My dad became a freeman of the city of London a few weeks ago.
Since this happened some people have asked me what it means. The short answer is “I’m not completely sure”, the long, vague answer is “he gets to go to dinners in really old halls and talk to other butchers” and the best answer is “don’t know but once a year he’s allowed to herd sheep across London Bridge”.
The latter is some sort of bonkers tradition that’s been going on for ages. As in, 13th century ages.
As far as I can tell, the main purpose of the sheep drive is to baffle tourists, give Barbara Windsor and the sheep a day out, and raise a fair whack of money for charity.
And this year I went along, because if your dad offers you the chance to herd sheep across London Bridge, the only possible answer is “yes, yes, of course, when?” – so that is what I did.
So because we’re now Certified Sheep Drivers, I see it as my duty to guide fellow Londoners through the process of herding sheep across London Bridge, should you ever need it yourself*.
(*Not a ridiculous idea. Stranger things have definitely happened.)
1. Befriend a Freeman of the City
Hang around at the Guildhall and collar a good one when they come out. They exist in three varieties: haired, non-haired, and hatted. Lady versions (not pictured) are also available.
2. Note your arrival time instructions
Also make sure your own flock have enough food for the day before you go out, because they can’t come.
3. Make your way to Famous London Bridge ™
4. (Um, the other famous London Bridge)
Look for pointy glass + sheep
5. Find whoever’s in charge around here
Captain dog of the sheep parade at your service, how may I help you
6. Stand near some important looking people
If in doubt, look for the people wearing hats. Important people are always wearing hats. If the people wearing hats also have a sticker with the same number as yours on it, even better.
7. Follow important looking people across the bridge
There they go! Setting off into the unknown, embarking on their mission, their destiny! Follow them! To the sheep!
8. Locate your flock
You will know it’s them because it’ll look like someone’s put down a nice carpet.
9. Stride with purpose behind sheep
Remember to look menacing, occasionally shout “come by!”, and make sure the crafty one on the left doesn’t run off. Aaannd smile for the camera.
10. Receive signed certification of your sheep driving abilities
Frame it, put it on your wall, then make a website and start charging for your niche new consultancy service.
11. Remember to thank the organisers.
They’re having a tough day.
If you also want to find out more details not covered by this highly informative blog post, trot over to the Worshipful Company of Woolmen who know loads about this sort of thing.