Pearly Kings and Queens and the Sheep Drive show City’s authentic culture and heritage

A week after the City Corporation’s £1.3 million Bartholomew Fair ended, two more modest events showed how traditional activities can attract crowds despite relatively little publicity.

Yesterday I went to the Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival in Guildhall Yard, while at Southwark Bridge the annual Sheep Drive celebrated the ancient privilege of Freemen of the City to bring livestock toll free over the Thames. Next year I’ll aim to get to both, because they are so engaging and authentic. Meanwhile I’ve pulled together social media and other content.

London Mayors and guests opened the Harvest Festival Celebrations with a Maypole dance

Bartholomew Fair relied on a big budget to bring in acts from the US and other parts of the UK to stage activities across the City over a period of three weeks. It was a great achievement for the Destination City team against a tight timetable and challenging brief, but there was a lot of discussion at last week’s Culture, Heritage and Libraries committee about how well that model did or didn’t work. Video of procedings here.

One of the points made by councillors was that future Fairs should rely more on local talent, as well as being more concentrated. There’s a strong case for making the base Smithfield and Cloth Fair, the historic home of the Fair which started in 1133. More here about Cloth Fair this year, the history of the area and the Fair. Re-staging in 1923 and 1973 by Barts Hospital showed what’s possible.

As I wrote earlier, in After the Fair is over, far more could be done to promote the many small activities that take place in the City throughout the year, rooted in traditional culture and heritage. When I mention events like the Pearly Festival and Sheep Drive friends and neighbours frequently say they didn’t know anything about it. The Sheep Drive was on the City’s official visitor website, but I couldn’t see any mention of the Pearly Festival.

In general I would recommend signing up to the excellent IanVisits newsletter, which has a wealth of major and smaller events, as well as maps and blog posts. It is free, but I feel it worth subscribing to support Ian and the site. He covered both events.

As well as better publicity before the events, I suggest that more could be done to report on events so there’s something engaging to promote next time. It isn’t difficult.

While at the Pearly Festival I shot some video, took a few photos and posted to X/Twitter as others did too. On returning home I then used the free Wakelet tool to assemble a collection of my tweets, mixed with additional information and content other people posted. It didn’t take long.

I then searched X/Twitter for mentions of the Sheep Drive and put together another collection. I’ve embedded the Pearly Festival below, and created another post about the Sheep Drive. The Wakelet collection is here.

The original ideas for Bartholomew Fair 2023 included plans for workshops with residents, and wayfinding “increasing awareness that the City is not individual buildings, but a collective of fascinating places to see, spend in and work at”. Taken together I suggested that they could benefit residents and visitors all year. Both were dropped this year, but wayfinding is back next year, in a report to CHL committee.

I’ll follow up on these ideas later, but I wonder whether there is scope for Destination City to run workshops – or put together some tutorials – that would help anyone interested report on and curate content about events, mainly using the tools that we have on our phones. City policy chief Chris Hayward has said he wants residents to have some ownership of Destination City. Contributing and curating social media could be one way.

If that’s a step too far, perhaps there’s scope for the comms teams in the Corporation and Destination City to provide some support for event organisers, who could in turn support their staff and volunteers. Some initial investment would bring benefits later on.

Wakelet collection of content embedded below – or in full here

Click the Load More button at the end to see all Wakelet content