Readers will know that I’m quite the fan of the Guildhall. This position was strongly reinforced yesterday when I had the massive privilege of a tour of the Library with its Principal Librarian, Peter Ross.
The Guildhall Library was founded in the 1420s thanks to an endowment by that man, Richard Whittington, the wealthy Lord Mayor of London. It was, of course, a manuscript library to begin with, until print technology entered the picture at the turn of the 16C.
Then disaster struck in the late 1540s when scalliwag of history the Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector, decided to help himself to all of the collection, transporting it to his palace in three large carts, as recorded by John Stow. There is no record of what became of the collection thereafter. One would like to think that his demise at the executioner’s block was some pay-back for overdue books.
And that was the end of that until a library at the Guildhall was revived in 1820s. A little later a purpose-build home was constructed in 1870 to the East of Guildhall, designed by Horace Jones, the Tower Bridge man. Luckily it took just the one hit during the Blitz, although the books had been removed to safety.
In the 1960s the current library was built as an extension to the West of the Guildhall. Among much else, it houses the records of about 80 of the City’s 108 Livery Companies; records of Lloyds of London; records public companies within the Square Mile; admin records from the Stock Exchange. Plus, of course, many thousands of books and manuscripts, posters, broadsides and miscellaneous ephemera going back centuries. Other functions of the Library are materials conservation and protection, and it has a budget to acquire any historical printed matter relating to the City which comes onto the market.
It is the largest library in the world devoted to a single city.
The Guildhall Library is open to all and welcomes the opportunity to help members of the public with their research. It also hosts small exhibitions and displays (currently there is one featuring objects from the Worshipful Company of Bowyers (ie bow-makers)). There is a programme of talks by academic historians and authors.
My sincere thanks to Peter Ross and Anne-Marie Nankivell for their hospitality. I’ll explore the possibility of arranging a similar thing for a group of LH Members. Keep an eye on the web-site!
Except where stated, all pictures by Anne-Marie Nankivell.