They came by night in discreetly parked cars. And that was probably best because if there had been any criminals about they could have had an amazing haul of gold beyond their dreams.
What is the collective noun for Mayors? asked Edwina Fogg, all dressed in her red robe finery, when no fewer than 15 of the 16 mayors across the county of Wiltshire arrived at the Merchant’s House, in the High Street on Friday.
And it was an appropriate place for them to celebrate Edwina’s year in office, an evening reception in place of what was once the Mayor’s Ball, as silk merchant Thomas Bayly was himself a 17th century mayor of Marlborough.
There were the mayors of Trowbridge, Calne and Salisbury, Royal Wootton Basset, Chippenham and, in particular, Malmesbury, the most ancient mayoralty in the nation.
Mingling with them too with their mayoresses and escorts was the Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon, Keith Lloyd, and his mayoress wife Elaine, special guests since Edwina’s husband, twice former mayor Nick Fogg, is a native of Shakespeare’s birthplace.
“We are easy to spot,” Edwina told her gold-laden gang. “I researched collective nouns to see whether a chain gang of mayors was officially on the list. It isn’t, but at least we get a better deal than ‘a drunken ship of cobblers’.”
“Many of you, like me, are mayors for the first time and have become to realise that chain gangs is an accurate term given the sheer hard work that goes with the office. Nevertheless, it is an honour to be mayor and to see at first hand the impressive efforts and achievements individuals and groups in our towns.”
She paid tribute to the worth of the Merchant’s House Trust under the chairmanship Sir John Sykes, also a guest at the occasion with Lady Sykes, as an example of local enterprise.
But, she added: “There are hazards to being mayor. The present incumbent in Milford Haven was rebuked in full council – how scary that was – for wearing his chain of office in various locations without invitation.”
“He replied that in his inaugural speech he promised to wear it as much as possible. A heated debate ensured in which he was reprimanded for wearing it to a night club of dubious repute.”
“The chain analogy is relevant in another way because mayors with their ancient insignia connect the present day with history. Just as in an ecclesiastical context the laying on hands connects bishops to the early apostles.”
“So the congratulatory handshake of mayor and ex-mayor is a reminder of continuity in civic life. We no longer have the powers of mayors of old. But the role is an important one within our towns bringing, as it does cohesion and focus to the myriad of activities that takes place in them.”
With that she raised a glass to toast all the mayors present – and to Thomas Bayly, whose former home they had a chance to discover on discreet tours and enjoy supper at a super occasion of mayoral splendour.