In the presence of the king

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The Coronation Barons of the Cinque Ports have had privileges at court for nearly 1,000 years to attend the monarch’s coronation. Up to the time of George IV’s coronation they had the privilege to carry a canopy over the monarch, with cloth of gold and silver bells, and afterwards dine at the right hand of the king. Their payment was to keep the bells and cloth!

Baron of the Cinque Ports, Andi Rivett

We knew this year that the coronation would be significantly pared back from days of yore and that only around 2,000 people would be invited, so in all honesty we held out little hope that we would be included. But, lo and behold, just a couple of weeks ago we found out that this ancient privilege would again be granted to the Cinque Ports towns and that all 14 would be invited to Westminster Abbey. I am so very grateful to my Rye Town Council colleagues who nominated that the mayor should represent the town on this occasion.

Much attention was paid by the 12 men and two ladies who would attend, about what to wear, how we’d get there and so forth. We are all indebted to our Speaker of the Confederation of Cinque Ports, Cllr Jim Martin of Hythe, who made all the necessary arrangements for us, and everything flowed very smoothly.

We all travelled up the night before and caught up over a meal. We were up for breakfast at the speaker’s work office in Woolwich at 6am before getting on a minibus to take us into the centre of London. Not too much coffee was drunk as we had to be seated by 8am for the two hour service starting at 11am, so little chance of a comfort break! We were enthralled by some wonderful music before the event, and got to see the great and the good enter the building.

We were seated a long way up towards the front of the abbey, in the north quire, very close to the organ, choristers and musicians. Although the beautifully gilded screen around the choir meant that would couldn’t actually see them, we had the benefit of TV monitors just in front of us. The most splendid part, however, was being so close to the music. It was the epitome of the crème de la crème of British musicians and to be so close to the likes of Bryn Terfel and Roddy Williams was just amazing. Feeling the vibration of the music through the building, the great organ pipes so close to us, and the trumpeters was out of this world. It was a great shame for Rebekah, who was mayor last year, not to experience this, having trained as a classical musician and knowing some of the performers, to miss out, but she did travel to London with us, and had the experience of standing in St James’ Park in the rain for two hours instead!

The opportunity to play a small role in history was truly the greatest privilege of my life, and an experience I will never forget. To be there when our sovereign monarch is crowned was very humbling, especially when the whole abbey resounded with the strongly-voiced pledge of allegiance to him. It was also wonderful to experience it with our fellow Cinque Ports mayors, who we have formed a good bond with this year.  We will soon be electing a Cinque Ports champion from each place to promote the work of their towns, including sharing best practice on environmental issues, boosting tourism, supporting business and education. The confederation is a great vehicle to raise the profile of the 14 towns and we hope to start this next month.

Image Credits: Rebekah Gilbert .

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