As the Guildhall celebrates it’s 600th anniversary let us look back in history and learn a little more. Since the 12th century, Guildhall has been the City powerhouse. In an era when the Lord Mayor of London rivalled the monarch for influence and prestige, this was where he and the ruling merchant class held court, fine-tuned the laws and trading regulations that helped create London’s wealth.
The Guildhall London – a rare example of medieval civic architecture and a Grade I listed building. The word ‘guildhall’ is said to derive from the Anglo-Saxon ‘gild‘ meaning payment, so it was probably a place where citizens would pay their taxes.
Today, 800 years on, Guildhall is still home of the City of London Corporation, and acts as a grand setting for glittering banquets in honour of visiting Heads of State and other dignitaries, royal occasions, and receptions for major historical anniversaries.
The area around Bank of the Square Mile of London must be one of the most historically important areas of London, an area that dates back well over 2000 years to Roman times and before. I often visit this area, an area filled with treasures of historical importance, many of which are walked past without even realising their significance.
Previously I wrote about the Lord Mayor’s Show, a show that has its roots in an 800 year old tradition. The Lord Mayor leaves from the Guildhall and travels an ancient route through the city bearing the Lord Mayor to his London residence and place of work; Mansion House.
The City of London has been governed from the area occupied by the Guildhall for more than 800 years. The present Guildhall was built between 1411 and 1430, and evidence suggests that a civic hall has stood here since the late 13th century; it is the only secular stone structure dating from before 1666 still standing in the City. Local government developed here and its pattern has served as a model for many cities and towns. Remains of a long-lost Roman amphitheatre discovered in 1987 underneath what is now Guildhall Yard indicate that the site of Guildhall was significant as far back as Roman times.
At the entrance to the main hall stands a fabulous ornate clock of gigantic proportions, an intricate affair of glass and fine gold engravings. The current halls west crypt is thought to be part of a late-13th century building. The crypt, porch and medieval walls have twice emerged unscathed from disastrous fires; the 1666 Great Fire of London and during WW2 in 1940, during which time monuments, windows and galleries were damaged and the famous statues of Gog and Magog were destroyed in a single night of the blitz.
Gog and Magog; giants who represent the legendary pre-Christian conflict between ancient Britons and Trojan invaders; a struggle which resulted in the founding of Albion’s capital city, New Troy, on whose site London is said to stand. These figures of Gog and Magog were destroyed by enemy action in December 1940, and replaced in 1953 through the generosity of Alderman Sir George Wilkinson; Lord Mayor 1940-1941
The Great Hall – the Court of Common Council, the City Corporation’s decision making body, meets in the Great Hall. It is also the setting for magnificent ceremonies, including some banquets, the annual installation of the Lord Mayor of the City of London and sheriffs, key speeches and national festivals. The Great Hall is the third largest civic hall in England, where royalty and state visitors have been entertained down the centuries. Today Guildhall still plays an important role in the City. It provides a venue for meetings of the City of London’s elected assembly, the Court of Common Council and for the Honorary Freedom of the City ceremony.
The oak-panelled roof is the 5th to rest upon the medieval walls. The windows were restored after 1940 and bear the names of all the Lord Mayors and their year of office.
Below the battlements, at the level of the upper row of windows, is enriched by a frieze or band of decorations, showing the Arms of England, the City and the 12 Great Livery Companies of the City of London.
The 12 companies are:
Mercers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Skinners, Merchant Tailors, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners, Clothworkers
A tablet on the north wall records some of the state trials that have taken place within Guildhall, including the trials for High Treason of Lady Jane Grey in 1553, and Archbishop Cranmer.
The porch, the original entrance to Guildhall was built between 1425 and 1430. The imposing medieval hall has stained glass windows and several monuments to national heroes including Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill.
The precinct: the new west wing was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott Son and partner; completed in 1974 it houses the modern Guildhall Library, Guildhall Library bookshop, the Clock Museum, administrative offices and committee rooms.
A wonderful and worthy addition to any tour of 3 Days in London.