The Marking of Carts by Jeremy Gotch
On 15th July anyone visiting the Post Office in the Village might have expected to see the beautifully restored Victorian Post Office Handcart in its customary position on the plinth - and been disappointed. The Handcart was taking part in an ancient ceremony in Guildhall Yard in the City of London - the Marking of Carts by the Lord Mayor and the Master of the Worshipful Company of Carmen of London. What, you may well ask, is that all about?
The Carmen’s Company is one of the 107 Livery Companies of the City. It dates back to 1517 as a “Fraternitie”, and received its grant of Livery from Queen Victoria in 1848, becoming the 77th Livery Company. Today’s post-war Livery Companies include the Information Technologists (no 100 as appropriate for binary counting), the Management Consultants, and also the Hackney Carriage Drivers. All share four principal objectives - to support the Lord Mayor and the City of London Corporation, to promote excellence in their trade or craft, to donate to selected charities (nearly £50 million per year in total) and to enjoy the company of their fellow Liverymen. There are over 25000 Liverymen of the various Worshipful Companies today.
The Carmen’s Company has historically been the body which licensed “Carts” to ply for hire within the City. The Liverymen were Licensed Carmen, and had to present their vehicle or Cart for “Marking” with a date letter branded with a red hot four-foot branding iron each year at Guildhall. Since the introduction of our modern system of licensing of commercial vehicles the Carmen’s ceremony has become a traditional parade of vehicles old and new, large and small, from a handcart (the removal firm of Evan Cook in Peckham began with a handcart in the 1890s, and their original cart has been in recent Cartmarking Parades) to a Horse-drawn Pantechnicon and on to a new military vehicle almost too large to fit through the arch into Guildhall Yard.
This year Dulwich Society member Jeremy Gotch, a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Carmen, with the great assistance of Vice President Dr. Kenneth Wolfe and Hon. Secretary Patrick Spencer, presented the Dulwich Post Office Handcart under his Licence No. 348, and it was duly marked with the date letter “R” by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Ian Luder. The Cart is now back in the Post Office in Dulwich Village, still bearing the oak board marked “348 - R”, and none the worse for its adventure. Kenneth Wolfe brought great credit to the Society by the vigour of his Cart-pulling, and by the splendour of his 19th century postman’s uniform. Patrick and Jeremy looked on with admiration, and their ladies applauded from the seats in the Yard, after which suitable refreshment was taken in the Guildhall itself with a company of 500 guests. A colourful little piece of civic history.