Robes For Houghton Regis Town Mayor

In February Houghton Regis Town Council voted in favour of buying special robes and a hat for its Town Mayor to wear at special meetings of the council, and on ceremonial occasions.

Neighbouring towns of Luton and Dunstable already have mayors that wear robes. In Dunstable the robes, together with the chain of office, are only worn at Mayor Making, full Council meetings, the Remembrance Day Service and the Mayor’s Civic Service. Last year's Dunstable town mayor, Cllr Liz Jones was also requested by the Mayor of Ely to wear her robes whilst attending the 750th anniversary church service for the air cadets.

On other occasions — including the Annual Town Meeting, charity raising functions, attending other Mayor’s functions, attending the Town’s events, visiting schools, opening shops, attending society’s AGMs — the chain of office is normally worn without the robes.

After the Houghton Regis Town Council decision was made, Alan Winter invited reactions from past mayors, and those of neighbouring towns.

Why was the decision made?

Cllr Joanna Hillyard, a councillor representing Parkside said, "As Houghton Regis is growing into one of the largest towns in the UK, part of the Town Vision in this term it was suggested and discussed to raise the profile of not only Houghton Regis, but also the fact that the Town has a Mayor who is proud to represent the town and its residents.”

Cllr Hillyard continued, "So much negativity surrounds Houghton Regis and the words 'social deprivation' are often used when describing this amazing town. Little is made about the large scale community feel and friendliness of the people that live here. People that are ready and willing to stand up for what they believe in and protect its sense of history and place in Bedfordshire, whilst also standing proud next to other local towns in its own right. Houghton Regis is moving into the future at a great rate of knots with the new roads as well as all the developments, and the Town Council can lead the way in social pride with a nod to heritage and history which is vital not to forget."

"Robes for the Mayor are one of many things within the Town Vision designed to raise the profile of the town at the start of this new journey into the future."

Do you welcome the decision?

Cllr Tony Swain, currently town councillor for Tithe Farm, "You would have gathered from the Council meeting that I along with the Labour Group were against this purchase.  I will state that I have never been approached by residents with a request such as this."

"It should be realised that spending during the 2017—2018 year is planned to be some 30% higher than what was spent 2015 to 2016. The Labour Group considers that monies should be spent on the needs of residents and not the wants of individuals."

Cllr Liz Jones, mayor of Dunstable 2015—16, "I am pleased they have taken this decision to help recognise the role of Town Mayor further in Houghton Regis."

David Hill, a past mayor of Houghton Regis, "I am looking at this from the perspective that the Town will be growing quite rapidly in the coming years and as such the role and duties of the Mayor will be increasing. The Robe and Hat are items that raise the status of a Mayor and Council in the Community, especially on ceremonial occasions. Let us not forget a Mayor is an ambassador to the town, he or she dressed in Mayoral Robes creates a positive image and this is all important these days."

Mayor of Dunstable, Cllr Hollick, 2016/17 in his robes.

Cllr Peter Hollick, mayor of Dunstable 2016—17, "When one does appear in public in the robes the Mayor of course does stand out — for example when taking the salute at the march past on the occasion of the Remembrance Day Service — and generally any comments are positive. The tricorn hat has not been worn over recent years and neither does the Town Clerk wear his gown, let alone the wig!"

"On those occasions where the robes are worn in public I think it is a mark that the Mayor is the first citizen of the Town and the robes help to identify the Mayor as such. I wonder if Houghton Regis might one day think about purchasing a mace unless they already have one. The Mace is another story!"

Lynda Walmsley, a past mayor of Houghton Regis, "I am always for upping Houghton Regis's profile, and therefore wish the council well in this decision, but always hoping that this is for the town, not to make the Mayor or council feel more important. It is always good to move forward and create new traditions."

Do mayor's not wearing robes feel out of place?

Cllr Stephen Cotter, the Mayor of Leighton Linslade 2016/17, "During my mayoral year I have been to a number of events where the mayors are wearing robes, but have never felt out of place. The robes do add an element of theatre to the event, but can appear extravagant in this modern era. The Lord Mayor of London looks fine but I'm not so sure about the mayor of Leighton Linslade."

Cllr Tony Swain, a past mayor of Houghton Regis "I never felt out of place as the only times robes were worn by Mayors was on the inaugural meeting and at Full Town Council. Robes were never worn at other times when I was Mayor."

Cllr Mark Smith, a past mayor of Ampthill Town Council, "As Mayor of Ampthill from 2005 to 2006 the main thing was that you dressed smartly and wore the chain of office when representing the Council. We've never seen the necessity for Mayoral Robes, as we try to keep mayoral expenses to a minimum as we are mindful that this is our council tax-payers money!"

David Hill, "I always wore a business suite to all my ceremonies and events and so on. I never felt out of place, there were not many Mayors at the time I was in Office that had Robes, although I was aware that Dunstable and Luton Mayors had them."

Lynda Walmsley, "Being Mayor for me was all about Houghton Regis, not my appearance; however I always did my utmost to look as smart as possible. Wearing the chain of office always made me feel that people looked at my role more respectfully; however most of the events I attended did not require robes anyway. "

"The year I was honoured to represent Houghton Regis I was very fortunate to work with many town Mayors who treated me and all other Mayors equally, often inviting me to events outside of my formal duties. I do realise that often the town's folk of most places I visited, were very impressed with the robes worn — I think they perceived these Mayors as more important —  however I never felt inferior, finding the more I was able to chat to as many as possible, explaining the role of Mayor, the less the robes mattered."

Do you foresee any ongoing problems with the robes? Size, or cost for example?

Cllr Tony Swain, "The main problem would be additional costs as a number of robes would be needed, one size will not fit all, they would also need to be repaired and cleaned. I do not feel storage would be a problem."

Cllr Liz Jones, "Dunstable has two sets of robes, one for short people and one for tall. I wore the short ones. There is the hat — however I did not wear it. I held it as part of the regalia for my Civic Service. The robes are cleaned infrequently as they are not heavily used. They are stored carefully."

Cllr Peter Hollick, "The robes are quite heavy but on a cold November day (Remembrance) the warmth is welcome! One does require someone to help pin the chain of office onto the robes. Otherwise there is no particular problem wearing them.

Members of the public commented on the proposal back in January on our Facebook Page. Most comments were unfavourable towards this expenditure. Those comments can be reviewed on this link. Has your opinion changed after reading this article? Please comment below.