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God speed the Plough!

In his address to The Lord Mayor, represented at our Plough Monday dinner by the Sheriffs of the City of London, assistant Simon Millar explained that the tradition of our annual dinner refers to the medieval English celebration of the return of farm labourers to their ploughs on the first Monday after Epiphany (the twelfth day of Christmas). He described a number of the curious customs observed on Plough Monday, which varied by region, noting that a common feature was for a plough to be hauled in a procession, from house to house, to collect money. The plough was often accompanied by musicians, an old woman (or a boy dressed as an old woman), called the “Bessy,” and a man in the role of the “fool.” There would often be guise dancing (folk-etymologically rendered as “goose dancing”) and considerable drinking and revelry. The tradition also exists overseas where, for example, in certain regions of Belgium, the Monday after Epiphany is called Verloren Maandag (literally “lost Monday”, indicating a day with no work and hence no pay) with typical food associated.

We were treated at the Armourers’ Hall to one of the finest meals that I have enjoyed as a member of our Livery, with a feast of roast halibut, highland venison, apple and walnut gateau and even a savoury, all washed down with an exceptional selection of wines including a rosé (the first I have seen at a livery dinner), claret, a Muskat and an excellent 1991 Dow’s vintage port.  The hall itself was festooned with numerous, vicious looking halberds, swords, helmets and coats of armour, some of which would doubtless have been lined with Feltmakers’ company felt when they were worn in battle or tournament.

Our sheriffs, Alderman Vincent Keaveny and the Hon. Elizabeth Green, responded to Simon’s toast with a splendidly choreographed and witty shared address in which they explained some of their duties over the civic year in representing, supporting and promoting the businesses and residents in the City of London.  

They also described the current Lord Mayor, the Hon. Peter Estlin’s, particular interest in the so called ‘digital skills crisis’, the subject of his Gresham Lecture the following day (which can be viewed online at https://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/digital-skills-crisis-opportunity). The video is well worth watching.

Written by Richard Pavry

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