Amanda Taylor

News and views about Cambridge and Cambridgeshire politics, especially Queen Edith's Learn more

Ceremonies & customs

The Mott Sermon is an historic endowed sermon, provided for by Mr William Mott, an 18th-century attorney who made provision for the poor in various ways, working through the churches. He left 10s 6d (52.5p)for the preaching of a sermon every year as a service to the poor people living in the parish. The money ran out a long time ago (and few poor people can afford to live in  Cambridge city centre these days) but the sermon is still preached every June, in the presence of the ‘Mayor and Corporation’.

Cambridge City Council has four ceremonial bailiffs, elected annually by the city’s 42 councillors; I was one for most of my time as a Cambridge city councillor. In days gone by the bailiffs used to guard the person of the Mayor and seize goods from people who hadn’t paid their bills. These days their function is purely ceremonial, although as the Senior Bailiff I used to get to make an equestrian speech every year at Reach Fair.

Bailiffs accompany the Mayor when s/he goes to civic church services such as today’s, and to the two charter fairs authorized by King John. They have a fancy uniform too – a robe in Cambridge blue and a little top hat. The corporation comprises serving councillor and honorary councillors. Senior council officers and the MPs for the cit5y sometimes attend too, along with the Council’s Sergeant at Mace, macebearers and the mayor’s cadet.

Midsummer Fair is one of the big dates in Cambridge’s civic calendar.

King John granted permission for a fair on the Common back in 1211: in those days it was an opportunity for different merchants to meet and trade their wares. For more information see here. These days it is more of a funfair than a trade fair, with rollercoasters, ghost trains and, of course, the ubiquitous dodgem cars.

It is still authorized by Parliament under an Act of 1850. When the City Council wished to alter the time of the opening proclamation from the afternoon to the evening, we had to get government permission!

The tradition is upheld by a procession of the Mayor, council chief executive, macebearers and councillors, often joined by the ‘chain gang’, civic dignitaries from neighbouring councils. There is a civic proclamation of the Fair by the Chief Executive and Town Crier with a warning about good behaviour, then the Mayor, Bailiffs and councillors throw newly minted pennies at the crowd before proceeding to a crazy circuit on the dodgem cars.

The opening ceremony is 6.30pm.

Here is a report of the 800th Midsummer Fair.

Justice Services are held when High Court judges visit the city.

Congregations pray for the visiting High Court Judges and for those involved in the judiciary and magistracy.

They are preceded by a grand processio nto the church, incorporating various groups: all in their ceremonial dress

  • Legal
  • High Sheriffs past, visiting and present
  • University
  • Civic (the Town Crier, bailiffs, Sergeant-at-Mace, the Mayor, chairs and mayors from other Cambridgeshire councils and thepolice chiefs)
  • Lord-Lieutenant
  • Clergy

There are two Chevins sermons. Richard Chevin ‘s will of 1589 bequeathed a house to the city on condition that £6 of the income be given to the poor and that two sermons should be preached in his memory before ‘the Mayor and Corporation’ at Candlemas and Michaelmas.

The Michaelmas one doubles up as a Harvest Festival and usually takes place at Great St Mary’s, the University Church. The Candlemas one moves around according to the desire of the Mayor — it is usual practice to choose a church in your own ward. In 2009 it was at St Andrew’s Cherry Hinton and you can see a pictorial account of it here.