The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 26 From St Paul's Cathedral to the Bank of England


Previous - Next

At the end of the Guildhall Yard, facing us as we proceed, stands the Guildhall, or Hall of the Corporation of the City of London, the present appearance of which is substantially due to the 18th century, design of George Dance, the City architect. Over the porch is the City coat-of-arms, with the motto 'Domine dirige nos.' The date of the original Guildhall, facing Aldermanbury, and perhaps extending over part of the present site, is unknown. The new and larger edifice, a little to the east of the older one, was erected between 1411 and 1435. The remains of this period include the gatehouse or porch (1425-30) and the crypt. The roof of this building was destroyed and the walls damaged by the fire of 1666, but it was immediately restored, probably by Wren, who replaced the old open roof with a flat ceiling. In 1789 a complete restoration of the gatehouse (i.e. the front building seen from Guildhall Yard) was undertaken by George Dance, Junior. The east wing was removed by Sir Horace Jones in 1868, but in 1909-10 Mr. Sydney Perks, F.S.A., rebuilt it and restored Dance's facade in its entirety. The tame pigeons which haunt the yard and building, like those of St. Mark's at Venice, are fed daily about noon. A 'Guide to the Guildhall,' compiled by Sir J. J. Baddeley (1921; 1 /), may be obtained from the attendant in the Great Hall. The GREAT HALL (152 feet long, 49+ feet wide, and 89 feet high), which we first enter, was restored by Sir Horace Jones in 1866-70 and provided with a new open timber roof. The hall (open to the public 10-5) is now used for municipal meetings 'in common hall,' public meetings, the election of the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, the 'Court of Husting,' and the state banquets and entertainments of the Corporation. The most important of these last is the banquet given on November 9th, by the new Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, to the members of the Cabinet and other important citizens. This is attended by several hundred guests, and the speeches made by the Ministers are often of great political significance. Almost all the royalties of Europe have been feted in this hall, and many eminent statesmen, soldiers, and sailors have here received the freedom of the City. At an earlier period the hall was used also for important trials, such as those of Anne Askew; the poet Earl of Surrey (1547); and Lady Jane Grey and her husband (1553). The stained glass in the large east window was presented by the people of Lancashire in memory of the City's generosity during the Cotton Famine of 1862-65. The windows in the north and south walls, with scenes of city history, date in their present form from 1864-70. In the south-west corner is a two-light 15th century window, uncovered in 1909; this is the only old window in the Guildhall, and still retains some of its original iron-work. In 1914 the walls were scraped clear of paint, revealing the line between the blackened stonework dating from before the Fire and that of a later time (the only existing trace of the Fire's action). By the north wall are monuments to Nelson (by James Smith; inscription by Sheridan), Wellington (by John Bell), and Lord Chatham (by the elder Bacon; inscription by Burke); by the south wall are memorials to William Pitt (by J. G. Bubb; inscription by Canning) and Lord Mayor Beckford (by F. J. Moore). It is doubtful whether the address to George III., on the last, was ever delivered. In the gallery at the west end (added by Jones in 1866) are two uncouth wooden figures, 14+ feet high, carved by Captain Richard Saunders in 1708 and known by the Biblical names of Gog (left) and Magog (right). They replace two older wickerwork figures, formerly carried in the Lord Mayor's procession and destroyed in the Great Fire. Similar figures of giants (known also as Colbrand and Brandamore or as Corineus and Gogmagog) were stationed at the city boundary in the 15-16th century on the occasion of a sovereign's state entry, with addresses of welcome in their hands. High up on the walls are the banners of the sixteen chief livery companies. On the north wall, at the west end of the hall, is a tablet calling attention to the 'standards of length' inserted in the floor. The door beneath the ladies' gallery, on the north wall, leads to a staircase descending to the Crypt and the Museum. An archway on the north side of the Great Hall leads to the COMMON COUNCIL CHAMBER (shown on request when not in use; gallery open to the public when Council sits), a richly decorated dodecagonal apartment constructed by Sir Horace Jones in 1884. The inscription on a pillar to the left of the Lord Mayor's chair commemorates the old council chamber of 1614, in which Charles I. demanded the surrender of Hampden and his four companions. Beyond the council chamber is the ALDERMEN'S COURT ROOM, dating (probably) from 1670-80, with a painted ceiling by Sir William Thornhill (1727). The royal arms over the Lord Mayor's seat include the arms of Hanover, with the 'electoral bonnet.' The building adjoining the Aldermen's Room and fronting Church Alley (erected by Mr. Sydney Perks in 1908) contains the Rating Offices and the New Court Room, used by the Lord Mayor's Court (under the Recorder of London), and by the Licensing Magistrates.