The courtyard in front of Guildhall has its own tale to tell and to the east of the hall is the Guildhall Art Gallery.
The Guildhall Art Gallery (the orginal art gallery burned down during an air-raid in May 1941), is a ‘must visit’…… housing a fabulous collection of paintings one of which is one of Britain’s largest paintings: Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, September 1782 By John Singleton Copley Oil on canvas 1783-1791 214 inches by 297 inches
Book yourself on one of the frequent tours given by a very knowledgeable guide who provides a fascinating insight into the paintings on display. Some of them are so beautifully executed they look like photographs. The piece de resistance of course is the little known about Roman Amphitheatre below ground. 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. An important building in Roman times, London’s amphitheatre in its heyday, would’ve accommodated approximately 6,000 people at a time when the population of Londinium was only 20,000-30,000.
Recently excavated and now open for general viewing the area has been set up to incorporate the ruins of the amphitheatre as well as a recreation of what the amphitheatre would have looked like 2,000 years ago. During the excavations they discovered an original drainage ditch that contained a ladies leather thong, a gold triangular shaped earring with a pearl designed – for a pierced ear, as well as bones and tufts of fur. A reminder of the Gladitorial fights that took place in these amphitheatres where men and women were pitted not only against each other, but also against animals eg lions. The ruins show areas demarcated for fighters waiting to enter the arena, original walls and original sand and gravel used at the time to build the arena. This area, well below ground….20 feet below ground level offers an absolutely fascinating glimpse into Roman London.
An oval slate in the courtyard marks the spot where if you went straight down you would find the amphitheatre.
Also on the perimeter of the courtyard can be found St Lawrence Jewry,
so called because the original 12th century church stood on the eastern side of the city, then occupied by the Jewish community. That church, built in 1136 was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666. The building that replaced it was designed by Christopher Wren in 1680.
That church was almost completely destroyed by fire during 1940. It was restored in 1957 in the tradition of Wren’s building and is now the church of the Corporation of London. The interior of the church is just beautiful and well worth a visit to see the fabulous stained glass windows,
and the towering organ
Not too far from Guildhall I discovered hidden away behind some other buildings and through a huge wrought-iron gateway; the Grocer’s Company. I am quite simply unable to resist an open gate, or narrow passageway and have to investigate…..this usually leads to hidden treasures. In this instance I discovered the ‘Worshipful Company of Grocers’ still a very active and busy organisation.
The Guilds of London, now usually called the City Livery Companies are of great antiquity, their name itself being derived from the Anglo-Saxon Gildan “to pay”. These were voluntary associations formed originally for mutual protection, with religious, benevolent and social elements. Each guild was centered round a trade or craft and this arrangement was facilitated by the fact that the members of particular trades and crafts in London dwelt in the same locality.
With their growth in wealth and power the trade element became even more important than the religious one and their fraternties came to exercise a dominating influence in the regulation of trade, and in the government of the City. They have been described as “the rock upon which the life of the City was built, largely responsible for shaping the destiny of British commerce and enlarging the prestige of the City”.
One of the most important of the early City Guilds was that of the ‘Pepperers'; we hear of them first in 1180, when the Gilda Pipariorum is mentioned with others in the Pipe Rolls as being fined sixteen marks, as an illegal association – this is, for not having paid the King’s licence. In the early part of the reign of Edward III, the Guild of Pepperers disappears. It seems likely that some of its prominent members were ruined by the exaction of forced loans to enable the King to carry on his war with France. The earliest of records, written in Norman and French, in the archives of the Company, records the foundation of a Fraternity, which in due course grew into the Grocer’s Company.
The current Company of Grocers ‘Hall’, the 5th on its site since it was acquired in 1427 allowed the company to practise the ideals expressed in its early Ordinance, that it should be a “nursery of charities and a seminary of good citizens”. As it is still an active organisation, they do not have tours of the building.