Cart Marking

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Saturday 22 July 2023

Guildhall Yard off Gresham Street (EC2V 5AE) at:
Cartmarking 10.00am – 12.30pm
Lunch 12.45pm – 3.30pm

The first City spectacular since 2019 celebrates 500 years of heritage and is open to the public. Cart Marking is a free charity event for the whole family and transport enthusiasts alike. At Guildhall Yard in the heart of the City of London, over forty vintage and futuristic vehicles will mark London’s world of wheels, as the Sheriffs and ritually robed Carmen brand each ‘carr’ with a red-hot iron – the origin of vehicle licensing. You can witness this historic ceremony, which dates back some 500 years and celebrates transport through the ages. With a nostalgic look into the past and a unique glance at the future, it showcases a truly eclectic collection of transport.

About Cart Marking

Cart Marking showcases a truly unique collection of transport dating back from the horse and cart, to the latest, cleanest, greenest, and safest in use today.

The regulation of carts dates back over 750 years to the early days of The City with the ceremony of cart Marking evolving over time.

Today we bring all that history back to life with a modern twist. You will see vehicles ranging from handcarts and horse-drawn carts and carriages to steam engines, military vehicles and motorcycles. With historic, vintage and specialist vehicles – new and old – including the latest sustainably-powered vehicles on display.

The vehicles enter Guildhall Yard through the arch to be branded as part of this unique ceremony. As each one is presented, a commentator tells visitors about its history and relevance today. Once in position the Sheriffs, Master Carman, his two Wardens and the Master Glover, dressed in traditional robes will brand each vehicle with a red-hot iron, a ritual known as Cart Marking. It takes about two hours for all the vehicles (carts) to pass though Guildhall Yard, get marked and then process through again on a celebratory drive-past.

TFL Journey Planner

From time immemorial the City of London Corporation has exercised a right of jurisdiction over carts within this City, although from time to time the Corporation has delegated the powers of licensing to the Worshipful Company of Woodmongers or to Christ’s Hospital.

The number of carts plying for hire within the City was limited by an Act of Common Council in 1681, so that ‘all streets and lanes of the City may not be pestered with carrs and carts and His Majesties Leige People have free passage by Coach or otherwise’. This Act set the number of carts to be licensed by Christ’s Hospital at 420 and enacted that the carts so licensed should be marked with the City’s Arms on the shafts and numbered on a brass plate. The number of vehicles was increased to 600 in 1835.

An Act of Common Council in 1838 repealed all former acts and the Keeper of the Guildhall was empowered ‘to mark carrs and carts for the purpose of standing and plying for hire within the streets of the City provided the owner is a Freeman of the City and a member of the Fellowship of Carmen. All carrs and carts so licensed are required to be brought to Guildhall annually to be marked.’

A number of places within the City were approved as standings for carts plying for hire and these were approved and regulated by the Court of Aldermen.

At the end of the 19th century 111 licences were in force, held by 16 Carmen and there were 89 cart standings. After that date the number of carts drastically declined and from that time the Court of Aldermen reduced the number of stands.

In 1965, the Commissioner of Police advised that the existence of cart stands, of which there were 18, had long been unused and was in conflict with the provisions of the Parking Zone regulations.

The Carmen’s Company was consulted. They requested that the marking of carts take place and cart stands be permitted on one day a year at one point in the City in connection with an annual ceremony to be held by the Company. The City Corporation agreed, and the Commissioner of Police was asked to arrange, in consultation with the Carmen’s Company, for one cart standing on one day per year at Dowgate Hill.

Guildhall records show that in 1981 the Keeper of the Guildhall reported to Committee that the annual cart marking had taken place at Guildhall on 6th August when ‘4 carts were marked and afterwards, the party retired to a local hostelry’.

Since this occasion the Carmen have developed the event which is now popular with the Livery and the public. In 2017 there were 56 entries for cart Marking, the largest number of vehicles marked on record, to mark the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Worshipful Company of Carmen.

What is this all about?

Well, it is quite simple!

A ‘cart’, in today’s terms, is a vehicle used to transport goods or passengers, for hire or reward.

Branding is to burn a number, letter, or symbol on to a surface.

But why did they do it?

This was the earliest form of vehicle licensing, and having paid for your licence, a mark would be burnt onto your wooden cart. This would allow that cart to ply for trade, ‘for hire or reward’ for the forthcoming year, after which a new mark would need to be branded to allow that trade to continue.

Back then the license fee would have been five shillings (25p today). What is five shillings compared to £850 road tax for an articulated lorry today? Five shillings is still paid to the City of London for each vehicle that passes through Guildhall Arch today.

The Cart Marking Story

Much of the history of Cart Marking is recorded elsewhere, but certain factors are pertinent to the maintenance of the tradition today. A Carman Fellowship has existed since before 1277, which became the Fraternyte of Seynt Katryne the Virgin and Master of Carters in 1517. This organisation agreed to serve the City in various ways and to carry goods at reasonable rates. Control of carts passed to Christ’s Hospital, back to the City and then back to Christ’s Hospital again in 1665.

It was decided at this time that each cart licensed to ply for hire in the City should be marked on its shafts with the City’s Coat of Arms and a number on a brass plate. By 1835, Christ’s Hospital could license and brand up to 600 carts. In 1838, earlier legislation was repealed, empowering the Keeper of the Guildhall to mark carts for the purpose of standing and plying for hire. The annual fee was set at five shillings, and the penalty for operating without a licence was twelve shillings and six pence. This legislation remains in force today and only the City of London Corporation has the right to mark carts.

The conditions attached to cart licensing require the ‘Cart Man’ be a member of the Fellowship of Carmen and to have an authorised carroom or stand (similar to a taxi rank) from which to ply for hire. At the end of the 19th century, 111 licences were held by 16 Carmen and there were 89 carrooms. In 1965, 18 carrooms remained and these were abolished following many years out of use. However, arrangements were made for one carroom to be available on one day per year, so that the Carmen’s tradition could be maintained. This is used by each year’s Master Carman for cart hiring, immediately following their installation. It is generally accepted that Cart Marking represents the first ever form of vehicle licensing. For a more detailed history, please click here