Coachlines - October 2019

16.10.19 Hon Asst Lesley Upham

A tale of two Sarahs and some sheep

Pictured above: Renter Warden Sarah Sillars OBE and Liveryman Sarah Dawson crossing London Bridge 

Renter Warden Sarah Sillars OBE and her long-standing friend Liveryman Sarah Dawson travelled into the City in late September to take part in the Worshipful Company of Woolmen’s sheep drive across London Bridge. “It always amazes me how rich the opportunities are and the diverse range of activities available for Liverymen,” she says. “A few years ago I remembered that Freeman of the City of London are entitled to drive their sheep across London Bridge without a toll charge. I recall thinking one day I want to have a go.”

As 2019 is a significant birthday year for Sarah, to celebrate she said: “I decided to create a list of places to visit, things to do and wanted to participate in new things. I created a 60:4:60 list and taking sheep across London Bridge was on the list!” So, joined by fellow Liveryman Sarah Dawson they signed up for this year’s event, on 29th September. In typical Sarah style they made a bit of a day of it and invited friends to watch the event and finished off with a welcome luncheon by Tower Bridge. “We met some delightful people and can only suggest that one or two others may enjoy it as an unusual experience another year, ” the Sarahs reported.

The event raises money for the Lord Mayor’s Appeal. For those taking part it is great fun and the chance to enjoying a slice of history and heritage. The background to the activity is grounded in trade, Murray Craig, who is the Clerk to the Chamberlain’s Court, City of London gives a good overview of the history of sheep and their association with London Bridge. “It was not so much that you could take sheep over the bridge but that you did not pay the toll. You would be taking the sheep to the Wool Exchange or Smithfield Meat Market for sale and not paying the toll would considerably enhance your profit margin. You could take cattle, pigs, hens, ducks, geese – indeed any livestock over the bridge and not pay the tariff but in the medieval period the sheep was queen of the beasts because the wool and cloth trade was the bedrock of the English economy. It is said that as more sheep went over the bridge than any other animals put together that the bridge was built and maintained on the back of the sheep.”

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