The Knollys Rose Ceremony – Paying off a 619 year old rent

London and Britain is full of obscure ancient traditions and on Monday I bore witness to a ceremony that I did know about but never expected to see and it all has its foundations in events 619 years ago.  As sometimes dirty as London is these days, in almost every way (except perhaps for air), it was infinitely more filthy in days gone by.

The Knollys Rose Ceremony is held in June each year and is organised by the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames. On that day one red rose will be plucked from the garden in Seething Lane and taken to the Mansion House on the altar cushion of All Hallows by the Tower, where it will be presented to the Lord Mayor.

The ceremony commemorates an ancient City judgement dating from 1381. Sir Robert Knollys owned a house on Seething Lane. He was sent abroad to fight alongside John of Gaunt. While he was away, his wife, Constance,  is reputed to have become annoyed with the chaff dust blowing from the property opposite their house which was being used as threshing ground. As anyone super-rich would do, Constance bought the offending property and turned it into a rose garden.

All Hallows By The Tower Church

All Hallows By The Tower Church

Constance also built a footbridge over the lane to avoid the mud, but without the equivalent of planning permission. The penalty was that a red rose ‘rent’ from the garden had to be paid annually to the Lord Mayor. The rose payment was no more than a peppercorn rent, a symbolic fine upon Sir Robert, a leading citizen and a successful and respected soldier.

For this payment permission was given “to make an haut pas of the height of 14 feet” across the lane. The footbridge has long since disappeared, but the legal requirement for the payment of this quit-rent has been established as one of the City’s traditions.

This year’s Ceremony took place on Monday 17 June at 11am where I just happened to be with two tourists on my Sacred Secret Gardens and Ruins Walk The ceremony begins in Seething Lane Gardens, when one red rose is plucked and carried on the All Hallows By The Tower church altar cushion to Mansion House to be presented to the Lord Mayor.

Due to a small fire in the kitchen of Mansion House a few days earlier, a last minute change was made for the entire ceremony to take place in All Hallows Church.

I took the opportunity to put together a very hasty video, sitting as we politely did at the very rear of the church though in truth, we could have sat right at the front.  That’s what good manners gets you!

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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5 Responses to The Knollys Rose Ceremony – Paying off a 619 year old rent

  1. brewinsgirl says:

    Thank you for sharing this Stephen, and what a wonderful piece of serendipity. How I love being British with all our eccentricities.
    My guess is that you’ll put next year’s event in your diary & then treat us to a video unhindered by feathery hats! Can you share the joke that mad3 the congregation laugh towards the end please. Also, for the benefit of your followers who are unaware that there is a difference between the post of Mayor of London (currently Sadik Khan) and that of the Lord Mayor of London (Peter Estlin) perhaps you could explain that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes that womans hat was a right pain! I should have sat at the front but as I wasn’t invited it felt odd, also I wasn’t sure I was meant to film it and they might of noticed if I was up close. Only we would enact a tradition for centuries that was likely a quaint and token gesture even when it started. Yes I think the laugh was because the Lord Mayor was telling everyone about how the bridge was done without planning permission and how the street was all filthy and the bureaucracy and country was in a mess…. not much has changed 🙂 I’m sure thats what made everyone laugh. Again only here could an important figure make fun of ourselves like this. I should do a full post on this one day (I though I had on a related matter but it seems not). So the London Mayor is elected by the general public and covers all the boroughs of Greater London, millions of people and hundreds of square miles. The Lord Mayor of London is only for the old Roman City of London itself. He is elected on 1-year terms but by the City of London Corporation that basically run London and make it the financial centre it is. The City itself is almost like a separate power and even the Monarch isn’t meant to enter without the permission of the Lord Mayor. The Lord Mayor is the second most important person in the City of London, after the Queen. So whilst the London Mayor is all about public transport and police etc in the huge Greater London area, the Lord Mayor and the City of London Corporation is all about money, finance, dealing and also maintaining the very ancient rights of the City of London which have been secured since at least the time of William The Conqueror in 1066 who basically said the City is uncharge of itself as long as it admits he was the King of England generally. It’s all archaic but fascinating!

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  2. Marilyn says:

    I don’t get it!!! Does this have anything to do with religion? Explain the purpose of it in 2019! Ha!!😂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great information with the video being a nice addition.

    Liked by 1 person

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