If you cross London Bridge today, among the cyclists, buses and taxis, you might be taken aback (or perhaps a-baah-ck) to see a few sheep as well.
This isn’t some kind of Home Counties invasion – instead it’s the annual London Sheep Drive, in which hundreds of the City of London’s freemen get to exercise what is probably one of the major perks of their position and practice their ancient right to drive sheep over London Bridge.
While it might not (yet) rank alongside events such as the Changing of the Guard as a cornerstone of London tradition, it’s one of the few days that celebrates the City’s history as a global centre of commerce.
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Around 600 of the City’s freemen affiliated to one of the 110 City livery companies (ancient and modern trade associations and guilds) will raise thousands of pounds for charitable causes through the Lord Mayor’s Appeal and will be hosted by the Worshipful Company of Woolmen.
Bill Clark, past master of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, said:
Sheep driving is a tradition rooted in more than 800 years of history. London Bridge was, in medieval times, the only crossing of the Thames and the sole route into the City for trading. As a Freeman of the City of London, you were not allowed to trade without paying taxes but also granted the right to bring the tools of your trade into the City itself.
These days, the City trades more in stocks and share than lamb and wool, but Sunday’s event will enable us to re-connect with the past, and underlines London’s historic and continuing pre-eminence in world trade.
For those who aren’t reemen but don’t want to miss out on any woollen action, the drive will also be accompanied by London’s first Wool Fair, located near Monument.