St Ives mace-bearer John prepares to bow out

St Ives Mace Bearer John Smoothy,

St Ives Mace Bearer John Smoothy, - Credit: Archant

It’s been featured in literary works, housed Oliver Cromwell and was once of the busiest inland river ports in the country, but St Ives is also well-known for its history of mace bearers; ceremonial guardians of the mayor.

Starting in 1996, the role is currently held by John Smoothy, who will have served the town for 20 years this May, just in time for his retirement.

With big shoes to fill, the council has started advertising for a new mace bearer, hoping to find a replacement before John’s finale at the mayor-making later this year.

“Upholding all of the traditions; that is the main thing,” he told The Hunts Post.

John moved to St Ives with his wife in 1975, and has served more than 30 years in the RAF.

“On the day I arrived I turned corner onto The Waits and saw the roses, all the flowerbeds, the backdrop of the Holt Island, the river, the swans, the boats, and I said to myself this is the town for us.”

It wasn’t until the St Ives’ Civic Ball that he heard about the position of mace bearer, though.

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“I’ve always been interested in civic events, being in the service,” he said.

“When I was stationed at Brampton we always used to attend The Civic Ball, and of course we didn’t use dinner jackets, we went in uniform; it looked good.”

At the event, then-mayor John Winston Davies mentioned mace bearer Walter Alfred Newbound was retiring after 31 years, having taken up the role in 1965.

“We all said ‘Ah, you do it!’, ‘Oh, you do it!’ and they said to me, ‘Well you can do it, you look the part.’”

John applied and became mace bearer in 1996.

“Being in the RAF you get used to a service way of life and I like things just so,” he said.

In fact, as we talk, John is quick to straighten his council tie as he puts on his ceremonial robe, before taking the mace out of its trunk.

At three feet six inches long, the mace is made of silver and weighs 2.42 kilograms.

It was given to the council by Town Clerk George Lewis Day in 1954, complete with intricate engravings like the Royal Cipher and then Borough Coat of Arms.

A ring of greyhounds from the Day family crest also feature, supporting the mace’s majestic head, and so precious is it that it is stored in Lloyds Bank across the road.

Dating back hundreds of years, the mace was originally used as a weapon to protect the mayor and is held in one hand over the right shoulder.

No one is allowed to cross between the mayor and the bearer, and John was keen to uphold this rule during a dodgem ride at his first, and last, Michaelmas Fair

“The tradition was that the mayor takes a child and does the trip, but when I came, after reading the book that no one is to come between the mayor and the mace, I sat down holding onto the mace and we got so many bumps.

“It was deliberate of course, but I didn’t realise it being my first Michaelmas Fair, and I said never again.”

John’s responsibilities also include processioning at the Midsummer Fair in Cambridge, the civic carol service, civic ball, Remembrance Sunday and opening 11 monthly council meetings.

But with just two functions and council meetings left before the mayor-making, it’s not long before John hands the mace back to the bank for the last time.

“I’ve had some good times. I’ve seen it all,” he said.

“It’s not an arduous job. The longest you walk is from here to the parish church and back in procession.”

One thing which has been long-running though, is John’s commitment, his work supporting more than a dozen mayors, and the legacy of the town’s ceremonial functions.

In fact, as John succinctly put it, “all the towns say that St Ives does it right.”