Why did the sheep cross the river?

Posted on October 3rd, 2013 by James Luckhurst

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 06.14.28Traffic was halted in London (on Sunday 29 September) while a flock of sheep was taken across London Bridge. The exercise marked a tradition dating back to the 12th Century. Twenty sheep were taken across the bridge as the lord mayor of the City of London exercised his ancient right to herd them across.

The unusual spectacle was organised to help raise money for the lord mayor’s appeal and charitable trust.

The last sheep drive, in 2009, raised £50,000. ‘Naked sword’ Lord Mayor Alderman Roger Gifford is automatically entitled to the Freedom of the City, a largely honorary title. Until 1835 anyone who carried a trade in the City of London was also granted the slightly more common title of freeman, which also entitled them to take a flock of sheep across London Bridge without being charged a toll.

Other privileges included being allowed to be drunk and disorderly without being arrested and to carry a naked sword in public.

The event was organised by the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, one of 109 Liveries in the capital. Bill Clark, Master of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, said: “We want people not only to witness but also to take part in a uniquely British tradition. “This is something that dates back to the 1100s.”