THE ADVOCATE 623
VOL. 77 PART 4 JULY 2019
A ND MISCELLANEA
By David Roberts, Q.C.*
BLACK ROD v. THE BLACK BIRDS
You could be forgiven for believing that Black Rod is a member of the cast
of one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas, caparisoned in a uniform that a
pantomime impresario might design. But it is a historical fact that the first
Black Rod was one Walter Whitehouse, appointed, in the reign of Edward II,
by Royal Letters Patent, in 1361. The full title of this ancient functionary is
The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. The title derives from Black Rod’s staff
of office, an ebony staff surmounted by a golden lion, which Black Rod carries
on occasions of pomp and ceremony.
Black Rod’s official duties include usher and doorkeeper at meetings of
the most Noble Order of the Garter, the personal attendant on the Sovereign
when in attendance in the Lords, secretary to the Lord Chamberlain and as
Sergeant-at-Arms in charge of admission of strangers to the House of Lords.
Black Rod, or Black Rod’s deputy, the Yeoman Usher, is present when the
House of Lords is in session. It is Black Rod who conducts the arrest of any
Lord guilty of breach of privilege or any other Parliamentary offence such
as contempt or disorder. Black Rod’s equivalent in the House of Commons
is the Sergeant-at-Arms. Black Rod is responsible for organizing ceremonial
events and is responsible for the logistics of such events.
Of significance to the black birds, however, is the fact that Black Rod is
responsible for maintaining the buildings and services of the Palace of Westminster.
In effect, Black Rod is the property manager of the parliamentary
buildings and, more to the point, its gardens.
The current holder of this auspicious office is one Sarah Clarke, who is
the first woman to hold the title and office in its 650-year existence. Sarah
Clarke had previously been employed by the All England Lawn Tennis and
* David Roberts, Q.C., is a former editor of the Advocate and has sources that not even Woodward or Bernstein could match.