Guildhall, London’s Ceremonial and Administrative Center

Guildhall

Guildhall

Guildhall is a building in the City of London, off Gresham and Basinghall streets, in the wards of Bassishaw and Cheap. It has been used as a town hall for several hundred years, and is still the ceremonial and administrative centre of the City of London and its Corporation. The term Guildhall refers both to the whole building and to its main room, which is a medieval-style great hall. Guildhall complex houses the offices of the City of London Corporation and various public facilities. The building is traditionally referred to as Guildhall never “the” Guildhall.

Guildhall should not be confused with London City Hall, which is the administrative centre for Greater London, of which the City of London is only a geographically small part.
The nearest London Underground stations are Bank, St Paul’s and Moorgate.

Roman, Saxon and Medieval
The great hall is believed to be on a site of an earlier Guildhall (one possible derivation for the word ‘guildhall’ is the Anglo-Saxon ‘gild’, meaning payment, with a “gild-hall” being where citizens would pay their taxes). During the Roman period, it was the site of an amphitheatre, the largest in Britannia, partial remains of which are on public display in the basement of Guildhall Art Gallery and the outline of whose arena is marked with a black circle on the paving of the courtyard in front of the hall. Indeed, the siting of the Saxon Guildhall here was probably due to the amphitheatre’s remains. Excavations by MOLAS in 2000 at the entrance to Guildhall Yard exposed remains of the great 13th-century gatehouse built directly over the southern entrance to the Roman amphitheatre, which raises the possibility that enough of the Roman structure survived to influence the siting not only of the gatehouse and Guildhall itself but also of the church of St Lawrence Jewry whose strange alignment may shadow the elliptical form of the amphitheatre beneath. The first documentary reference to a London Guildhall is dated 1128 and the current hall’s west crypt may be part of a late-13th century building. Legendary British history made Guildhall’s site the site of the palace of Brutus of Troy.

1441–present
The current building was begun in c. 1411, and it is the only stone building not belonging to the Church to have survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. The complex contains several other historic interiors besides the hall, including the large medieval crypts, the old library, and the print room, all of which are now used as function rooms.

Trials in this hall have included those of Anne Askew (Protestant martyr), Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Lady Jane Grey, Guildford Dudley, Thomas Cranmer, Henry Peckham, John Daniel, John Felton (Catholic), Roderigo Lopez, Henry Garnet (in connection with the Gunpowder Plot), Sir Gervase Helwys (in connection with the Overbury plot) and it contains memorials to Pitt the Elder, Pitt the Younger, Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, William Beckford, and Winston Churchill. It also played a part in Jack Cade’s 1450 rebellion. On 16 November 1848 the pianist Frédéric Chopin made his last public appearance on a concert platform here.

The Great Hall did not completely escape damage in 1666; it was partially restored – with a flat roof – in 1670. The present grand entrance (the east wing of the south front), in “Hindoostani Gothic,” was added in 1788 by George Dance (and restored in 1910). A more extensive restoration than that in 1670 was completed in 1866 by City of London architect Sir Horace Jones, who added a new timber roof in close keeping with the original. This replacement was destroyed during The Second Great Fire of London on the night of 29/30 December 1940, the result of a Luftwaffe fire-raid. It was replaced in 1954 during works designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

Present
The day-to-day administration of the City of London Corporation is now conducted from modern buildings immediately to the north of Guildhall, but Guildhall itself and the adjacent historic interiors are still used for official functions, and it is open to the public during the annual London Open House weekend. Guildhall Art Gallery was added to the complex in the 1990s. The Clockmakers’ Museum and Guildhall Library, a public reference library with specialist collections on London, which include material from the 11th century onwards, are also housed in the complex.
The marathon route of the 2012 Summer Olympics passed through Guildhall Yard.

Gog and Magog
Two giants, Gog and Magog, are associated with Guildhall. Legend has it that the two giants were defeated by Brutus and chained to the gates of his palace on the site of Guildhall. Carvings of Gog and Magog are kept in Guildhall and 7 foot high wicker effigies of them donated by the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers in 2007 lead the procession in the annual Lord Mayor’s Show.

An early version of Gog and Magog were destroyed in Guildhall during the Great Fire of London. They were replaced in 1708 by a large pair of wooden statues carved by Captain Richard Saunders. These giants, on whom the current versions are based, lasted for over two hundred years before they were destroyed in the Blitz. They, in turn, were replaced by a new pair carved by David Evans in 1953 and given to the City of London by Alderman Sir George Wilkinson, who had been Lord Mayor in 1940 at the time of the destruction of the previous versions.

Functions
Guildhall hosts many events throughout the year, the most notable one being the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, which is held in honour of the immediate-past Lord Mayor and is the first to be hosted by the new Lord Mayor of the City of London. In keeping with tradition, it is at this Banquet that the Prime Minister makes a major World Affairs speech. One of the last acts of the outgoing Lord Mayor is to present prizes at the City of London School prize day at the Guildhall. Other events include those of various law firms, award evenings for the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET), and the famous banquet for the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC). The Worshipful Company of Carmen holds its Cart-Marking ceremony in the courtyard each July.

The Guildhall complex in c.1805. The buildings on the right and left have not survived.

The Guildhall complex in c.1805. The buildings on the right and left have not survived.

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in British history, Georgian Era, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era, Victorian era and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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