See A Flock Of 50 Sheep Herded Over Southwark Bridge This September

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 8 months ago
See A Flock Of 50 Sheep Herded Over Southwark Bridge This September

The days of driving livestock through the streets of London are centuries behind us. Well, except, for one day every September...

Alan Titchmarsh driving sheep over London Bridge
Alan Titchmarsh was given sheep herding duties in 2018.

What are ewe bleating on about?

The London Sheep Drive! On 24 September 2023, 50 North of England Mule Sheep will be driven across Southwark Bridge, by various Freemen of the City, plus a special celeb guest.

OK but why?

Tradition innit. Back when Smithfield was London's major livestock market, sheep farmers would drive their flocks across London Bridge to get them there. The bridge was tolled, but Freemen of the City had the fee waived. As Master Woolman (and former Lord Mayor of London) Vincent Keaveny says: "The Sheep Drive is living London history, preserving a link with our past but at the same time celebrating wool, a sustainable product that has so many innovative uses in today's world."

Mary Berry oversees a herd of sheep
Mary Berry took part in 2017, and had either a wonderful or awful time judging from this photo. We'll go for the former.

Is the Sheep Drive some ancient London tradition then?

Actually, the Sheep Drive itself has only been going a decade. In 2013, the Worshipful Company of Woolmen decided it'd be fun to exercise the ancient right of driving sheep across London Bridge, and raise some cash for charity while they were at it. London Bridge has now been switched out for Southwark Bridge, which will close to vehicles during the event.

Mark Rylance holding a dog next to some sheep
It was Mark Rylance's turn in 2016.

Where do these sheep come from anyway?

They're top of the flocks — selected from a 600-strong contingent on a farm in Bedford. Just like the celebrity who'll drive them, these sheep have had media training; in the weeks leading up to the big day, they appear at other events such as country shows etc, so they're comfortable with the London crowds when the time comes.

People in fancy dress with the sheep
Oh yes, some people dress up too.

Can I come-bye and watch the Sheep Drive?

Absolutely! Various Freemen will be driving sheep over both sides of Southwark Bridge between 10am and 4pm. At some point, the celeb will do their thing too (although at time of writing, we don't know when). You can just show up on the bridge anytime and watch — it's free. Sadly, members of the public can't do any sheep driving themselves. Best leave the crook/flat cap combo at home.

A group of shepherds in tweed posing on the bridge
Not a dress code you usually associate with the City of London.

What do I do once I've seen the sheep driven?

There's a livery fair too, also hosted 10am-4pm, at the north end of the bridge, around Queen Street Place. Here, there'll be plenty to see and do, including stalls selling woollen clothes and accessories; sheep shearing demos; and representation from various City livery companies including the Worshipful company of Weavers, Basketmakers and Bakers. You'll also be able to get up close to some rare breed sheep.

Barbara Windsor surveying a flock of sheep on London Bridge
The late Barbara Windsor doing the honours in 2015.

Which celebrities have had the sheep herding honours?

Barbara Windsor, Alan Titchmarsh, Mark Rylance, Michael Portillo and Mary Berry have all had a crack at urban sheep herding. In 2022 it was Kate Humble — which seems fitting, as when she's on TV, there's often a sheep lurking in the background.

And who's the celebrity in 2023?

That's still being kept schtum. We'll let you know when we know.

Alan Titchmarsh driving sheep over a bridge
Who'll be this year's celeb? Ewe'll just have to wait and see.

By the way, what's the secret to successfully driving a flock of sheep over a bridge?

We're reliably informed it's calm sheep. Makes sense.

Sheep Drive & Livery Fair 2023, Southwark Bridge, 10am-4pm, free. We're told the 'Book Now' button on the website is only for those taking part in the sheep driving — members of the public can just show up.

All images © @ThisMediaLarke

Last Updated 30 August 2023

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