The Order of St John and the Lord Mayor’s Show

Museum of the Order of St John Jessica Swift, Museum assistant

Much like the Order of St John, The Lord Mayor’s Show has its origins in the medieval period. In 1215, King John appointed a Mayor for London in an attempt to stabilise his tumultuous reign and appease those in London who wished to become a ‘commune’, an early city state which would be able to self-govern. King John’s idea was that this Mayor would be elected by the City, but each year he would have to leave the safety of the City, travel upriver to Westminster and swear loyalty to him.

The title “Lord Mayor” was introduced about 100 years later but it remained an elected office. Lord Mayor of London was therefore a title to which anyone could aspire, as long as they got the votes. This journey to swear loyalty to the monarch became a celebrity spectacle of its day, and by the 16th Century became known as the Lord Mayor’s Show. If you have never been to a Lord Mayor’s Show, you may have seen it depicted in the plays of Shakespeare, the pantomime of Dick Whittington, a James Bond film or even read about it in the diaries of Samuel Pepys!

In 1886, the St John Ambulance Association carried out its first public duty at the Lord Mayor’s Show, a year before the St John Ambulance Brigade was officially formed. The Association was formed to provide free first-aid training, and the Brigade was then formed to provide on-the-ground first aid and medical care to the public. This relationship between St John Ambulance and the Lord Mayor’s Show has been an enduring one, and every year volunteers line the streets with the general public to be on hand to give help and care. St John Ambulance is now an integral part of London’s public events.

However, the presence of St John at the Lord Mayor’s Show is a dual one – volunteers are always on hand for medical care, but you will also see them on the annual St John float! Every year, a float is made by volunteers from across London, taking inspiration from their 1000 year history and presenting a different theme. Previous floats have featured crusading knights, vintage ambulances and the French field hospital established in the First World War. This year, the theme is ‘innovation’, so we can expect to see our fantastic volunteers showing St John innovations such as the First Aid Manual, the Furley Litter, First Aid kits and Ambulance Transport. The St John youth organisations, the Badgers and Cadets are always involved in the show, and this year, the London and South Cadets will be running the float themselves.

Each year, hundreds of volunteers are involved in the parade, sharing our history and caring for the public in accordance with the Order’s founding principle – ‘For the good of humanity’.

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