The Mayor’s parlour & mace – two Swindon gems if ever there were. And at last, after three decades in Swindon, I got to properly see this fabulous room – and the mace. Big thanks to the outgoing Labour mayor, Abdul Amin for making it happen for me.
When I wrote Swindon in 50 Buildings I included the civic offices and the image below of the mayor’s parlour from the 1930s. I did take some photos – see bottom of the post – but they really don’t do it justice. You’d need to be David Bailey to manage that TBF.
The Mayor’s Mace
So, aside from the Art Deco, living, breathing, Hercule Poirot set wonderment that is the mayor’s parlour, what I want to focus on in this post is the mayor’s mace. Because this isn’t any old mace – but we’ll come to that later. First of all a look at the mace in general.
The Ceremonial Significance of the Mace
In essence, the highly decorated ceremonial mace is an evolvement of a bludgeon – for it once served as a weapon of war.
With the introduction of armour, fighting men began binding their wooden clubs with iron. Then later the club began being made entirely of iron and steel.
This website about the Llantrisant Mace tells us that the mace found itself adopted as the weapon of the Sergeants at Arms appointed first by Philip II of France (1180-1223) to guard the king from suspected assassins. It’s believed that Richard I (Lionheart) of England appointed a similar bodyguard
During mediaeval times, the royal Serjeants-at-Arms were distinguished by their power of arrest without a warrant. To an increasing extent, their maces – originally ordinary weapons of war, similar to a club – became their emblems of authority. They became stamped with the royal arms. And in an age in which few men could read or write, the Serjeants effected their arrests by showing their maces and not by producing any form of written warrant.
At length it became the custom to inscribe royal arms on the top and to decorate the handle end. As time went on the mace became less a weapon and more a symbol as it became covered with precious metal. It’s now a weapon of war no longer but a symbol of authority as its incorporated coronet expanded into a full-sized crown. And the whole item swelled to much larger proportions.
Today, many government bodies, such as the House of Commons, universities, local authorities and other institutions have ceremonial Maces. They’re often paraded in academic, parliamentary or civic rituals and processions.
There’s a somewhat curious footnote about the mace, as this historical development of the mace points out. ‘The most curious and interesting point to note about the evolution of the mace is that it was also a revolution. The hitting end has become the innocuous base and the handle knob has become the head. Ergo we now carry the ceremonial mace upside down.
The mace should precede the mayor when entering and leaving the council chamber. It should always repose in front of the mayor when the council sits. When the mayor is seated, the mace rests horizontally before him with the crown to his right hand. In church, the crown should point towards the altar.
The Swindon mace
Measuring four feet in length, well proportioned and covered in silver gilt, Swindon’s mace is the most valuable piece of Swindon’s insignia. It takes the customary form, with an open arched crown surmounted by an orb and cross. There’s a replica of the royal arms on the first cap beneath the arches. The four arched compartments contain respectively:
- The royal initials E VIIIR crowned
- The Thamesdown coat of arms (1974)
- The coat of arms for the former borough of Swindon (1936)
- The coat of arms for the borough of Swindon (1997)
Below the mace head it bears four oak leaf and acorn brackets. The staff is divided into three sections, by two ornamental spheres. It terminates in a decorated foot knob.
The foot knob has six compartments, one of which contains the inscription: ‘1936, Presented by WE Morse Esq …Mayor of Swindon, 1914-1916. Hallmarked London 1935.’
A most particular mace
But … as interesting as all the above surely is, our Swindon mace is of a particular interest. And that’s because it bears the royal cipher of Edward VIII – who of course was never crowned because he abdicated in 1936. As far as we know, as far as it’s been possible to verify, there are only five other maces in the country bearing Edward VIII’s cypher. And I think that’s rather cool.
There’s a story that the Queen Mother, on visiting our town, asked to have the mace back and the mayor at the time refused to hand it over. Now, I’m unsure of the veracity of this tale but if it’s true … I admire the man’s nerve!
Now for the promised dreadful photos! But they give a sense of just how wonderful this room is. And it’s stuffed with wonderful things.