London: Medieval Guildhall

Aug 22nd, 2003, 11:34 AM
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London: Medieval Guildhall

Here's a free place off the normal tourist route that gives you a peek at what life was like in medieval London. It looks to be close to the Museum of London and a Wren church - St Lawrence Jewry.

Has anybody visited here or similar places in London? Are any other attractions close by?

The Guildhall in London has been the center of the City of London's government since medieval times, and it's used by the Lord Mayor for ceremonial duties.

It was completed about 1422, but only the porch, the crypt and the lower part of the great hall survive. The building was gutted in the Great Fire of London and again in World War II.

Inside are the shields and banners of the 100 Livery Companies, or guilds. Its windows record the names of every Lord Mayor of London since 1189. There are also monuments to such famous people as Wellington, Nelson, the two Pitts and Churchill.

It also has a Library with some very old manuscripts and a bookstore that specializes in London history. There is also a Clock Museum with the oldest collection specifically of watches and clocks in the world. The collection includes, at any one time, some 600 English and European watches, 30 clocks and 15 marine time keepers, together with a number of rare horological portraits.

It's free and located off Gresham Street which is North of Cheapside in the City of London. You can pick up a leaflet at the entrance which gives detailed info on what is inside.

The nearest Underground Stations are St. Pauls, Barbican, Bank and Mansion House. Open: daily 09:00-17:00, guided tours by arrangement with the Keeper's Office - Tel: 020 7606 3030 extension 1460

Aug 22nd, 2003, 12:00 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,682
I recently wrote about places near the Bank of England Museum, and that is so near the Guildhall that my reply will serve here, too.

To the west of the Bank along Lothbury is the fifteenth century Guildhall, seat of City government, and the seventh century churches of St Lawrence Jewry, both of which have lunchtime organ and other recitals that Time out magazine lists. To the northwest is the Museum of London, the only museum we have that surveys history from the jurassic to the present day. It makes a good opening visit before seeing attractions from particular centuries. To the west along Cheapside lie St Mary le Bow church, with vegetarian restaurant below it, and St Paul s Cathedral, again seventeenth century (the Great Fire raged here). South west are the foundations of the Roman temple of Mithras, and straight south, over the road, is the Lord Mayor s residence, Mansion House.

To the northeast along Threadneedle Street you come to St Helens and St Ethelburga s Bishopsgate, both medieval, and north of them to Liverpool Street Station, a loving reconstruction of Victorian gothic in great spans of glass and iron tracery, with beside it the wholly modern Broadgate square, good for pubs and coffee houses. South east and over Cornhill is a pattern of medieval streets and lanes, car-free, that make good walking among pubs and coffee houses: Pope s Head Alley, Lombard Street, Change Alley, Cowper?s Court, and over Birchin Lane to Ball, Castle and Bengal Courts, all leading to St Michael s Alley and Bell Inn Yard. (As you see, the names are pure Shakespeare). At Bell Inn Yard you can cross the road to Leadenhall Market, a glory of Victorian display, closed to traffic, with restaurants and gourmet shops, and a door which in the first Harry Potter film leads into the streets for shopping for wands and broomsticks.

Halls of the worshipful Livery Companies of the City stand all around, with their silver and other treasures saved from Adolf Hitler and their walls rebuilt to former splendour. They are open for pre-arranged group tours, but if you phone in advance you can learn whether they have such a tour in plan, and can join it.

Please write if I can help further. Welcome to London.

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ben_haines_london is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2003, 02:08 PM
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The Guildhall, for all that when it's open it's free, is probably the biggest single visitor disappointment of anything in The City.

However well reconstructed, it's mostly a fake. And, unlike Parliament,which was also rebuilt after WW2, it's an unconvincing and rather pompous fake, filled with second-rate artefacts. American visitors who want fake Olde Englishe can go to EPCOT for a lot less money, and get a suntan at the same time.

But Ben has only scratched the surface of the wonderfulness of The City. In many areas the centre of world finance (when last I checked, it turned over as much foreign currency dealings each day as New York and Tokyo combined), The City - though nothing like the medieval City - is still stuffed with wonderful Wren churches, and is forever turning up new Roman finds (mostly on display at the Museum of London.

Because of The City's extraordinary economic dynamism (London's GDP grew 5.5% last year), buildings are forever being torn down for redevelopment. When that happens, developers must pay for archaeologists to re-excavate the site. After the dig, the pre-modern strata are sealed, so that when the building's next torn down in 30 years' time, the next generation's improved technology will be able to re-interrogate the site. Almost always, apart from a hiatus between 400 and 850, every site in The City will have been continuously used for commercial or administrative purposes from the post-Boadicea rebuild to the present day.

The City's major streets follow the line laid down by Roman road builders and military architects. There's no one must-see. But buy Secret London and follow the walks for yourselves.

Forget the tourist traps of Westminster. Stand in The City when the dealers pour out at lunchtime or when the pubs open. And remember that similar dealers were pouring out for a quick mug of mead or imported Falernian on exactly the same spot 1900 years ago.
flanneruk is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2003, 02:48 PM
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Hey, flanneruk, don't hold back - tell us what you really think about this one. I'm glad you didn't have to pay to get inside.

Ben, what say you? Is this place a complete fake or is it worth a quick peek as one small part of a long walk around the area?
Aug 23rd, 2003, 08:37 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I am afraid it is too early for me to say. In the last ten years I have been there once for a concert and once to look around. I must say I had no great sense of being in a fake. Nothing like the pevading tackinessof Madame Tussaud s or of the St George s Hall in Windsor Castle. But then I am no great observer. I was at two lectures at St Ethelburga Bishopsgate this summer, a gem of a church, gothic, and in fact a complete rebuild from rubble after the Irish Republican bomb (part-funded by collections in the USA) which damaged much of the City ten years or so ago, and I had no sense of the total rebuild. I was keeping quiet until I was nearby and could go to see.

I do remember that the paintings and statues in Guildhall are pretty routine, no great art, and are rather loyal and conservative. But the City fathers are big capitalists, so conservative. If they had put up a statue to Watt Tyler I should have thought they were being politically correct, and should have been sad. Rather, they revelled in monarchy and Victorian wealth: you can see their taste at

So please give me time, and I shall report again.

Ben Haines
ben_haines_london is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2003, 09:25 AM
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I can remember grieving for St Ethelburga
It was a little gem that had survived the Great Fire of London and the Blitz only to be destroyed by a bunch of ****
Aug 24th, 2003, 11:33 AM
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Ben, thanks. My expectations are not real high about this place, but I was surprised by flanneruk's comments.
Aug 26th, 2003, 12:42 AM
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I've never thought of Guildhall as a tourist attraction. I was taken to see it as a child just after its postwar reconstruction, and I've dropped in once when using the nearby library. It's an impressive hall with statues, memorial tablets and pictures of significance for the history of the City, used for the ceremonials of the Corporation, and it may well be closed to the public because it's in use. It's surrounded by the Corporation's administrative offices, an example of not-quite-modernist compromise with the Gothic style. So it would be a disappointment for anyone expecting a mediaeval castle or a fully-explicated and laid-out museum display, complete with actors putting on playlets of City lore. But if you're in the area and have an interest in the City and it's history - and my, how the Corporation and the livery companies can indeed be pompously in love with both - it might be worth half a hour or so.
PatrickLondon is offline  
Aug 26th, 2003, 02:31 AM
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PatrickLondon, thanks for your observation. Agree that this place is not a major tourist attraction.

Ran across it researching a walk and thought it might be worth a peek since I'm in the area anyway. I'm using two books by Andrew Duncan: Walking London and Secret London. Ben Haine's descriptive posts got me interested in exploring the City on foot.
Aug 26th, 2003, 03:11 AM
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 1,407
Some other books that might be of interest while you're researching your trip to London:

Little-Known Museums in and Around London by Rachel Kaplan

Undiscovered Museums of London
by Eloise Danto

Eccentric London by Benedict le Vay
(this is a Bradt Travel Guide)
BrimhamRocks is offline  
Aug 27th, 2003, 08:20 AM
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This morning I was in the city for a lunchtime by a Prague childrens choir in St Lawrence Jewry: the children were excellent. So I walked over the square to revisit the Guildhall. Both outside and in the hall is fake medieval but genuine Victorian. Inside, the monuments to such national heroes as Nelson seem untouched by Hitler?s war. I could not find whether they were moved during the bombing, or (more likely) covered in sandbags to protect them fr0m blast. The gothic tracery on the walls comes in two styles. One style has diamond-sharp cornets, unconvincing work from since 1945. The other, at lower levels, has bits knocked out, and I thought might be medieval. But a passing amateur guide told me he thought these remains came from the major refurbishment of the mid nineteenth century.

I stand by my comments on the tastes and outlook of the city fathers. But I was wrong: there are now no paintings in Guildhall: no longer can you consider the correct court dress for a colonel of hussars or the Master of the Rolls, as portrayed in the Savoy operas.

I agree with the consensus: worth a quick look if you are in the area.

Inow throw in an extra. St Lawrence Jewry is a delight. In 1945 an architect and a window maker, both devoted disciples of Wren, gathered huge City funds and rebuilt the flattened church in full consonance with seventeenth century taste, and with impeccable good taste of their own. They have preserved or revived nearly all the markers of history in the Wren church. They host recitals at 1.10 of piano music on Mondays and of organ on Tuesdays, so you could tour the church those days any week for half an hour at 1240 or 2pm.

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ben_haines_london is offline  

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