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Yesterday I went along to three exhibitions by City of London institutions which opened recently. All are well worth visiting; all are free.

Guildhall Art Gallery: Sublime Symmetry
This exhibition features the works of William De Morgan, the late 19th century London ceramicist, friend and collaborator of William Morris, GF Watts and many others. We are long-standing fans of De Morgan. The closure of a dedicated gallery in Wandsworth some years ago tragically meant that a huge collection of his work, which is owned by the De Morgan Foundation, has been kept behind closed doors. It’s important therefore to do all you can to get to this show. The theme is De Morgan’s background in mathematics, how that meshed with his interest in Islamic symmetical forms and from there informed his decorative work. The artist’s father and brother were both celebrated mathemeticians. Augustus De Morgan was the founding Professor of Mathematics at UCL, friend and correspondent of Ada Lovelace among others, and clearly a warm and funny character. It felt good to meet him. But of course, the stars of the show are De Morgan’s sumptuous, exquisite works. Vases, bowls, dishes, tiles all beautifully decorated with figures from nature and myth.
This runs until 28 October.

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Guildhall Library: Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers
More a display than a full blown exhibition, this is the latest in the library’ series which features the City’s livery companies. This year celebrates the 450th anniversary of this company’s first Charter, granted by Elizabeth I 1568, although the company can trace its origins back to 1416. We are shown many objects from its collection, well complemented by items from the library as well. This includes probably my favourite, the so-called “Breeches” Bible from 1589, which was used for the administration of oaths. It is, of course, a late generation English bible before the advent of the Authorised Version (1611) and furhermore is the only example of a chained book in the library’s collection.  In addition we have a trowel (of course), ledgers, ordnances and minute books, a loving cup and a portrait miniature of its most famous member, the playwright Ben Jonson who was a bricklayer before he made it big in the London theatre.
Runs until 31 August.

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The ‘Breeches’ Bible, 1598.

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Ben Jonson’s overdue subscription recorded as paid.

London Metropolitan Archives: Picturing Forgotten London
What I love about the LMA exhibitions – and this one is no exception – is that you see historical images that you’ve never seen before. Not one. This is remarkable considering the hundreds of London history books out there, not to mention what’s online. To choose one example, I thought I’d seen everything on frost fairs: not so!

The headline title is a broad topic indeed which features not forgotten London necessarily, but a London which simply no longer exists, whether the obvious things such a buildings, but also professions, animals, forms of government, everyday life, religion, commerce, housing, transport, technology, sport, food and welfare. The images which bring these themes to life – whether maps, engravings or photographs – are clearly heavily researched astutely chosen.

Warmly recommended. Runs until 31 August.

© London Met Archives 28160 Frost Fair low_500

London’s last frost fair, 1814.

By the time this print was published, just few days later, the ice had melted, and the fair gone forever. London Bridge can be seen in the distance.

© London Met Archives 32422 Archway low_500

Rural Archway, 1841.

A winding lane with barns and a farmhouse. It is hard to imagine London’s built-up suburbs as open country but the last farms in the area only disappeared in the early twentieth century.

© London Met Archives 305674 St Pancras low_500

Commercial warehousing, buildings and shops in front of St Pancras Station, 1871.

St. Pancras station opened in 1868 but the hotel and grand entrance were not completed until 1876. Older buildings were demolished as part of the project, including this row of houses and shops which stood nearby. It’s hard to imagine this picturesque scene on one of the busiest parts of Euston Road today.

© London Met Archives 233962 Skylon_500

South Bank, 1952. Featuring County Hall and the Skylon.

This seemingly free-floating steel structure stood outside the Dome of Discovery on the main Festival of Britain site on the South Bank. With no particular function or message, ‘Skylon’ was nonetheless much loved. It was removed shortly after the closing of the Festival.

 

 

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2015 saw our busiest events programme ever, at least 43 in all. The main theme was livery and livery halls: we visited ten altogether. Highlights included our annual lecture in September; our Samuel Pepys day out in the City and Greenwich in November; tours of Fuller’s brewery and Hogarth’s House next door; and our unforgettable Christmas visit to the Ancient House in Walthamstow: magical. These images represent some of our outings, by no means all. Somehow I failed to take pictures at our three History in the Pub talks evenings, which focussed on Sport, Policing London and the history of Print in London.

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8 January. College of Arms. Tour and talk by the Windsor Herald.

Merchant Taylors' Hall

16 January. Merchant Taylors’ Hall.

cutlers' hall

24 February. Cutlers’ Hall.

drapers' hall

6 March. Drapers’ Hall.

Stationers' Hall.

17 April. Stationers’ Hall.

21 April. Crossrail archaeological dig near Liverpool Street.

21 April. Crossrail archaeological dig near Liverpool Street.

derelict london paul talling

24 April. Derelict London walk with Paul Talling.

20 May. Heraldry and Regalia of the City of London. Talk by Paul Jagger at Information Technologists' Hall.

20 May. Heraldry and Regalia of the City of London. Talk by Paul Jagger at Information Technologists’ Hall.

5 June. Vintners' Hall.

5 June. Vintners’ Hall.

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12 June. Exploring Brixton: The Prison and the Mill.

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12 July. Walking tour of historic Woolwich with Laurence Scales.

 

24 July. Armourers' and Braziers' Hall.

24 July. Armourers’ and Braziers’ Hall.

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1 August. 300 Anniversary of Doggett’s Coat and Badge.

7 September. Skinners' Hall.

7 September. Skinners’ Hall.

On 9 September we had our second annual lecture, once again at Gresham College’s wonderful Tudor period Barnard’s Inn Hall. In the 600th anniversary year of Agincourt, we heard Professor Caroline Barron talk about Henry V and his relationship with the City of London and its institutions.

19 September. Behind the scenes at Wood Street police station.

19 September. Behind the scenes at Wood Street police station.

26 September. History and Technology Conference at the National Archives, Kew.

26 September. History and Technology Conference at the National Archives, Kew.

30 November. Tallow Chandlers' Hall.

30 November. Tallow Chandlers’ Hall.

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23 October. Pub tour on the trail of pub architect, Nowell Parr.

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12 December. Christmas cheer at the Ancient House, Walthamstow.

Finally, let’s not forget our monthly pub meet-ups on the first Wednesday of each month. This relaxed and convivial event is open to all, not just LH Members. There is no agenda, just friendship. Typically, about 30 folks turn up through the course of the evening.

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We have an equally busy programme in the pipeline for 2016. Please check our Events page for the latest. Some are exclusive to LH Members, who also get preferential pricing on most of the rest. Our Members themselves organise some outstanding events such as Georgian Dining Academy and the monthly Salon for the City for which generous discounts are available to LH Members..

 

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Review of our beadle-led visit to Merchant Taylors’ Hall: a guest post by London Historians Member Steve Cook.

DSC07025cIt was a cold day but a warm welcome from Beadle Kevin McGetrick at Merchant Taylors’ Hall on Friday 16th January. The Hall has occupied the same site on Threadneedle Street since 1397 and – despite the Great Fire and the Blitz – still boasts its original medieval stone walls, most clearly visible in the spectacular double height kitchens (definitely up to modern catering standards but still essentially medieval, complete with a witch’s seat) and again in the crypt of St. Martin Outwich beneath the beadle’s office. On the walls of the reception area are two ‘Pall Clothes’, last used at the time of the Stuarts to cover the coffin at a Master’s funeral. Irreplaceable and therefore priceless, but still insured for £100 thousand apiece.

The Kitchen.

The Kitchen.

Crypt of St Martin Outwich (demolished 1874)

Crypt of St Martin Outwich (demolished 1874)

Funeral pall cloth. Over 400 years old.

Funeral pall cloth. Over 400 years old.

Originally ‘The Fraternity of St John the Baptist’ (the Baptist continues to be the Company’s patron saint) the Company received its first royal charter in 1327 being incorporated by a royal charter of 1408 as ‘The Company of Tailors and Linen-Armourers’. The ‘linen armour’ being the gambersons or padded clothes worn beneath metal armour. ‘The Company of Merchant Taylors’ came into being with the royal charter of 1503 and since 1484 the Company has ranked sixth (normally in odd numbered years) or seventh (in even numbered years) among the Great Twelve, alternating with the Skinners at Easter. Despite their earlier rivalry, we were assured that relationships now are cordial and co-operative. the Hall

Like the company itself, the hall has undergone many changes since its medieval foundation.

The magnificent Dining Hall, Parlour and Drawing Room are part of the post-war reconstruction. The Dining Hall is still the same structure as it was before the Great Fire and the mahogany panelling that conceals the medieval stonework is said to have been obtained immediately after the war – at very reasonable rates – from the Bank of England. (Between them Peter Twist and the Beadle concluded that it is probably the taller than any other livery company’s dining hall!). Despite its height, the hall is overlooked by the King’s Gallery, named for James I who was kept separate from his subjects below, either to save him from the smell of them [vice-versa probably! – Ed], or to protect them from the sight of James trying to eat around his over-sized tongue. Either way, the Gallery was subsequently glazed so that the occupants could see – and be seen by – the diners below.

The Dining Hall from the Kng's Gallery.

The Dining Hall from the Kng’s Gallery.

The 18th-century Chinese wallpaper in the Drawing Room was purchased at auction in 1957, still in its original export boxes! Ingeniously, it isn’t pasted onto the walls but mounted on removable panels.

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The Court Room boasts two Company crests, one Catholic, topped by a virgin and child; the other Protestant , topped by the lamb in glory.

The cloister was enclosed as recently as 1927, without apparent detriment to the delightful courtyard it surrounds.

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It is thought that there have been no working tailors in membership since the end of the 17th century. The Company is now a social and charitable organisation with a powerful interest in education.

Merchant Taylors’ School, founded in 1561 by Richard Hilles, Master of the Company, now a fee-paying public school educating 800 boys is the best-known foundation; but the Company also has interests in schools in Crosby, Wallingford, Ashwell, Wolverhampton, Foyle and Edinburgh. The charities that currently enjoy support from the Company continue the education theme: Killforce which uses ex-military instructors and largely practical training exercises to help students attain recognised qualifications; Westside School an ‘Alternative Provision Free School’ for young people excluded from a mainstream school or who are at risk of exclusion; support for the bursary programme at Pembroke College Cambridge; and XLP, a Church of England based youth project that works right in the heart of some of the most divided communities in Inner London.

At the end of our tour there was little to do other than thank Kevin, Mike and Augusta; and reflect on the thought that the Company’s motto “Concordia Parvae Res Crescunt” (“In Harmony Small Things Grow”) might just as well apply to London Historians!

Happy Historians

Happy Historians

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There are much nicer photos than mine of this event on LH Member Andrea Liu’s Flickr album, here.

Livery Halls are one of our main themes of 2015. The idea is that we’ll visit at least one a month. Next up is Cutlers’ Hall on 24th February. You can book places via Eventbrite here.

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It’s a bit late in the day for a wee review on this, for it’s been on for two months already, and finishes on 23 September. But I managed to get there last weekend and was so bowled over by it that I’d urge you not to miss it. On show at the Guildhall Art Gallery (a favourite of mine already), the exhibition comprises selected treasure from a wide selection of the City of London’s 100-plus Livery Companies. These are items which live behind closed doors in Livery halls and which we the general public rarely get to see. The range in eclectic and all the bits are pleasing in their own way. So we have portraits of worthies – typically masters – office holders’ regalia, furniture and decorative objects, commemorative and celebratory pieces. Just to mention one item at random, a taxidermed ram’s head which serves as a snuff-box. One of my favourites has to be a display object for the 1851 Great Exhibition by the Cutlers’ Company which comprises 1,851 blades, all fanned out. See picture below. We have a coat and badge from the Watermen’s Company, the prize of Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race from 1903 which I wrote about recently. The piece de resistance, however, is undoubtedly Holbein’s group portrait of Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons, lent to the show by that particular Company.

Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker Guildhall Art Gallery

Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons, panel, by Hans Holbein. Collection of Company of Barbers.

Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker

Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons (detail), panel, by Hans Holbein. Collection of Company of Barbers.

Butchers Bakers Candlestick Makers.

Cutlers Blade Tree, 1851, made by apprentices of John Weiss and Sons. © Mr G Bond.

Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker Guildhall Art Gallery

Doggett’s Coat and Badge prize from 1903. Collection of Company of Watermen.

Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker: 850 Years of Livery Company Treasures runs until 23 September. Entrance is £5, £3 concessions and Free to Art Fund members and other select groups. More information here. 

On leaving the gallery, we were accosted by a steward who told us that the Great Hall in the Guildhall was open if we’d care to take a look. We did care to take a look and had it completely to ourselves. Not sure if it’s open to the public every Sunday, but what a treat.

The great hall. London Guildhall.

The Great Hall. London Guildhall.

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