HARWICH is among the very few towns which still celebrates mayor making, with the traditional kitchel throwing ceremony running for more than 400 years.

John Hacklin became an important part of the town’s history after being elected as the first mayor of Harwich in 1604.

Since 1949, the historic ceremony has taken place on the third Thursday of May each year.

The day is marked with a parade to St Nicholas’ Church, a church service and traditional kitchel throwing from the windows of the Guildhall.

Kitchels are sweet fruit finger buns.

Kitchel throwing came from the custom in some parts of the country, and particularly in Suffolk, for children to visit their godparents during Christmas time and ask for their blessing.

This was given with a small cake called God’s kitchel, specially made for visiting godchildren.

Until 1949, mayor’s day in Harwich was on December 21, which also marks the beginning of the season for giving kitchels.

It became a custom for the newly elected mayor to shower their blessings on the children by throwing kitchels to them from a window at the Guildhall.

In 1905 a guidebook described it as a “curious custom, hundreds of years old”.

In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written in 1386, we find these lines: “Give us a bushel, wheat, malt or rye, a God’s kitchel, or a trip of cheese.”

Therefore, the exact date of when this tradition began is not known.

As part of the mayor making ceremony, the mayor and associated council members proceed along Church Street to the Guildhall, many wearing the traditional robe and black bicorne hat.

And so does the mayor, who is distinguishable by his mayoral chain.

The mayoral chain and badge of gold was first presented in 1884 by A.J.H. Ward mayor “to be worn by the present and all future mayors of the borough.”

It was paid for by the High Steward, former mayors, the MP and an MP’s widow whose names were engraved on the 17 links.

The mayor also had a new gown made in 1882, which to judge from the portrait of Mayor Ward, was worn by each succeeding mayor of the borough until 1974.

The parade is conducted by the leading dignitary, who carries a staff.

Harwich’s mace dates from the 17th century and still precedes the mayor on civic occasions.

It was originally intended as a weapon to protect the mayor but fortunately the mace bearer hasn’t had to thump anyone with it in modern times.

After the formal proceedings the new mayor and mayoress maintain the historic tradition of throwing kitchels to the crowds of children in the street below.

Down through the years the custom has persisted – although more often in recent years the kitchels have been called “catch-alls” because it was custom to try to catch them as they were thrown from the Guildhall windows.

Halstead Gazette: KITCHEL THROWING: Alan and Sylvia Todd in 2019.KITCHEL THROWING: Alan and Sylvia Todd in 2019.

Harwich has had a total of 414 mayors since 1604.

Between 1604 and 1974 Harwich Borough Council had a total of 370 mayors.

After the formation of Harwich Town Council, between 1975 and 2019 there were a total of 44 mayors serving the town.

This year’s ceremony will not be taking place due to the coronavirus pandemic, with mayor Alan Todd set to continue in the role until 2021.

Mr Todd said it is an honour to be mayor and to represent the town and its people.

He explained being born in Harwich, he always took part in the mayor making ceremony as a child.

“Never in a million years did I think that one day I will be the one throwing kitchels,” he added.

“It’s a tradition which should continue forever.

“It’s a good tradition and Harwich is one of the few towns which still does it.

“I am proud to serve as the mayor for Harwich.

“You show your face and local residents have faith in you to do the job - all in all it’s an honour and privilege.

He said being a mayor is a “bit daunting at first” as you’re unsure you will be able to carry all the responsibilities.

“However, it makes you feel important, in the council and the town as a whole as residents have faith in you to do the job.”