The history of the Lord Mayor

Discover the history of the Lord Mayor of Bristol and who has been Mayor in the past

The first Mayor of Bristol

The first Mayor in 1216 was Roger Cordewaner; the last Mayor was Herbert Ashman in 1898. The names of all the mayors of Bristol are engraved into the walls of the Conference Room of City Hall (previously the Council House).

The first Lord Mayor of Bristol

In 1899 Queen Victoria granted a Lord Mayoralty to Bristol, and during her visit to the city in that year she knighted Herbert Ashman who was Mayor of Bristol at the time.

Herbert then served for a second year, this time as the first Lord Mayor. Ever since 1899, Bristol has had a Lord Mayor.

How long a Lord Mayor serves

A Lord Mayor serves for one year, but there’s no restriction on how many times someone can be elected.  This also applied to the historical role of Mayor before Lord Mayors were introduced.

Some people have held the position a number of times, like John Kerle Haberfield, who served six times between 1837 and 1850.

The Lord Mayor's Robes

The red robes, feathered hat and gauntlets have their origins in medieval times. The scarlet is a royal colour and was worn as early as 1415 to denote authority from the King; the more fur on the robe, the greater the authority. The hat is a black-feathered tricorn.

On occasions the Lord Mayor is expected to wear Velvets and a dress sword. This tradition dates from three centuries ago when it was the correct dress for men of distinction appearing at Court. Today, of all the Mayors and Lord Mayors in the United Kingdom, only the Lord Mayors of London and Bristol are entitled to wear them.

The Chain of Office

This is the main symbol of authority of the Lord Mayor. In 1828 the chain worn by the Mayor was not considered good enough and it was melted down and the city received £50 for it. The replacement chain which is now worn was made at a cost of £288.83, which included the morocco leather case.

It’s 155 centimetres (61 inches) long and is made of 23 carat gold. The weight of the chain is 1.13 kilograms (2 1b 8 oz).

The Chain of the Lady Mayoress

Until 1926 the Lady Mayoress had no badge of office. In that year, the Lady Mayoress' chain was bought and presented to the city by the Ladies of Bristol, who had contributed to a fund on the basis of a shilling a head.

The badge is made of fine enamel and the gemstones surrounding it are diamonds and sapphires.

Civic Insignia

The City and County of Bristol has four swords:

  • the Mourning Sword, dating from 1373, the year in which Edward III made Bristol a county, is now only used for Royal Memorial Services or similar occasions
  • the Pearl Sword, dating from 1431
  • the Lent Sword, circa 1459, so called because it was carried before the Judges at the Lent Assizes
  • the State Sword, 1752, which is placed in a rest behind and above the Lord Mayor at council meetings

Other important parts of our civic insignia include eight silver maces from the 18th century and four silver chains of the City Waits (musicians), which were bought in the reign of Mary I and bear her Tudor Badge.

During Doors Open Day in September the tour of  City Hall includes The Lord Mayor's Parlour and the Civic Insignia.

Coaches

Bristol is the only city outside London to have a State Coach. Bristol also has a Landau carriage.

All three vehicles, the State Coach, Landau and Proclamation Brake, were built by the Bristol firm Fullers at their works in St. George's Road on a site behind City Hall.

The State Coach dates from the 1860s, but has been rebuilt many times during its life, and the Landau dates from the turn of the century.

The Landau carriage is still used today for Rush Sunday, Legal Sunday and Remembrance. It’s escorted by the Avon and Somerset Constabulary Mounted Section.

The Proclamation Brake

The Proclamation Brake was originally built as a practice vehicle for Sir George White, the founder of the aerospace industry at Filton and the Bristol tramways, as well as being a major local philanthropist. The White family home was originally at Cotham House and later at Hollywood House, Cribbs Causeway.

The vehicle was acquired by us soon after the Second World War. It’s known as the 'Proclamation Brake' due to the tradition of the Lord Mayor and Town Clerk, accompanied by City Swordbearer and Mace Escort, proclaiming the crowning of a new sovereign from such a vehicle at various points in the central area of the city.

The Proclamation Brake is stored at the M-Shed museum.

The Lord Mayor's Chapel (St Mark's)

The Lord Mayor's Chapel (St Mark's) is the only municipally-owned church in the country. It originally served the Hospital of the Gaunts, an almonry founded about 1220 by Maurice de Gaunt, a cousin of Thomas, Lord Berkeley. The hospital was surrendered at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and in 1541 the Corporation bought most of the lands that formerly belonged to it.

In 1722 the Chapel became the official place of worship of the Mayor and Corporation, and has remained so ever since.

The Lord Mayor's chapel is normally open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 12 noon and 1pm to 4pm. On occasion due to illness, the chapel might not be open at these times.

Call the Lord Mayor's office on 0117 903 1450 for more information.

The Mansion House

The Mansion House was the gift to the city of Alderman Thomas Proctor in 1874. The house was designed by George and Henry Godwin in 1867 and originally named 'Elmdale'.

It’s the third Mansion House; the original building in Queen Square was destroyed in the Bristol Riots of 1831. This was replaced by a second house on Great George Street which was closed in 1835 under the cuts forced on the city council by the Municipal Corporations Act.

For many years the Mansion House was not only the home of the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, but also the lodgings of the High Court Judges.

See a full list of all of Bristol’s Mayors since 1216 (pdf, 60k) (opens new window)