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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

Ceremonial Positions

Those of you who are not Brits will certainly know of our passion for regularly enacting historic traditions and ceremonies, some of which have their origins many hundreds of years ago. The Changing of the Guard, The Trouping of the Colour and The State Opening of Parliament are but three examples. You may also know of ceremonial positions such as the Beefeaters at the Tower of London or Black Rod.

Many fewer people, even in Britain, will be aware of the large number of other ceremonial posts that have been retained as part of our heritage.

The lamplighter is one such position. Every evening at dusk and every morning at dawn, hundreds of people across the land maintain the traditions of their great grandfathers by lighting or extinguishing streetlamps. These days, of course, gas has given way to electricity and the task is that of operating a switch. They still undertake the task, however, dressed in the traditional black robes and tri-cornered hats and operate the switches with the traditional poles. This is a demanding and sometimes dangerous task - particularly for those entrusted with motorway lighting. Should they fail to complete their assignment in these modern times, however, they can at least rest assured that the light-sensitive switches on all streetlamps will finish the job.

In the town in which I live there is no need for a radio alarm clock. From five AM each morning a red cloaked Town Crier passes my house every twenty minutes. Each rings his bell and proclaims the time, the day and the date. He also announces the news headlines, weather, a sports roundup and racing selections. On the hour the Crier shouts a more in-depth analysis of a news story of the day.

Another historic position is that of public executioner. Advertisement of such posts regularly attract a huge response. The police have found this to be a very valuable way of progressing unsolved murder cases in circumstances where applicants have absentmindedly completed the ‘previous experience’ section of the application form. This role is also associated with a number of ancillary positions. These include ‘Sharpener of the Queen’s Axes’ and ‘Senior Yeoman Head Retriever’ or ‘Head Head Retriever’ as he is sometimes amusingly referred to.

The medieval law dictates that all public executioners should undertake a minimum of one public beheading per annum. It is often described as a peculiarly British phenomenon that so many people apply to be beheaded.

The annual beheadings have become very much part of British rural village life. They often occur at dawn on May Day and are followed by traditional Morris Dancing, Well Dressing, Cheese Rolling and football played with a pig's bladder across several fields. Festivities usually continue all day, or until a doctor arrives who has powers under the Mental Health Act.

The above article will be appearing in the new British Tourist Board Brochure. Why don’t you book your holiday now to explore the heritage of Great Britain?