Traditionalists took over London Bridge yesterday to exercise their historic right to drive sheep into the city, despite calls for a boycott by animal right activists. Paul O’Grady – who plays the transvestite Lilly Savage – had written to Lord Mayor of London Fiona Wolfe demanding the event be cancelled because of the “distress” it causes to the sheep.
The annual event involves Freemen of the City of London taking herds of sheep over the bridge. Freemen have had the right to freely trade in the City since around 1237, but in this case they each pay a charitable donation to participate in the event.
O’Grady was reported in the Evening Standard as saying: “I understand that as Lord Mayor of the City of London, you are historically entitled to the Freedom of the City, a privilege that theoretically affords you the right to carry a naked sword in public, in addition to other equally archaic practices.
“I am sure that you will agree that these “rights” should not be exercised simply because they can be exercised.”
He added: “Herding sheep down a very busy London street while cars continue to speed along the road next to them shows a disregard for their welfare and needlessly causes them distress. I have no doubt that you would be able to match, if not exceed, the donations that the previous Lord Mayor received by promoting an event without the use of any animals.”
Despite the calls from the TV presenter the event went ahead yesterday without incident with hundreds of participants and thousands more spectators. In the end the Lord Mayor did not join the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, the body that traditionally regulate the wool trade in London.