Contrary to popular belief, Speaker’s Day is not an ancient, historic tradition. It was initiated by John Ciccone (Rye), during his Speakership in 1992. The aim, endorsed by the Standing Joint Committee, was to showcase the host town and to raise the public profile of the Confederation, between the now, infrequent meetings of the Courts of Shepway and Brotherhood and Guestling. It has been held every year since.
Because each head port hosts Speaker’s Day only once every seven years, there is often a complete change of personnel since the last occasion, which makes it difficult to learn from experience. The aim of these notes is to bring together, in one convenient place, the knowledge and expertise of those who have organised past events and the Confederation’s and Lord Warden’s officers, so that the wheel does not have to be completely reinvented each time, and so that all may benefit from past experience. The guidance will be kept under review and updated as necessary.
Of course, circumstances vary from town to town and from year to year. Each Speaker will wish to celebrate in his/her own distinctive way. The host town remains fully responsible for the planning and implementation of the event, but the Joint Solicitors and the Admiralty Sergeant are always happy to share their expertise and experience, with a view to assisting in the process.
Generally, Speaker’s Day has been scheduled for late September or early October, the intention being to position the event during a relatively quiet period in the municipal year, after the holiday season and before the expected onset of winter weather.
Since his appointment as Lord Warden, Lord Boyce has attended Speaker’s Day each year. Generally, the Registrar will contact the host town clerk towards the end of the previous year, to identify their preferred date and to check this is convenient to the Lord Warden. Once a date has been agreed, it will be entered in the Master Calendar, on the Confederation website and shared with member town clerks and the officers of the Cinque officers, including the Admiralty Judge, the Chaplain to the Lord Warden and the Deputy Constable. If, as is often the case, the Speaker wishes the Lord Warden’s Chaplain to play a role in the service, he too should be consulted by the host town clerk, before the date is promulgated.
The original format of Speaker’s Day and the pattern for most subsequent events has been a church parade, in full ceremonial dress with maces, followed by a luncheon for those attending. Occasionally a Speaker has proposed a radically different format, for example dispensing with the traditional church service. It is fair to say that such innovations have generally been unpopular with the other Cinque Port mayors and, on one occasion the proposed change was abandoned at an early stage, when it became clear that the event would not be well supported. However, the format is not set in concrete and, on one occasion, an open-air, drumhead service proved a popular and effective alternative to the traditional church service; the event being combined with a freedom parade by the local infantry battalion.
In 2001, the Standing Joint Committee, as part of efforts to promote wider awareness of the Cinque Ports, urged head ports “to consider, where practicable, extending the format … so that it becomes a full day, with more of interest to the general-public”. Obviously, this increases the complexity of the event, the planning/administration involved and possibly the cost. Some head ports are better placed than others to absorb the additional workload. This is entirely a matter for the Speaker and the host town to decide. However, if the programme is to be extended in this way, it should be planned and implemented no less carefully than the core event: otherwise the effort can be counter-productive.
It should be borne in mind that some participants will have a fairly long journey to and from the event. On arrival, at the venue, refreshments and ready access to toilet facilities will be appreciated. If an extended programme is planned (as mentioned in the previous paragraph), particular care should be paid to the need for additional refreshment and “comfort” breaks.
Ideally the robing room(s) should be laid out with clearly labelled spaces, of sufficient size for each town, and for others, including the Lord Warden and Confederation officers attending.
This invariably takes a lot longer than most towns anticipate! The programme should always make adequate allowance for this important stage and the process of marshaling people in the correct order should start on time, if frayed tempers and a late arrival at the church are to be avoided. The Admiralty Sergeant has extensive experience and is more than happy to advise, in advance. However, the responsibility for marshaling the procession rests upon the host town and they should have an adequate number of properly briefed staff available to complete the process in a timely fashion.
It is strongly recommended that each town sergeant and the Admiralty Sergeant are provided with an information pack, on arrival at the venue or, preferably, before the day, giving details of the order of procession etc. They can then marshal their own groups and ensure that they are in the correct place in the procession, thus relieving the host town of a significant and time-consuming task. An example of such an information pack (courtesy of New Romney Town Council) can be downloaded by clicking here.
Adequate space must be allowed for forming-up the whole procession. in the correct order, before it moves off. This will need to be coordinated with the assembly and arrival of the band and honour guard, if applicable.
This needs very careful planning. Many of the member towns have steep hills, uneven surfaces and steps (often worn-down), particularly on the approaches to their ancient parish churches: this is part of their distinctive appeal. However, they can also be a challenge to some participants in the church parade; particularly the more elderly and less sprightly! Areas prone to surface flooding after heavy rain are best avoided, if possible. Although host towns naturally wish to make the most of the spectacle for residents and visitors, the processional route should not be over-long or too strenuous for the less athletic participants. If the route includes areas of cobbles or stone setts, participants should be warned in the invitation or joining instructions and advised to wear suitable shoes.
A civic procession, especially one with as many participants as the Speaker’s Day parade, tends to move slowly and it is not uncommon for large gaps to open up in the middle of the group: the longer and more arduous the route, the larger the gaps are likely to be! Again, the route should be kept to a manageable length for all those likely to attend and adequate time must be allowed in the programme. This will be much longer than a single, reasonably fit individual walking the route in advance would require!
There are many good local bands able to lead the customary church parade. A suitable band adds to the spectacle, can lead the procession over a route which may be unfamiliar to many and can set a pace appropriate for the whole procession.
Many host towns like to involve their local cadet unit, to provide a suitable band and/or honour guard to lead the procession. This is good, as it can help to showcase the cadet unit and involve more townspeople in the event.
Whichever band is engaged, the bandmaster should be involved at an early stage in the planning of the parade, he/she should be consulted about the route (especially the initial assembly point, linking-up with the main body of the procession, arrangements on arrival at the church and for the return procession) and he should be briefed to ensure that the pace will be suitable for a relatively slow civilian group; more of a ceremonial shuffle, rather than a march!
The proposed date will have been agreed with the Lord Warden many months before the event and it will also have been entered in the diaries of Confederation officers, as well as in the Master Calendar on the Confederation website (see Timing above). However, it is customary to invite a range of VIPs (for example the Lord Lieutenant(s) and High Sheriff(s) of one or both counties) whose diaries also tend to fill up many months in advance. If the host town wishes to ensure a good attendance, it is important to circulate an advance “warning” of the date to intended invitees, at the earliest opportunity. On occasion, the first indication which some guests have received is a formal invitation, often only a few weeks before the event, by which time they are likely to have other commitments.
It is customary, courteous and good practice also to send formal invitations to all invited guests at least 4-6 weeks before the event, with a clear deadline and contact details, for acceptance or otherwise. This should specify the dress code. The detailed planning and programme may not have been finalized when formal invitations are dispatched, in which case detailed “joining instructions” can be circulated nearer the time, to those who have accepted the invitation.
As with other aspects, meticulous attention to detail should be exercised in recording those expected to attend (including their spouses, partners etc.) and in providing suitable lists to those responsible for greeting guests on arrival, marshalling the procession and directing guests to their seats in church etc. It is discourteous and creates a very bad impression if a guest has been omitted from a particular list (for example the order of procession). Some take these things very personally!
General guidance on this subject (including a model Order of Procession) is contained in the Protocol, Prerogative and Precedence (PP&P) page of this website. Member towns should also have access to the leading authority on this subject – Paul Millward’s “Civic Ceremonial” (Shaw and Sons). It should be borne in mind, however, that there are some considerations which apply to the Cinque Ports, as a consequence of the unique office of Lord Warden, and which are not reflected in general sources like Millward. These points are discussed in the PP&P page, but that too cannot cater for every combination of guests who may be attending a particular function. If the organisers are in any doubt, they are strongly advised to seek advice from the Joint Solicitors or the Admiralty Sergeant, well in advance. Some guests become very exercised if they feel that they are not being accorded the correct status and precedence!
One specific point which often arises in connection with the Speaker’s Day procession is whether spouses, partners, etc. should be included in the formal procession. As indicated in the PP&P page, the general rule is that they should not, although this can be superseded by local custom and practice. Whatever the host town decides on the issue, this should be made clear to guests in advance and to those marshaling the procession. It is not acceptable to leave it up to individual participants on the day!
If spouses, partners, etc. are not included in the formal procession, arrangements should always be made for them to be escorted as a group, to and from the church, either in advance or behind the procession. It is not acceptable simply to tell them to “tag along at the rear”!
The order of procession is inextricably linked with the seating plan in the church, and the tow must be planned together. It is essential to have early and accurate returns from all those attending, so that the seating plan can be finalized in good time. This process should include checking the seating plan on-site, to ensure that it is feasible, given the actual layout of the church and to allow time for adjustments, where necessary. It is very common for some pews to be much shorter than others, often because they are divided by the supporting columns of the church. Adding personnel at a late stage can have a dramatic effect, causing chaos and embarrassment on the day. Adequate space should be allowed, so that all guests can be accommodated comfortably, bearing in mind that many will be wearing bulky robes and care should be taken to ensure that all have a good, unobstructed view of the proceedings.
It is strongly recommended that the information pack provided to town sergeants and the Admiralty Sergeant (see Forming-up the Procession, above) includes the church seating plan(s), so that they can usher their groups into the correct pews, lay-up their maces and take their own seats as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Ideally, the procession should move up the central aisle of the church in the precise order in which participants are to be seated in the pews, to avoid a “scrum”, as people wait for others to enter the pew first. Quite apart from the fact that this looks clumsy and unprofessional, it wastes a lot of time! The only exception should be that anyone who is to read a lesson etc., should be seated at the end of the row, to make it easier for them to the lectern, at the appropriate time. If spouses, partners, etc. are included in the procession, they should be seated with their “other halves” and not shuffled off to another part of the church! Again, this looks disorganised and can cause a lot of ill-feeling.
If the preceding advice is followed, the procession should flow smoothly, as guests take their allocated seats. However, there should always be a “sides-person” with a copy of the seating plan, on each side of the aisle, to assist in case of difficulty. If the host town does not have sufficient staff or volunteers to take on this role, the church may be able to assist, as they have volunteers who perform a similar role at routine services.
Another aspect which should be carefully planned, is the placing of maces during the service and seating arrangements for the mace-bearers. They will always precede their mayors along the aisle, pausing while the latter take their seats, before depositing their maces on a suitable table in front of the congregation. Seating should be reserved for the mace-bearers, at the front of the church (often in a side aisle), so that they can move quickly out of the way, once they have deposited their maces, and reclaim them easily and in the correct sequence, at the end of the service, in time to lead their respective mayors out of the church. It is impracticable for them to be seated in the pews with their mayors!
There is quite an art to this “choreography” and host towns are well advised to seek and heed the advice of the Admiralty Sergeant, who has extensive experience.
It is impracticable to conduct a full dress rehearsal with all participants, including guests, but it is essential for the key personnel from the host town, to walk the route, in order to identify any potential problems (including those mentioned above), to check provisional timings before the programme is finalised and to ensure that all those who will be involved in the service, including the minister and the sides-people, are fully briefed, aware of their respective roles and the detailed arrangements for laying-up the maces, for receiving the admiralty oar and laying it up on the altar and for returning the oar to the Admiralty Sergeant at the end of the service. The Admiralty Sergeant should be involved in this rehearsal.
By its nature a church parade is, at least in part, an outdoor event and susceptible to bad weather. Scheduling Speaker’s Day for a time of year when bad weather is less likely (see Timing above), is designed to minimise the risk of disruption, but dry conditions can never be guaranteed. Civic robes, wigs and military uniforms etc. are very expensive and participants will be concerned about the risk of damage, quite apart from the discomfort of having to wear wet clothing for several hours, without respite.
It may be impossible to have a fully-formed Plan B, ready to be implemented in case of bad weather, but certainly it would be a good idea to consider in advance, whether there are aspects of the programme which could be eliminated or curtailed, should the need arise. While it is unusual in formal parades for umbrellas to be carried, it should be remembered that this is a civic rather than a military occasion. In this context, the Confederation has offered member towns a supply of civic umbrellas printed with the Ports’ coat of arms on the canopies. If, exceptionally, umbrellas have to be used, it is considered that the consistent, restrained design of those supplied will be preferable to a multiplicity of styles and possibly garish colours.
Organisers need to keep an eye on the local weather forecast and be prepared to adjust the programme, if particularly severe weather threatens. It might be possible to bring forward the start of the procession by a few minutes, if everyone is ready, to avoid an imminent, heavy shower. Conversely it may be possible to delay the start of the procession slightly, until conditions improve. It may also be possible and sensible to shorten the planned processional route, to minimise the time when guests are exposed to the elements. Flexibility is the key and the host town clerk should always be ready and willing to make sensible adjustments to the programme, in extreme cases. This is the one exception to the need generally to stick to the published programme, but it is only courteous and good practice to have regard to the well-being and best interests of all participants.
Many Speakers and host towns like to arrange a group photograph at their Speaker’s Day events, as a memento of the occasion. If so, this should clearly be scheduled whilst participants are still wearing their ceremonial robes etc. This is probably best accommodated on returning from the church and before disrobing for lunch.
The full processional group can comprise 70 or more people and it is important to identify a suitable venue, where everyone can be arranged, in the appropriate order of precedence, and within camera-shot. Some form of tiered location is invariably required. This might be a suitable set of steps at, or close to, the venue for disrobing although, if this is outdoors, it is, of course, susceptible to bad weather. An indoor venue, if one is available, is preferable and some host towns have incorporated a short detour into the recessional route, to accommodate a photograph.
Again, it is important to remember that marshaling up to 70 people in tiers, for a photograph, takes a significant amount of time, in addition to that which the photographer requires. A responsible member of staff (often the host town sergeant) should take charge of marshaling people in the correct places, in accordance with a pre-prepared plan. Bear in mind too, that once people are posed, other guests etc. will naturally want to take their own personal photographs of the group. This all takes time and adequate allowance should be made in the programme.
The general practice is that each town meets the cost of refreshments provided for its mayor, mayoress/consort and town clerk. The cost for other invited guests may either be borne by the host town or recovered by means of a modest addition to the charges borne by each member town. The payment required in respect of catering for each paying guest (including drivers/town sergeants) will generally be included in/with the formal invitation, whereas no payment will, of course, be mentioned in the case of non-paying guests.
When considering the lunch venue, regard should be had to the adequacy of cloakroom and toilet facilities, as well as to the possible need for a suitable public address system, so that speakers can be heard by all guests, particularly if the venue is large and there is a considerable distance between the top table and others.
It is good practice to provide advance-notice of the lunch menu, with the formal invitations, and for this to offer a vegetarian alternative. If there is a choice of menu, host towns will probably request notice of the chosen options, with the response to the invitation, to facilitate the catering arrangements. In any case, it is helpful to ensure that menu cards placed on each table, so that guests can be reminded of the fare and prepared for any toasts which are planned.
Depending on which head port is hosting the event, some may have been travelling for a couple of hours or more, before the church parade is due to start and will be looking forward to their lunch, according to the published schedule. Quite apart from inconvenience to the catering staff and the risk of food spoiling, some guests may have medical reasons why their expected meals should not be delayed significantly and the programme should be adhered to.
As mentioned under Format of the Event … (above), the Confederation has encouraged host towns to consider extending the programme for Speaker’s Day, to include other activities or entertainment for the benefit of the general-public. It is recommended that such additional activities or entertainment should be scheduled to follow lunch. enabling those participating in Speaker’s Day the option of joining in the additional activities or not. Such activities should have regard to the travelling time involved for participants and the overall length of the day. Organisers may also need to consider providing facilities for those travelling from further afield, to change clothes and/or “freshen-up”, as well as the need for additional refreshments during the afternoon, if evening attendance is included in the programme.
Click on the following links to download examples of the kind of documentation which will assist the planning and implementation of a successful Speaker’s Day event. They are reproduced by kind permission of New Romney Town Council. Obviously, precedents such as these should not be followed slavishly, but documentation should be designed to meet local circumstances, including the guest list.
Specimen Information Pack for Town Sergeants Admiralty Sergeant
Click here to download a copy of the Information pack issued for Speaker’s Day 2014, which comprises the following:-
- Detailed Programme
- Complete Order of Procession
- Plans of Processional Route
- Church Seating Plans
- Official Photograph Layout Plan
We are grateful to New Romney Town Council for permission to reproduce it here. Obviously, the content of an information pack needs to be adjusted to local circumstances and the list of those attending.
Other Specimen Documentation
The following documents were also produced in planning for Speaker’s Day 2014 and copies can be downloaded by clicking here. Other towns may wish to do things differently, but these examples demonstrate the level of detailed planning which goes into organising a successful event on this scale:-
- Lunch Seating Plan
- Internal Staff checklists