The City of London is very fortunate in so many ways, but today I am thinking particularly of its having not one but two guardian giants. Gog and Magog made their most recent outing at this year's Lord Mayor's show, leading the way as they always do. But how come the City has these giants and what on earth is the story behind them? As with all myths, it doesn't make too much sense if you try to analyse it, so I recommend that you don't think about it too hard!
The Roman emperor Diocletian had 33 wicked daughters, whom he attempted to marry off to 33 husbands. The daughters weren't keen on this idea and under the leadership of Alba, one of them, plotted to murder their sleeping husbands. Not all together surprisingly, Diocletian decided at this point to cut off the daughters and they were cast adrift in a boat. Evenutally they washed up on the shores of a land that came to be called Albion, after Alba. Here they settled down with the local demons (clearly men much more to their taste) and raised a race of wicked giants. (You will just have to bear with me on this...) Cut to the arrival of Brutus, grandson of Aeneas, who has fled from Troy (yes I know the dates don't match) and arrives with his champion a huge man called Corineus. Corineus fought with the leader of the giants whose name was Gogmagog. Still with me?
Gogmagog was thrown into the sea and as a reward Corineus got the western part of the country which was named after him and which we know today as Cornwall.
And another version is that it was the Greek King Aegeas who had the daughters and not Diocletian and yet another that Gog and Magog were giants taken prisoner by Brutus and chained up at the gates of his capital New Troy, which became London.
Originally the two giants seem to have been known as Gogmagog and Corineus but somewhere along the line Corineus disappeared and what we have now are Gog who carries a mace and Magog who carries a shield with a phoenix on it. Given that Corineus was the victor that seems a bit unfair to me but there you are. The statues have been in Guildhall for centuries. The current ones date from 1954, replacing 18th century ones destroyed in the blitz. They in their turn replaced 17th century ones, which being made of wicker and paste were apparently eaten by rodents. An earlier set were burnt in the Great Fire in 1666.
Naughty children were told that they must behave lest they be eaten by the giants and there is a great short story by Charles Dickens which describes the statues coming to life and consuming prodigious quantities of wine.
Giants have featured in coronation processions and in the Lord Mayor's procession since the 15th century. The statues in Guildhall are far too heavy to move and the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers gave the wicker ones that we see in the Lord Mayor's Show. They live for the rest of the year in a large cupboard just off the Great Hall and sometimes you can get a peek.
Last Saturday was the 800th Lord Mayor's show in the City of London.
I haven't quite been to all of them but I have seen a fair few. They never cease to amaze. After all where else could you see Batman in the Batmobile and Father Christmas in his sleigh (with real reindeer) processing through the streets of London?
It was great to see so many people there to cheer on all the participants, despite the appalling events of the night before in Paris. People perservered through the rain.
I used to go as a child, often sitting on my Dad's shoulders so I could see. One year I sneezed and sneezed and shortly thereafter was confined to bed with some childhood disease. My Mum reckoned I must have infected many others during the show!
You used to be able to buy brightly coloured paper streamers to wave. Great, except when it rained and the colour ran everywhere. It's a wonder my Mum continued to take me to see it.
Since I started to learn about the City as a City of London Guide I have learnt a lot about the City and its customs. Much more to learn though, that is one of the great things about it!
So here are a few entirely random things about Lord Mayors I have picked up for your enjoyment:
The first Mayor of London took office in 1189 and was Henry FitzAylwin. He wasn't Lord Mayor, just Mayor.
The title of Lord Mayor starts to be used from around 1354 when the office was held by the wonderfully named Willam Leggy.
Nowadays it's an office you hold once but in the past people have held it for many times including Fitz Aylwin from 1189 to 1212 which makes Dick Whittington a mere beginner.
Gregory de Rokesley lived in Lombard Street and he held the post 8 times and the wonderfully named Ralph de Sandwich held the post 9 times
Thomas Bludworth was the Lord Mayor in 1666 and he is remembered for his view that a woman could piss out the fire. I do feel a bit sorry for him though; the plague was raging when he took office and he got no real ceremony and instead of a banquet at Guildhall he had to make do with dinner at his place.
Lord Mayor Heathcote got knocked off his horse in 1711 by a drunken flower girl and broke his leg.
The procession is always led by the giants Gog and Magog. They merit their own post. Soon....