of Basketweavers in 2006 (pictured here in the 2010 parade) and are the just latest in a series of effigies and statues of the two giants which have been associated with Guildhall.
These include pair of nine foot high limewood statues of the giants which currently stand in Guildhall – carved in 1953 by David Evans, they replaced two earlier, 14 foot high oak versions made by Richard Saunders in the early 1700s which were destroyed in the Blitz during World War II. They, in turn, were created to replace earlier papier mache versions.
As well as being found in numerous cities around the world, figures of the two giants also famously feature as the clock’s bell ringers on the facade of the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street. The clock, incidentally, was the first public clock in London to have a minute hand.
• The Lord Mayor’s Show is tomorrow. The world’s oldest civic procession, it’s been held for 795 years (the last time it was interrupted was due to the Duke of Wellington’s funeral) and commemorates the day when the newly elected Mayor had to make the journey from the City to Westminster to declare his allegiance to the monarch. This year’s Lord Mayor of the City of London – the City’s 683rd – is Alderman Michael Bear (not to be confused with the Mayor of London Boris Johnson). The procession kicks off at 11am and travels from Mansion House to St Paul’s Cathedral, where the Lord Mayor, who formally took office yesterday in a silent ceremony held at Guildhall, is blessed. The procession then moves on to the Royal Courts of Justice where the Lord Mayor swears an oath of allegiance before returning to Mansion House via Victoria Embankment. This year the procession will involve from than 6,000 people from livery companies, military units, marching bands, local schools and businesses and community groups as well as 200 vehicles, 21 carriages – including, of course, the Lord Mayor’s State Coach – and 71 floats. Don’t forget to hang around for the fireworks. For more about the event – where to stand and what you’ll be seeing, see www.lordmayorsshow.org.
PICTURE: Alderman Michael Bear on the occasion of his election as the 683rd Lord Mayor of London. Courtesy Lord Mayor’s Show.
• Now On: The British Museum exhibition, Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, was launched last week. The exhibition centres on the museum’s collection of Book of the Dead papyri, many of which have never before been put on display to the public. They include the Greenfield Papyrus, which at 37 metres long is the longest Book of the Dead in the world and has never been displayed in its entirity before. The display also features famous paintings from the papyri of Ani and Hunefer and an array of painted coffins, gilded masks, amulets, jewellery, tomb figurines and mummy trappings. Runs until 6th March. For more information, including admission prices, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• Now On: A new exhibition exploring the development of the English language opens today at the British Library. Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices looks at how the language has evolved from Anglo-Saxon runes to modern day rap and where it’s headed next. Highlights of the exhibition include the first book printed in English, Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (printed by William Caxton), a 1611 King James Bible, Poor Letter H – a pamphlet dating from 1854 explaining why pronouncing your h’s correctly is important to climbing the social ladder, and the earliest surviving copy of Beowulf. On until April 3rd. Admission is free. For more information, see www.bl.uk.