Changing of the Quill, LondonUnlike the generally daily ceremony of Changing the Guard, the quaint ceremony sometimes called Changing the Quill only occurs every three years. The location is the church of St Andrew’s Undershaft in Leadenhall Street, which was the regular place of worship of one of London’s unsung cultural heroes, John Stow. It was also where he was buried in 1605.
Mr Stow is known as the father of London history; for he completed in 1598 a survey of the capital that provided those after him with a wealth of information. The alternative name for the event, which is held on or near April 5 (2014 is the next) is the John Stow Memorial Service .
His imposing stone tomb stands within the church, showing the great man at his writing desk, his hand poised above the page. That hand fittingly as it were accommodates a real quill pen, and every three years a ceremony is held during which the old pen is removed and a new one replaces it, the Lord Mayor usually performing the changeover. A speech by a noted historian precedes the action, the whole thing coordinated by the Merchant Taylors’ Company as John Stow was originally a tailor.
This being Britain there is necessarily some carrying of silver sticks and the slightly embarrassed wearing of gowns by members of the presentation party, and full Church of England formal dress for the clerics taking part.
In recent times the old quill has been used as a prize in an essay competition for children of the capital, which is both its venue and subject.
More British Folk Customs?