London has many customs, often associated with the livery organisations. One of the oddest of these considering its name and vintage is the Carman fellowship which despite its modern sounding name has existed since 1277. This was constructed to exercise rights over carts and carriers rather than modern cars…but it is the later which are mainly marked today.
The medieval world and modern collide
By the 16th century, the Carmen formed:
‘the Fraternyte of Seynt Katryne the Virgyn and Marter of Carters’
‘clense, purge and kepe clene’
the streets of sewage and made available car-rooms where licenses to trade were available. , and carry goods at a reasonable price. They acquired ‘carrooms’ or stands to ply for hire, effectively licences to trade. By the turn of the 20th century there were 111 licences held by 16 Carmen with 89 car-rooms. However, these declined as the carts disappeared and then in 1965 all but 1 were abolished when the Police recognising that the surviving 18 contravened parking regulations.
Marking my car
By the 1600s, it was agreed the City’s arms should be marked on a brass plate and numbered accordingly with a letter reference for the year much as registration plates do . By 1835, 600 were marked and subsequently every vehicle is marked at the Guildhall every year.
I cannot remember when I found about the event, but it was back in 1996 I believe. I arrived at the Guildhall where the Keeper of the Guildhall, Cartman and the Lord Mayor were awaiting, there were few visitors although they were not discouraged despite being in the Guildhall Yard.
Dude where’s my cart?
Then came a cavalcade of car(t)s as really there were very few cars…but the first up was an old horse drawn wagon, a more traditional vehicle. The Master cartman appeared to inspect it and then the Keeper of the Guildhall appeared. He placed on some gloves provided by the Glovers’ Company and then with a red hot brand held it up against it..or rather a wooden plaque. Then in came a vintage van, with smiles all around it was repeated. The old vehicles were much the flavour of the event, but then it became a little surreal..a police car was marked with some degree of glee by the Master Carman perhaps in memory of 1965! Then things got a little larger. A bus came in and then a lorry. I wonder whether they had paid the community charge to come in for this. Perhaps as a bit of an in joke, a refuse truck arrived at the end as in the Lord Mayor’s Show. To which the Lord Mayor happily rose to the challenge and pushed the brand onto the plaque. Then after the car(t)s were marked the Lord Mayor, Master Carman and Wardens stood on their rostum and the vehicles processed past and then they raised their hats in tribute. All in all an interesting event…the best of our colourful traditions slightly pointless and very surreal!