Those of you who are not Brits will
certainly know of our passion for regularly enacting historic
traditions and ceremonies, some of which have their origins many
hundreds of years ago. The Changing of the Guard, The Trouping of
the Colour and The State Opening of Parliament are but three
examples. You may also know of ceremonial positions such as the
Beefeaters at the Tower of London or Black Rod.
Many fewer people, even in Britain, will be
aware of the large number of other ceremonial posts that have
been retained as part of our heritage.
The lamplighter is one such position. Every
evening at dusk and every morning at dawn, hundreds of people
across the land maintain the traditions of their great
grandfathers by lighting or extinguishing streetlamps. These
days, of course, gas has given way to electricity and the task is
that of operating a switch. They still undertake the task,
however, dressed in the traditional black robes and tri-cornered
hats and operate the switches with the traditional poles. This is
a demanding and sometimes dangerous task - particularly for those
entrusted with motorway lighting. Should they fail to complete
their assignment in these modern times, however, they can at
least rest assured that the light-sensitive switches on all
streetlamps will finish the job.
In the town in which I live there is no
need for a radio alarm clock. From five AM each morning a red
cloaked Town Crier passes my house every twenty minutes. Each
rings his bell and proclaims the time, the day and the date. He
also announces the news headlines, weather, a sports roundup and
racing selections. On the hour the Crier shouts a more in-depth
analysis of a news story of the day.
Another historic position is that of public
executioner. Advertisement of such posts regularly attract a huge
response. The police have found this to be a very valuable way of
progressing unsolved murder cases in circumstances where
applicants have absentmindedly completed the previous
experience section of the application form. This role is
also associated with a number of ancillary positions. These
include Sharpener of the Queens Axes and Senior
Yeoman Head Retriever or Head Head Retriever as
he is sometimes amusingly referred to.
The medieval law dictates that all public
executioners should undertake a minimum of one public beheading
per annum. It is often described as a peculiarly British
phenomenon that so many people apply to be beheaded.
The annual beheadings have become very much
part of British rural village life. They often occur at dawn on
May Day and are followed by traditional Morris Dancing, Well
Dressing, Cheese Rolling and football played with a pig's bladder
across several fields. Festivities usually continue all day, or
until a doctor arrives who has powers under the Mental Health Act.
The above article will be appearing in the
new British Tourist Board Brochure. Why dont you book your
holiday now to explore the heritage of Great Britain?