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Posts Tagged ‘London Guildhall’

IMG_0550bReaders 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. 

guildhall library

guildhall library london

Treats in store

guildhall library london

guildhall library london

guildhall library london

guildhall library london

Pic: M Paterson

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cart marking 2011Today saw the ancient cart-marking ceremony which takes place at the Guildhall every year. It is held by the Worshipful Company of Carmen, who represent hauliers, public transport and other commercial road vehicles. From medieval times, commercial vehicles were limited by number within the City and licensed with a brass plaque. In modern times, this became impractical but the ceremony is still undertaken each year, involving about 50 vehicles, ancient and modern. It involves the Lord Mayor of London or his representative branding a letter on a plank of wood on the side of each vehicle. This year’s letter is “T”. Some of the carts are modern monsters by the likes of Scania. But most are historical vehicles, including horse and carriage, buses, steam traction engines, taxis and lorries. For added novelty value we had a fork lift truck.

Much fur and scarlet livery was in evidence as the Lord Mayor’s representative, Lord Levene, did the honours. The vehicles were immaculate and the whole ceremony was a load of fun.

cart marking 2011

cart marking 2011

The prettiest of the buses.

cart marking 2011

cart marking 2011

cart marking 2011

A steam powered lorry from the 1930s. Very quiet, not too smoky, smelled lovely.

cart marking 2011

Monty’s Roller.

cart marking 2011

Cockney geezer. This fellow ostentatiously lit a ciggy before presenting himself to the dignitaries. Top man.

cart marking 2011

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On Saturday I made my first foray inside Guildhall during its biennial celebration: London Maze.  I haven’t got to the bottom of the name of this event, nothing to do with mazes. London Amaze would perhaps be more appropriate because this is what the old building does.

Dating from 1411, Guildhall has had to be repaired and much of it rebuilt over the years. It has suffered terribly from the obvious: the Great Fire and the Blitz. The roof of its Great Hall has been remodelled and replaced at least three times. It has been added to, most noticably by a grand entrance by George Dance the Younger in 1788 and the Guildhall Art Gallery (strictly speaking, next door) in the 1990s.  Fortunately, these works have been conducted sympathetically and skilfully by some of our best architects, men such as Dance and in the Victorian period, Sir Horace Jones. So it retains its essentially medieval character; the untrained eye would not realise how relatively little of the original 1411 fabric remains.

The greatest modern addition to the Guildhall is more a discovery than an addition, for it pre-dates the building by well over a millennium. When the site was being excavated for the new art gallery, ancient foundations were discovered. They turned out to be London’s Roman amphitheatre, one of the largest in the Empire. This delayed work on the gallery in order for the archaeologists to do their stuff. An excellent decision was taken rather than to re-inter the find, instead to retain it in its own space and turn it into a full-blown visitor feature.

So what is the Guildhall? It’s the town hall for the City of London and headquarters of the City of London Corporation. The Guildhall complex (as distinct from the old hall itself), hosts the administrative offices of the corporation plus the modern Guildhall library is one of the leading archives of London’s history, housing millions of records, images, art, old documents, pamphlets, books and newspapers. Following centuries of tradition, the Guildhall is still frequently used for ceremonial banquets.

The pictures below give but a tiny flavour of what the Guildhall is all about. The next opportunity for a comprehensive explore will be Open House London, 17 and 18 September.

london guildhall

London Guildhall (1411) featuring George Dance the Younger entrance hall (1788)

london guildhall

The great hall, crammed with London Maze booths.

london guildhall

Monument to Pitt the Younger. Others are dedicated to Nelson and Wellington

london guildhall

The crypt.

london guildhall

The crypt. One of six 20C stained glass windows, this one dedicated to Chaucer.

london guildhall

The remains of Londons Roman amphitheatre.

london guildhall

Surviving 15C statues from the medieval Guildhall.

london guildhall

Only surviving Stuart era coat of arms from a London church, this one rescued from St Michael Bassishaw (1699, a Wren church)

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