London has many odd traditions and conventions, but perhaps none are stranger than the annual London Sheep Drive. This ancient tradition, where ‘freemen’ of the City of London exercise their right to drive a flock of sheep over London Bridge usually occurs in September, and returns this year after Covid, y’know, ruined things last year.
But why does this bizarre tradition take place anyway, you (should) ask? Here’s a quick history lesson…
Apparently, in Ye Olde England, ‘Freemen of the City’ (ie, not the property of a feudal lord) had the freedom to trade in the markets of London, and so were allowed to herd a flock a sheep across London Bridge in order to sell them.
Flash forward to the advent of motorised transport and the need was rendered obsolete (if it wasn’t already). However, the tradition was resurrected in 2013, after it had long since died out, and with the right of ‘freemen’ to do so still in place why wouldn’t they? What’s more, it’s open to the public to spectate, so now you too can embrace the aesthetic of the ’80s- the 1380s that is.
This year, the Drive is taking place on Southwark Bridge. The event has garnered attention in the past for the celebrity guests who’ve taken part alongside the Lord Mayor and the Worshipful Company of Woolmen (yes, that is their name). Previous personalities who’ve joined in this pastoral pastime include Mary Berry, Michael Portillo, Barbara Windsor, Alan Titchmarsh and Mark Rylance.
Stephen Fry also crossed London Bridge with a sheep in 2013, however this was for a documentary rather than for the actual Sheep Drive. 2021 sees ‘The Yorkshire Shepherdess’ Amanda Owen, who presumably beat The Norfolk Shepherdess and The Surrey Shepherdess for the honour.
The Sheep Drive also features a Livery Fair...
But apart from just gazing at several hundred sheep ambling across a bridge, the Sheep Drive also features a Livery Fair. This is a collection of stalls mostly representing Livery companies to both sell their products to customers and gain exposure.
The stalls include bakers, basketmakers, masons, saddlers, carriage drivers and the not so medieval Waterstones. The livery companies all support and help out local communities, so there’s a charitable element to attending the event too.
The Sheep Drive is the biggest sheep event in London...
There’s a large amount of info about the event on their website with plenty of photos from previous years, and there’s a Twitter account on which every post has a sheep related pun.
Entry to the event and the Livery Fair are free, and tickets are already scarce.
The event is certainly a strange one, but if you’re a fan of wooly animals, or want to do something a bit different with your Sunday, then the Sheep Drive is the biggest sheep event in London.