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Can you drive your sheep over London Bridge?

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On March 28, 2014, my dear friend and fellow photographer, Marte, invited me to a ceremony at the Guildhall where she was receiving the Freedom of the City. I had absolutely no idea what that meant, but I did know that it meant she could now drive sheep over London Bridge (which she is doing this Sunday, if you fancy a day out!). Here’s the story of how a Norwegian girl ended up getting this honour.


28th of March 2014 I swore my allegiance to the Queen, and promised never to conspire against her.  In return I received a few privileges as a Freeman of the City of London. On October the 5th, I’ll be exercising one of those privileges, which is my right to drive sheep across London Bridge.

Girls dressed as sheepherders

One of my favourite things about London is the contrast between the new and the old. Where glass-clad skyscrapers tower over the small pubs and churches that have been around for centuries. There is so much history in every corner, yet this city is still heaving with modern life.

I was born and raised in Norway, moved to Spain as a teenager, studied in Australia and started my career in London. I have loved every single country. The Norwegian landscape made a picture perfect frame around a safe and free upbringing; the delicious tapas and heart-throbbing salsa dancing in Spain made for an exciting youth; and the beautiful beaches, BBQs and friendly smiles of the Aussies created the ultimate student-life. I’ve always been open to new experiences and London has definitely delivered on those.

Declaration of a freeman

A few years back I was invited to a black tie dinner with a Livery Company: The Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers. Little did I know the journey it would take me on in discovering the history of the old trades in London, the Freedom of the City, and to the sheep driving I’m doing on Sunday 5th of October.  Now, you might wonder what the sheep have got to do with city life, so let me take you back in time…

Before insurance and pensions existed, communities would get organized in groups or guilds to look after each other. The guilds could be bound together by family ties, neighbours, trades or craftsmen. Members would contribute to the community and whoever fell ill, became a widower or experienced damage to their livelihood, would receive the help they needed.

Woman signing freedom of the city register

These medieval guilds developed into corporations responsible for a specific trade, craft or profession and they were called Livery Companies. Today there are 110 Livery Companies in London and they range from The Worshipful Company of Mercers to the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars. Even the licensed taxi drivers have their own Livery Company called the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers!

The Pattenmakers made overshoes for the residents of London. These Pattens gave the pedestrians added height which helped them walk through the streets of London without dragging their skirts through the piles of mud. Pavements and rubber galoshes, eventually made Pattens a thing of the past and today the Company functions more as a charitable body and supporters of the shoe industry than as a trade union.


Last summer I was accepted as a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers and put forward to apply for the Freedom of the City of London.  It is believed that the first ever Freedom in London was presented in 1237, and the tradition is still going strong today.  The freemen of the city were originally men who were not owned by a feudal lord, yet were still protected by the charter of their city and had certain rights such as owning land or earning money. The term moved on to mean that the man had a right to trade, and the Livery Companies would ensure that the standard of the goods and the services were being kept.

There is a long history of granting Freedom of the City to women, previously referred to as free-sisters; however, it was only opened to citizens outside of Britain and the Commonwealth in 1996. I was quite excited when we started researching the records to see if I could be the first Norwegian woman ever to receive the Freedom of the City of London. Unfortunately two lovely ladies beat me to it!


The ceremony itself was held at the Chamberlain’s Court at Guildhall and we were led into the chamber by the beadle wearing a top hat and a frock coat. The Chamberlain who held the ceremony, told us about the previous recipients of the freedom ranging from Florence Nightingale to Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana. I was obviously in good company.

Freedom of the city ceremony

As a Freeman of the City of London I now hold certain privileges. I was secretly hoping it would mean free taxi rides within the city walls (although I guess that wouldn’t have been fair on the taxi drivers!). Instead I can now choose to be hung in silk ribbon if I am ever convicted of murder, I can carry a naked sword through the streets of London, and I can be drunk and disorderly in the City of London without getting arrested.  Unfortunately most of these “privileges” are now merely symbolic and the only privilege that is still exercised is the right to herd sheep or drive cattle over London Bridge.

London Bridge

You might laugh at the thought of it today. But back when London Bridge was the only bridge over the Thames and the wool trade was big business, the right to take your sheep to market without having to pay any fines was an important privilege.

This year the Worshipful Company of Woolmen are organizing a sheep drive across London Bridge on Sunday 5th of October 2014.  My slot is at 10.37am and I would love to see you all there supporting my sheep drive!  Spectators are welcome to watch from the pavement on the eastern carriageway. And if you fancy a quick bite – lamb burgers  (and veggie burgers) will be sold on the north side of the bridge between 11am and 4pm. (A proportion of the sales will be donated to a chosen charity.)

I’m proud to be a Londoner and a Freeman of the City. And although the sheep driving won’t help my business in a modern global market, I feel lucky to experience a little bit of history. Bring on the sheep!

If you wish to learn more about the Livery Companies, the Sheep Drive or the Freedom of the City. Check out some of the links below:

Sheep drive 2013