The day I drove Sheep across London Bridge

Everyone has a bucket list whether they admit it, or not. They are those experiences travellers search for, often unconciously; the perfect breakfast croissant in Paris, the blue top homes of Santorini, a genuine bento box in Tokyo, the breathtaking perfection of the Taj Mahal.

When I came to London, fresh faced and incredibly excited, I found that I had a secret yearning in my heart. I had normal ones; seeing her Majesty the Queen in person, listening to Big Ben toll up close (though I didn’t realise just how close) and watch the changing of the guards, you know, the classic ones. There was one that I never really told anyone for fear of looking like a crazy person, but the minute that I saw on an obscure website that there is an ancient right of a freeman of the City of London to drive sheep across London Bridge, I knew I wanted in.

Kindly taken by an amused Ngaire Ackerley.

Freemen? Huh?

“The medieval term ‘freeman’ meant someone who was not the property of a feudal lord but enjoyed privileges such as the right to earn money and own land. Town dwellers who were protected by the charter of their town or city were often free – hence the term ‘freedom of the City.”

In this modern age they are established societies of livery and guild members based within the City of London. As well as being a networking society of business people, each of the guilds hold special rights of office. They have largely ceremonial duties (think freemasons, but slightly less secretive societies), ornate formal robes of office and beautiful marble headquarters in the City.

“Long established callings have formed livery companies, such as the Master Mariners, Solicitors and Farmers. The newer companies represent professions and trades such as Firefighters, Air Pilots and Air Navigators, Chartered Surveyors, International Bankers, Chartered Accountants and Marketors.” 

I am very, very lucky to happen to know someone in one of these societies (nb: I think we need to start a bloggers society…) and when I heard that an annual charity ceremony would be taking in place in October to drive a flock of Sheep across London Bridge I messaged my lovely contact and asked if could somehow sneak in.

Luckily the guild members are allowed to take friends and family (for a donation to their military charity) so I didn’t even have to limbo under the guide ropes. Our day dawned bright and sunny (in direct contrast to the vast rain clouds the afternoon before) and I flourished our official letter outside the entrance of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen’s hall, to be allowed into the pens and runs lining London Bridge. Warned not to bring my own sheep, I asked my Mr Kiwi and Ngaire if they fancied popping along to see what all the fuss was about.

The day I drove Sheep across London Bridge - Adventures of a London Kiwi
Kindly taken by an amused Ngaire Ackerley.

Our flock of Cotswold sheep-fellows, carefully watched by their owners and the RSPCA, dutifully wandered up and down the fenced off traffic lane and pedestrian walkway,’driven’ by our grinning group. We were an unuasal mix – members of the Guild of Farmers dressed head to toe in Burberry, the Guild of Paviers, a couple of Cockney businessmen (who apparently adored New Zealand when they visited years ago) a lovely Welshman and his daughter, two gowned representatives of the Guild of Wool Merchants and, well, me.

The day I drove Sheep across London Bridge - Adventures of a London Kiwi

Lasting around 10 minutes, the walk was short and sweet, and utterly surreal to see tourists wandering past, normal traffic trundling over the bridge and the Tower of London sparkling in the background. Why driving sheep? It’s only one of many different events the guilds hold over the year and there are a few stories as to the origin of the 800-year old practice – but it’s generally held that the regeristered Freemen were allowed the right to drive their sheep to maket in the City without paying the hefty wool taxes on the flock.

Kindly taken by an amused Ngaire Ackerley.

I never in my life thought I would ever have the quandry of choosing an outfit fit for herding sheep.

We celebrated the successful event with a spot of afternoon tea, of course.

The day I drove Sheep across London Bridge - Adventures of a London Kiwi

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