The Knollys Rose Rent Ceremony is held in June each year and is organised by the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames. On that day one red rose will be plucked from a garden in Seething Lane and conveyed on an altar cushion from All Hallows by the Tower, where it will be presented to the Lord Mayor, whose official residence is at the Mansion House.
The ceremony commemorates an ancient City judgement dating from 1381. Sir Robert Knollys owned a house on Seething Lane. He was sent abroad to fight alongside John of Gaunt. While he was away, his wife is reputed to have become annoyed with the chaff dust blowing from a threshing ground opposite their house, so she bought the property and turned it into a rose garden.
She also built a footbridge over the lane to avoid crossing the muddy street to access it – but without first obtaining the equivalent of planning permission. When the City Corporation found out, they imposed a fine – that a red rose ‘rent’ from the garden had to be paid annually to the Lord Mayor. The rose payment was no more than a peppercorn rent, a symbolic fine upon Sir Robert, a leading citizen and a successful and respected soldier.
For this payment permission was given ‘to make an haut pas of the height of 14 feet’ across the lane. The footbridge has long since disappeared but the legal requirement for the payment of this quit-rent has been established as one of the City’s traditions.
The tradition was enacted long after Sir Robert Knollys and his wife had died. It continued until the 17th century after which it was discontinued. It was resurrected in 1924 and a red rose is cut from those growing in the modern public garden beside Seething Lane – with the permission of the City Corporation.