If something happens very rarely you might say it occurs only once in a blue moon. But if you find yourself in a certain corner of northern England, someone might say such an event happens once in a Preston Guild.
Lancashire folk have a certain way with words, but in this case they are being literal. The Preston Guild only happens once every 20 years and is thus a fitting analogy for the rarest of rare things. So if you want to see something made special by its rarity, make your way to Preston because 2012 is a Guild year, and Preston aims to take its place amidst the national Jubilympic celebrations.
Tomorrow, Monday 3 September, the Guild Burgesses of Preston will lead a magnificent civic procession before assembling in the Guild Hall to form the Guild Court. Freemen, Aldermen, Councillors and the Guild Mayor and Mayoress will listen to the Clerk of the Guild recite the ancient charters of the borough and read the names on the Guild Roll.
The civic worthies are clad in furs, cloaks and gowns and adorned with an array of chains of office, tricorn hats and medals. They are preceded by ushers bearing the City’s displays of power – chief amongst them the large silver mace that denotes the Borough’s ancient rights and contemporary authority.
Once gathered in the Guild Hall, orations are delivered in Latin by local students and the Guild Recorder responding in the classic tongue. The Guild Mayor makes a short speech and adjourns the Court until a week later, when the proceedings are brought to a similarly ceremonial finish.
The civic pomp and pageantry is just one aspect of the Preston Guild. Preston’s charter was granted in 1179 by Henry II and intermittent Guilds were held since this date. The pattern of holding the Guild on a strict 20-year timetable was established in 1542 and unbroken until 1942, when the Second World War made Guild celebrations impossible. The date was reset to 1952 and continues.
In addition to the gathering of the Guild Court, the modern Guild is an excuse for street parties, concerts, processions, balls and a celebration of the town. This year, the Guild takes place for the first time in a city, as Preston was granted city status in 2002.
The organisers have planned a packed Guild calendar. There will be everything from an arts festival, theatre, tea dances, black tie balls and a pop concert for thousands crammed onto the riverside Avenham Park. Processions remain at the heart of the public celebrations and this Guild will have trade, community, church and civic processions.
I was in one of the processions for the 1992 Guild, representing Hutton Grammar School. The School dates back to 1569, and so had decided to represent its history with Elizabethan, Victorian and contemporary school children. Perhaps my love of all things Tudor can be traced to this formative experience on the back of a lorry trailing through the streets of Preston?!?
I’m back in Preston now to see the opening procession of the Guild Court and the Churches’ Procession. It is a shame my diary doesn’t let me see the whole thing, but I’ll hopefully be back at the end of October to take part in the Preston Marathon (injury has meant my entry has been downgraded to the half-marathon).
So, for me, 2012 has been a very special Jubilympiguild year. And, whilst Preston Guilds are rare, Preston Guilds held in a Jubilee and Olympic year are rarer still. The chances of these three great events ever happening in the same year and all in the UK again are miniscule.