Reflections of Lazzaro Pietragnoli, Mayor of Camden
When I arrived at Sidings Community Centre for their Heritage Fair last October, I was introduced to a primary school boy, originally from Sierra Leone, who gave me a little card: written with the trembling hand of a seven year-old on a green piece of paper the note asked me to “use the powers of the Mayor’s chain in order to explain what is Ebola and how it can be stopped”. For him it was like meeting a superhero, and the chain would give me the power to do almost anything to help not just the people of Camden but also in the rest of the world.
Though the dimension of the tasks are not always so challenging, wearing the chain of office taught me to be prepared to face the most extraordinary requests and questions.
The majority of those questions are about the chain itself: “how much does it weigh?”, “is it pure gold?”, “what do the shields represent?”, “when was this chain made?”.
Kids usually come up with the most exhilarant questions “do you have to wear it all day?”, “can you bring it at home?”, “where do you put it when you go to bed?”, “how do you clean it?”.
The interest is sincere, both for a beautiful masterpiece of artistically chiselled gold, and for the role which allows someone to wear that historical civic insignia.
The chain is actually made of gold - if you are interested in the matter - and weighs more than one kilo: it was made in 1965, when the Borough of Camden was formed, by the union of three different boroughs, Holborn, St Pancras and Hampstead, whose coats of arms are represented in fine enamel on the links of the new chain.
To address also the children’s curiosity, nobody is allowed to bring the chain at home, and at night it is always put in a safe in the Town Hall: the Mayor is allowed to wear it only at public events in the borough, or outside the borough but only with the permission of the Mayor of the borough he/she is visiting.
Traditionally, the aim of the chain was to give prominence to the Mayor, and to highlight the dignity and the importance of the role: wearing the chain, and the red robe with fur, and being preceded by the mace was a way to put the Mayor on a different level from all the other citizens.
Despite that original aim, my experience is that nowadays the chain is instead a way to help connecting with people, it actually make people more at ease to come and speak to you: during my term as Mayor, whenever I attended an event, I always had lots of people introducing themselves and starting chatting with me. They were definitely not afraid of or put off by my shining necklace.
Being the Mayor of Camden and having the privilege of wearing the chain has been a real honour; in addition, talking to many people and explaining to them the origin and the meaning of that insignia has always been a pleasure, though sometimes I felt I was not able to keep up with the kids’ expectation of “using the power of my chain” to help with some impossible tasks.