Guildhall Great Hall – As things slowly get back to ‘normal’ and more people come into the City, we are very much looking forward to Guildhall’s Great Hall once again opening to the public.
When you train as a City of London Guide, you get to spend quite a bit of time learning about the Great Hall as it is the ceremonial centre of the City and is simply redolent with history. This is hardly surprising as it dates back to around 1430 and despite the ravages of the Great Fire of London and the Blitz, the lower levels of the walls – up to the level of the clerestory – still survive from the Medieval period, as do some of the original windows, made from slivers of horn. The crypts are also intact. This is what happens when you build your walls 5 feet thick. Kudos to the Master Stonemason, John Croxton.
When you first step inside the Guildhall Great Hall, you might well have the sensation of travelling back in time as, apart from Westminster Hall, there is no other secular building in London that is anything like as old and well-preserved. Of course it now has modern facilities such as electric lighting and heating but somehow it retains that mediaeval atmosphere and you can imagine how its majestic and imposing grandeur has added splendour to ceremonies and banquets over the centuries. This is where the very unique ‘Silent Ceremony’ sees each new Lord Mayor installed, where ‘heretics’ where brought to be tried and condemned to death, and where the Prime Minister addresses the Lord Mayor’s Banquet every year. Fans of classical music might also be interested to know that this was the last place where Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky played a concert.
Glancing down imperiously from the balcony of the Guildhall Great Hall, the statues of the mythical giants Gog and Magog replace two sets of earlier ones, the first destroyed in the Great Fire, and the second in the Blitz. You can also see replicas of these giants as part of the Lord Mayor’s Show, but rather than being carved from solid wood, the replicas are cleverly made from basketweave to make them light enough to carry
The names of every Lord Mayor of London (including the only two female ones, Mary Donaldson and Fiona Woolf) are preserved within the windows of the Guildhall Great Hall, in specially designed chevrons. The Royal Coats of Arms are in the windows too, showing within whose reign any Lord Mayor was in office. Similarly the Coats of Arms of all the City’s Livery Companies are displayed high up, in their order of rank. When you visit perhaps you might see how many you can name?
Statues of the City’s “great and the good”, look down from their pedestals. Judged by today’s standards, might people say that at least some of them seem neither great nor good? Well that’s another story. One thing for sure is that any visit to the Great Hall will be a feast for your eyes and your mind. Hundreds of years of music, speeches, ceremonies, banquets, war and total of 5 roofs. History at its best.
We’ll be keeping an eye out for when the City Corporation once again admits visitors to Guildhall and we’ll post an update on here and in the Newsletter so please do sign up to receive that. And we’ll be going back in ourselves to drink in that unparalleled atmosphere. We’ll hope to see you there.
Our Highlights of the City of London tour visits Guildhall Great Hall.