Historic horn examined by expert

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A unique piece of Canterbury’s history has been examined by a leading independent researcher to find out how it was made.

The city council’s Burghmote Horn dates back to 1155, during the reign of Henry II, and was used to summon the bailiffs of the city to the court of the citizens – known as the Burghmote. It is the oldest piece of civic regalia in the city.

Today it is used by a representative of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment for very special occasions such as the mayor-making ceremony when a new Lord Mayor is elected, when someone is bestowed the freedom of the city and when a new sovereign is proclaimed.

Dr Louise Bacon, who is linked to the Institute of Archaeology at University College London and examines the metallurgy, or metallic compounds and alloys, of brass wind instruments, asked to X-ray the horn.

Scan of a section of the Burghmote Horn

She said: “I am very interested in the alloys that were used to make this sort of instrument over the centuries. During the research for my PhD, I started to obtain some very strange results of ‘brass’ instruments made in the 1600s so decided to look further back into history.

“Canterbury’s Burghmote Horn is not brass but made of leaded bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, which was not unusual for the time it was made.”

Dr Bacon says the horn was created using the lost wax method, where the shape of a horn would have been moulded in clay and then covered in wax to the thickness of metal required, then covered in another layer of clay. Once the clay had hardened, the wax would have been melted away before molten metal would then have been poured into the mould.

She said: “There are a number of horns from the former Cinque Ports which have survived. Canterbury’s horn has an incredible provenance because so many records have stood the test of time.

“Later, the Burghmote Horn had a brass piece inserted into the bell and was then surrounded by an iron frame. It was obviously meant to hold something, now lost, and is a process which would have had to have been paid for by the town council at the time. I am hoping to find the records which explain why this was done.”

Canterbury’s other civic regalia includes:

  • The Lord Mayor’s chain of office which dates back to 1851
  • The sword which dates back to 1609 when a Royal Charter from James I conferred the right to appoint a sword bearer to the city. The charter stated the sword bearer ‘shall carry and bear before the Mayor of the City one sword or blade covered everywhere within the city, the limits, liberties and precincts of the same’
  • The mace which dates from 1681 and is the symbol of royal authority

Examining the Burghmote Horn

The current Lord Mayor of Canterbury Cllr Colin Spooner, whose office can be traced all the way back to AD696, said: “Canterbury is steeped in history and the mayoralty and the regalia is an enormous part of that.

“When I was lucky enough to be elected to the office, I was fascinated by the traditions and legacies that came with it. Dr Bacon’s work adds another piece to the jigsaw that is the city’s history and I will be eternally grateful for her efforts.”

The Lord Mayoralty is the highest office that the city council can bestow. The Lord Mayor is elected annually from among the city councillors and is the ‘first citizen’ of the district as well as the official representative of the Crown.

In effect, this means that anywhere within the district, the Lord Mayor of Canterbury takes precedence over all others except for royalty or the Lord Lieutenant of Kent if representing HM the Queen.

Apart from these duties, the Lord Mayor plays a big part in community life where he or she is often involved in a variety of historical, ceremonial and charitable activities.

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