The Lord Mayor’s Show 1970

11 November 2016

Archivist Matt Tantony travels back in time to the 1970 Lord Mayor’s Show, when a giant postman lumbered through the streets of London…

On Saturday 12 November the Lord Mayor’s Day procession will snake through the streets of the City of London from Mansion House to the Royal Courts of Justice and back. The inaugural day of the Lord Mayor has been a London spectacle almost every year for over 800 years. This year, watch out for Royal Mail in the procession – they’ll be in between the Ballywalter and Churchill Flute Bands and the Worshipful Company of Farriers.

Lord Mayor's Show, 14 Nov 1970

Lord Mayor’s Show, 14 Nov 1970 (POST 118/15609).

Let’s go back a few decades in the eight-century history of the Lord Mayor’s Show. The 1970 parade was themed around communication and, therefore, the Post Office had a very elaborate presence. There were floats, vehicles, horses, lots of people in historic costumes, and more besides. Thanks to photographs from the Royal Mail Archive, we can actually see what the parade looked like. Let me take you back to that very rainy morning in November 1970…

Model of transport float for Lord Mayor's Show, 1970

Model of transport float for Lord Mayor’s Show, 1970 (POST 118/5843).

There were three postal themed floats. The first celebrated the history of mail transport. Above is a model produced during the planning process…

Transport float, Lord Mayor's Show, 14 Nov 1970

Transport float, Lord Mayor’s Show, 14 Nov 1970 (POST 118/15582).

…and here it is in the procession! As you can see, there’s a packet boat, a mail train (with people riding in the carriage), and behind it a recreation of the 1911 Hendon to Windsor aerial post. Judging from the number of umbrellas in the crowd, it must have been very cold and wet that day; I have lots of admiration for the costumed staff on the floats for looking so cheerful in those conditions.

Postal mechanisation float

Model of postal mechanisation float for Lord Mayor’s Show, 1970 (POST 118/5845).

Onto the second postal float, which showed off in brightly coloured scale model form some of the new machinery being used to sort and handle the mail. If you ask me, it looks like a sorting office slowly morphing into a Piet Mondrian painting. I love it. Above is the model…

Postal mechanisation float, Lord Mayor's Show, 14 Nov 1970

Postal mechanisation float, Lord Mayor’s Show, 14 Nov 1970 (POST 118/15570).

…and here is the real thing. As you can see, this float was also a good opportunity to remind the public to use postcodes – still a fairly new development in 1970.

Model of philatelic float for Lord Mayor's Show, 1970

Model of philatelic float for Lord Mayor’s Show, 1970 (POST 118/5844).

The last of the postal floats (above) had a philatelic theme, celebrating the introduction of the postage stamp in 1840 as well as the 1970 definitive stamp. Adding to the chronological mash-up of the parade, the float had life-size reconstructions of some of the 1970 commemorative stamp issues, including the Mayflower and Charles Dickens

Philatelic float, Lord Mayor's Show, 14 Nov 1970

Philatelic float, Lord Mayor’s Show, 14 Nov 1970 (POST 118/15580).

…and the stamp designs were recreated in tableaux vivants by people in historical costumes! If you look at this picture carefully, though, you’ll spy someone following behind the philatelic float. Someone staggeringly vast. More on him in a bit.

Future of the telephone service float, Lord Mayor's Show, 14 Nov 1970

Future of the telephone service float, Lord Mayor’s Show, 14 Nov 1970 (POST 118/15606).

The Post Office still ran telecommunications services in 1970, and there there were three telephone floats in the parade too. I’ve picked out my favourite (above): a float predicting the future of the telephone service. You can see radio antennae and scientists in lab coats working with computers (I’m not sure whether they were real computers or just boxes with flashing lights). Under the strange dome is a man from the future, using a telephone with a screen to make face-to-face calls. What an outlandish concept…

Mail vehicles in the Lord Mayor’s Show, 14 Nov 1970

Mail vehicles in the Lord Mayor’s Show, 14 Nov 1970 (POST 118/15573).

Accompanying the Post Office floats was a flotilla of mail vehicles from the past and present, a mix of originals and replicas. In the picture above you can see a ‘hen and chicks’ pentacycle and, behind it, a replica 1910 McNamara Dennis mail van. This was built specially for the parade by Post Office technicians, and it now lives in our museum collection.

Mail coach in the Lord Mayor’s Show, 14 Nov 1970

Mail coach in the Lord Mayor’s Show, 14 Nov 1970 (POST 118/15612).

And here, in a rain-drenched riot of cross-temporal colour, you can see a 19th century Norwich-London mail coach pulled by four horses as the procession passes the Royal Courts of Justice. Look carefully behind the unsuspecting people on the coach. There he is again! Let’s get a better look at him, if it’s safe to get up close…

Giant postman, Lord Mayor's Show, 14 Nov 1970

Giant postman, Lord Mayor’s Show, 14 Nov 1970 (POST 118/15568).

Here he is. My favourite part of the 1970 Lord Mayor’s Show and, quite frankly, one of my favourite things in the entire Royal Mail Archive: the giant postman. He’s rather like the traditional giant parade figures of Gog and Magog, but with a much smarter uniform. I suspect that there were two people inside his legs pushing him along, as you can see eye slits cut into his jacket where his belt would be.

And there we have it, a virtual tour of part of the 14 November 1970 Lord Mayor’s Show. If you watch this year’s procession in person, or on TV, I hope you enjoy a tradition that’s been part of London life since 1215.

– Matt Tantony, Archivist (Cataloguing)