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The Mansion House

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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 damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
Published January 6th 2012
The official residence of the Lord Mayor of London is the Mansion House (in the City of London). Since the creation of the post of Lord Mayor in 1189, there have been more than 600 men, and one woman, who have occupied the position. When King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215, he also signed a lesser charter, giving power to the citizens of London to elect their own Mayor.

The Lord Mayor is not just a ceremonial figure head. His purpose is to promote London, and the other major cities of the UK, as both a financial and a professional centre. For this reason he spends a great deal of time travelling, including about 100 days out of the country every year. He is ranked after the Queen, the Prime Minister and the Home and Foreign Secretaries when heads of state visit the UK, and often hosts banquets for visiting dignitaries. Because he holds so many functions on behalf of the City of London, it is important that he does so from the grand building that is the Mansion House. The one major drawback is that the Lord Mayor has to pay for all the wine served during his year of office.

Before the Great Fire of 1666 Lord Mayors carried out their work either from their own homes, or from the City's livery halls. The first Lord Mayor took up residence in the Mansion House in 1752, and the Palladian building (designed and built by George Dance the Elder) was finally completed in 1758. The building functions as a family home, but also serves as the Mayor's working offices. It occupies a strategic place in the Square Mile, close to the junctions of, Poultry, Prince's Street, Threadneedle Street, Lombard Street and King William Street. It is a stone's throw from the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange (which is now a centre for luxury shopping). Many of the nearby streets, Cheapside, Poultry and Cornhill, are Roman in origin and the site occupied by the Mansion House was once a livestock market.

The Mansion House
The Original Entrance


The building has been modified and altered over the years, and the main entrance is now on Walbrook, just round the corner from the original grand entrance with its double flight of steps.

The Mansion House
Walbrook Entrance to the Mansion House


The first reception room that you now enter is called Walbrook Hall, after the name of the Street, and the river that now runs underground. The Hallkeeper's Chair can be seen in the illustration below. Because the chair occupied a draughty place close to the front door, hot pans or coals were put into the bottom section to keep the seat's occupant warm.

The Mansion House
The Walbrook Hall


Upstairs are rooms devoted to entertaining and to running the Mayor's offices. The first room you reach is the Salon, illuminated by a row of magnificent crystal chandeliers.

The Mansion House
The Salon


Opening on one side of the Salon is the Long Parlour. This is a symmetrical room, with matching doors and fireplaces at either end, and dominated by a long table that can be extended or shortened as necessary. When I visited, the Lady Mayoress joined our tour and informed us that they had recently hosted a family Christmas lunch for 25 people in the Long Parlour.

The Mansion House
The Long Parlour


The Drawing Rooms (also opening off the Salon) are furnished with the Nile Suite. This is a suite of furniture, built around 1803, commemorating Nelson's sea victories.

The Mansion House
The Drawing Rooms


The Great Egyptian Hall, is classical in design and décor and was inspired by Palladio's fascination with the Roman architect Vitruvius. The 1868 stained glass windows at either end commemorate various events, including the signing of Magna Carta, and the Peasants' Revolt.

The Mansion House
The Great Egyptian Hall


The Mansion House is also home to the Mansion House Art Collection. This is a collection of Flemish and Dutch 17th century works, bequeathed to the Mansion House by Harold Samuel. Specific visits are available to examine these unique and beautiful paintings. Most of these works are not very well known, but there is a portrait by Frans Hals, 'The Merry Lute Player', that can be viewed as you mount the stairs to the first floor.

The Mansion House
The Merry Lute Player by Frans Hals


One final word of warning: the Lord Mayor of London is a ceremonial position that is held for one year only. It is quite distinct from the Mayor of London, who represents a political party, and is elected by Londoners every four years.
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Why? Because it's a beautiful working building and family home in the City of London
When: Most Tuesdays at 2pm (but check the website first)
Where: The Mansion House, London EC4N 8BH
Cost: £6
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