7th Mar | The Making of Gog and Magog

It was all going so well, too! Our meetings planner that was! Then we had a slight hiccup – and had to find another speaker at short notice for our March meeting! Fortunately Jan Barker was on hand to fill the slot, and Capel Ladies had a very enjoyable evening learning all about “The Making of Gog and Magog”!

Jan Barker, who comes from Suffolk but now lives in Essex, is a talented basket-maker who practised her craft as a hobby for a number of years, going to classes regularly and making items such as rush baskets, seats and garden sculptures out of cane or willow. Her instructor, Kay Johnson, ran the classes and workshops from a barn near her home at Great Braxted, and herself was one of the Livery Members of the Worshipful Company of Basket-Makers.

These “Livery Companies” were trade associations, formed in medieval times as Guilds in the City of London which controlled wages and labour conditions. Each trade originally had its own “Worshipful Company” to represent them, and there are still over 100 active Companies today. Some have professional or charitable roles to play, and all of them are involved annually with the Lord Mayor’s Show. This is a huge parade, nearly three and a half miles in length, which passes from the City of London to Westminster so that the newly-elected Lord Mayor of the City can swear his allegiance to the Crown.

Getting back to Jan Barker and her basket-weaving… A friend of Jan’s weaving teacher, also a member of the Basket-Maker’s Guild, was invited to become the very first “Lady Prime Warden” of the Guild at a ceremony prior to the Lord Mayor’s Show in Autumn 2006. This lady, Olivia Elton Barratt, thought it would be a wonderful opportunity both to mark the occasion as well as to display the skills of the Basket-Maker’s Guild, if they could parade in the Lord Mayor’s Show with new figures of Gog and Magog made from basket-work.

Gog and Magog are the stuff of myths and legends. Nobody really knows much about their origins except that wherever they are mentioned world-wide, including in the Bible and the Qur’an, they are regarded as giant hero-figures, or protectors, and they have been associated as Guardians and Protectors of the City of London for over 800 years. There are 2 huge wooden statues of them in the Guildhall which are too heavy to be carried in the Lord Mayor’s procession, and in recent years rather than use temporary straw models two inflatables have taken on the roles.

This, then was the challenge: to create from basket-work, using willow, two huge figures of these giants to carry in the Lord Mayor’s Procession in November 2006.

Work began in earnest in the February. Every weekend different sets of volunteer basket-makers would come for a day or two days at a time to work on the task, using willow specially sent from Somerset, where much of the willow for basket-making is produced. Measurements of an average man were taken and scaled up to create the two figures which grew to a height of fifteen feet each! People from all over the country with different skills became involved, and even the Army, in the shape of “the 100 regiment Royal artillery (volunteers)”, were brought in to provide transport to get the figures to London! They were then fixed to purpose-built wheeled trollies for stability for when they were pulled in the procession.

The Lord Mayor’s show was on November 11th, and the task was finally completed on the 8th! Sighs of relief all round, I should imagine!

Jan’s talk was accompanied by slides which showed the whole process bit by bit! It was a fascinating evening!

Gog & Magog

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