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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at and my theatre reviews at
Published March 9th 2012
Guildhall from Guildhall Yard

Guildhall, dating back to the first half of the fifteenth century, is home to the City of London Corporation. This Grade I listed building presents a spectacular sight in the City, and the power it represents has not diminished over the centuries. Its original purpose was to regulate London's trade and create its wealth at a time when the Lord Mayor of London was as powerful as the sovereign. Nowadays it provides a dignified, historical backdrop for important banquets, receptions and royal occasions and makes an interesting contrast to the modern glass structures in the immediate vicinity.

Guildhall Yard Beat Retreat

My visit included a tour of the Great Hall, built in 1411. This imposing structure is 152 feet long, almost 50 feet wide and has a ceiling that reaches 89 feet. After bomb damage during the Blitz, the stone arched roof (the fifth one) was replaced in 1953. The Hall is home to the Court of Common Council, the decision making body of the Corporation of London, but it is also used for banquets, including the annual Lord Mayor's Banquet.

The Great Hall Laid Out for a Banquet

In the past it has been used for historic trials, and it is also where Dick Whittington once entertained King Henry V. The walls are adorned with monuments to national heroes including Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill. Last, but not least, it houses the giant figures of Gog and Magog, the legendary founders of London. The present day giants are nine feet high and date from 1953.

The Great Hall and Window over the Entrance

The East and West Crypts are beneath Guildhall and date back to 1042 and the 12th century respectively. The East is the oldest part of Guildhall and contains stained glass windows depicting various historical figures. The West Crypt would have originally been the building's ground floor. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666 it collapsed and was restored in 1973. Its stained glass windows represent the City's Livery Companies.

Stained Glass Windows Representing Livery Companies

The last port of call on our tour was the Old Library, a relatively modern nineteenth century extension to this medieval building. It no longer houses books, but is used for receptions and banquets.

Windows in the Old Library

When I visited Guildhall the actor Colin Firth was being bestowed with the Freedom of the City of London, and the adjoining dining room was laid out for lunch for him and his party. Of course we couldn't resist taking a peek, and somebody even suggested we hide under the table for the guests.

Table Setting

There aren't many medieval buildings remaining in the City of London; the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz have taken care of that. You should visit Guildhall to see the pomp and grandeur that are part of the City of London.

City of London Sheriffs in Costume by Guildhall

It is easily reached by several railway stations, by Tube to Moorgate, Bank, Mansion House and St Paul's and by bus routes 11, 23, 26, 388, 21, 43, 76, 133, 141, 8, 25, 242 and 100.

See also: Guildhall Art Gallery and The Mansion House
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Why? To remind yourself of the history on which London was established
When: Organised tours take place monthly on the same day that the Court of Common Council meets. Details are on the website.
Where: Guildhall, Gresham Street, London EC2P 2EJ
Cost: 6
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