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City of London

Source: New Picture of London, Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand; by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819

As stated in our general history, William I. granted an important charter to the city of London, confirming Edward the Confessor's laws; and this is the earliest charter of incorporation existing. It was ever recognised as a charter, and referred to and renewed as such down to Charles II.'s reign. After that charter, London was of so much consequence in the various contests for power and sovereignty, that different monarchs favoured it, granting various privileges and communities, till the corporation settled itself into the form of a Lord Mayor and two sheriffs for London and Middlesex; aldermen, common-council and livery. At the time of the defeat of Harold by William I., the chief-officer of London was called the port-reeve, or port-grave, from Saxon words signifying chief governor of a harbour. He next got the name of provost; but in Henry II's reign, the Norman title of maire was brought into use, and soon rendered English by spelling it mayor. In 1354 Edward III. granted to the city the privilege of having gold or silver maces carried before the mayor, sheriffs, and aldermen, every where within the city, its suburbs and liberties, and Middlesex; and, also, when going to meet the king, his heirs, or other royal persons without the city. It was at this period, when such a dignified liberty was granted, that the chief magistrate of the city of London was first called Lord Mayor, and gained the style of right honourable. Under him the city is governed by its recorder, aldermen, common-serjeant, &c.

In 1214, king John granted a charter conferring the liberty of choosing a Mayor annually, and to continue him in that situation from year to year, if the electors so pleased. He was to be presented to the king for approval; but in the 37th of Henry III, a new charter was gained, permitting the presentation to be made to the barons of the exchequer. This was done to avoid the expense of repairing to the king wherever he might be;—and the practice continues to this day. At first, the election was completely popular, resting with the citizens at large, when assembled in general folk-mote; but owing to alleged disturbances having resulted from this mode of electing, it was afterwards managed by delegates chosen out of each ward; and this select number was called the commonalty. This method continued till 1475, when an act of the common council vested the election of the mayor and sheriffs in the mayor, aldermen, and common-councilmen, and in the masters, wardens, and liverymen of the city companies; where the right still continues, it having been confirmed by act of parliament.—Although the office of lord mayor is elective, his supremacy does not cease on the death of a sovereign; and when such an event happens he is considered as the principal officer in the kingdom, and takes his place accordingly in the privy-council till the new king is proclaimed.

His powers and privileges are very extensive. He is not only the king's representative in the civil government of the city, but also first commissioner of the lieutenancy; perpetual coroner and escheater within the city and liberties of London and the borough of Southwark; chief justice of oyer and terminer and gaol delivery of Newgate; judge of the court of wardmote at the election of aldermen; conservator of the rivers Thames and Medway; perpetual commissioner in all affairs relating to the river Lea; and chief butler to the king at all coronations, having a fee for that service of a golden cup and cover, and a golden ewer. No corporation business is valid without his authority.

The mode of election, which takes place September 29, is as follows :—the livery in Guildhall or common assembly, choose two of the senior aldermen below the bar, who are presented to the court of the mayor and aldermen, by whom one of the aldermen so chosen, (generally the senior), is declared lord mayor elect—On the 9th of November, that being the day on which the lord mayor elect enters upon his office, the aldermen and sheriffs attend him to Guildhall in their coaches, and about noon proceed to the Three Cranes' Stairs; where the lord mayor, the lord mayor elect, the aldermen, recorder, and sheriffs, go on board the splendid city barge; and, attended by the several city companies in their several barges, adorned with flags and pendants, proceed in great state to Westminster, where his lordship having taken the oaths prescribed, returns in the same manner to Blackfriars' Stairs. Having landed, he is preceded by the artillery company, which is followed by the company of which he himself is free; and in regular order by the other city companies, with flags and music: and, among the rest, the armourers have usually one or more persons on horseback, completely dressed in polished armour. To these succeed the domestics and servants of the lord mayor: and then his lordship in his state coach, followed by the aldermen, recorder, sheriffs, chamberlain, common sergeant, town-clerk, &c., in their several coaches and chariots.

This annual cavalcade in general excites great interest in the minds particularly of occasional visitors, and exhibits no ordinary display of municipal magnificence. It concludes at Guildhall, and is succeeded by an entertainment of appropriate magnificence, at which it is customary to see princes of the blood, distinguished members of administration, and many representatives of the first families in the kingdom.

The right of continuing the lord mayor from year to year was recently established in the celebrated, instance of the re-election of Alderman Wood for 1817, he having served for 1816. That gentleman rendered himself popular by his activity to correct and improve the city police; to examine and purify its jails; in fact, to remove impurities that time and inattention had suffered to creep into, and retard or prevent the course of justice. The reelection was proposed and supported on the ground, that all the plans contemplated had not been enforced, and that it would be prudent to afford opportunity for their further completion, The re-election, however, was strongly contested; and many high characters in the city warmly protested against a precedent that disturbed the rotation system.

The lord mayor's dress is very showy. On public occasions, he wears either scarlet or purple robes richly furred with a broad hood, and gold chain or collar. The lord mayor, Wood, to use his own language on being reelected, was "doubly chained:" for on being again chosen, he was presented with a second chain and collar, and be always appeared in public with both. When he goes into his state coach, the mace-bearer site upon a stool in the middle facing one of the windows, and the sword bearer upon a stool also, facing the other: and when on foot, his train is supported by a page, and the mace and sword carried before him.

Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819