Visit to the Great Hall of Guildhall – 27 Apr 2023

A small group of us gathered in Guildhall Yard where we were introduced to our guide Julia, who gave us a brief history of the Guildhall buildings before we went inside.

The main building, apart from the roof, has survived through the great fire, war and bomb damage.

Once inside the Great Hall we found ourselves surrounded by history with the banners of the Great 12 Livery Companies, and stained-glass panels showing the Coats of Arms of each Lord Mayor who has served.

One of these panels is the original medieval window made from cow’s horn dedicated to the 1st Lord Mayor Henry FitzAilwin 1189-1212.

The Great Hall is the largest space within the Guildhall, with its origins in medieval times, it is thought to have been built over what was previously the roman site of the Royal Box at the Gladiator Arena.

Since 1502, the Great Hall is the spectacular setting for the annual Lord Mayor’s banquet to mark the retirement of the previous year's Lord Mayor of London. It is attended by the Prime Minister, who traditionally makes a speech.

A soaring high-arched ceiling, and two huge Gothic stained-glass windows are emblazoned with the names of past Lord Mayors.

The Coat of Arms above the Hall includes the hat which the Lord Mayor wears on formal occasions. We learnt that during the Silent Ceremony which is the occasion upon which the new Lord Mayor of London is sworn into office, the key for the Royal Seal is kept hidden in a pocket inside this hat, and hence the origins of the expression to ‘keep this under your hat’.

We admired the various statues including those of William Pitt the Elder and Younger, the Duke of Wellington, William Beckford, Admiral Lord Nelson. The statue of Churchill has one shiny toe, caused by people touching his toe for luck, notably before members make their maiden speech.

State Trials have taken place in Guildhall, for example Henry Howard, The Earl of Surrey, was summoned to undergo a trial at Guildhall in London, on January 13, 1547

The Great Hall was laid out in preparation for the Common Council meeting due to take place soon after our visit. The Common Councillors hold a meeting in the Great Hall at which the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs are present on 4th Thursday of the month.

All in all, our visit was a fascinating insight into what happened at Guildhall in the past and continues today.

Following our visit we moved to Brown’s, Old Jewry Lane where we had a delicious lunch and chance to meet and chat to fellow members.

Annie Robertson