Okay, it wasn’t really Entmoot. But that’s what I kept thinking in my head every time I heard the term Ward Mote, which is what I actually went to on Monday afternoon.
Entmoot, as I am sure you know, is the fictional meeting of tree-like creatures called Ents in Tolkein’s famous fantasy series Lord of the Rings. A Ward Mote, on the other hand, is the meeting of a ward, or district, within the City of London.
There’s a lovely detailed explanation of the history of Ward Motes over on the city of London website under “History of Beadles.” I will skip straight to the bit with the frock coats and funny hats, though.
There are few things that appear to vex British people more than American cries of “ooh, shiny!” when presented with fusty old customs that cease to have practical meaning in contemporary society. (I’m not saying no traditions have a place, just that they occasionally need to be re-examined to fall more in line with current social meanings and needs. See Hobsbawm and Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition for a more prescient analysis, if you’re so inclined.) That being the case, they should probably stop inviting me to these things.
Speaking of the Beadle, we met him outside, actually, clambering into his heavy green wool overcoat and buttoning his gloves. We sympathized with him on such a hot day; he sighed. Thoughts of the heavy ceremonial mace clearly danced in his head like a vision of sugarplums, only less fun. (But equally if not more shiny.)
We were at the Ironmonger’s Hall, which the Ward had rented out for the Mote. It is everything you could want in the way of stately oak panelling, stained glass windows, and little courtyards with fountains that have an iron salamander theme. (Which seems mildly peculiar unless you know that in the ancient world salamanders were believed to be born from fire and immune to its effects.)
After commiserating with the Beadle we found our way to the Ward Mote room, full of concerned ward citizenry. We took our seats; the person who invited me showed me the election materials of the two candidates for Alderman. This is why the Ward Mote was being held: to allow the candidates to address the citizens of the ward before the following day’s election.
Shortly after we sat down, in processed the Beadle plus ceremonial mace followed by some guys in red coats and white gloves. One had a wig, one had a furry hat, and one had something else I can’t remember because I was too distracted by the first two. Between them they bore the ceremonial sword of the Lord Mayor, the ceremonial mace of the Lord Mayor, and…um. Another thing. Following them was the Lord Mayor in some sweltering red robes with an ermine collar. Oh, and the Alderman candidates, who were in run-of-the-mill business suits. Which I completely feel was a missed opportunity for enforced overheating during speech delivery. Then there was some very loud, but well-spoken announcing by the Beadle before proceedings commenced.
I’ll skip the politician’s speeches. The next interesting part was when a bunch of people involved in counting the elections had to take an oath basically saying that they wouldn’t commit election fraud. Like any group of people that has to repeat something complicated together that they haven’t rehearsed, there was a lot of hesitating, mumbling, and trying not to be the first one to speak after the pauses. Any time this is attempted, no matter how full of gravitas such people may be in other situations, they always look like a group of befuddled schoolchildren being led by Teacher. Pretty much everyone found this mildly amusing. For reasons I can’t quite explain, the sight of a guy in a red robe, a wig, and white gloves trying not to laugh nearly made ME crack up.
Despite the impression made by this post, I always wish to avoid transcontinental embarrassment. On this occasion it was very difficult to rein the laughter in to an acceptable titter, but luckily my mind was quickly taken off all the silliness by the Beadle drawing things to a close before every berobed and bewigged person at the front filed out, lugging all the shiny stuff.
And so the Ward Mote Ended with, as you can see, many valuable cultural lessons learned. Though my main lesson of the day was of course that, no matter how hot it is, you probably still shouldn’t jump in the salamander fountain.