Victorian London - Buildings, Monuments and Museums - Guildhall

Guildhall ... The hall is always open to strangers except at the public meetings of the citizens, and the other apartments may be seen for a small gratuity to the officer in attendance.

Guildhall, which owes its present improved appearance (with the exception of its Gothic entrance) to Sir Christopher Wren, is a noble stone structure. The Hall, a magnificent room, 153 feet long, 48 broad, and 55 feet high, is capable of containing 6000 or 7000 persons; and it is here that the Lord Mayor, on his inauguration, gives a grand banquet, on which occasion the hall is fitted up in a style of great splendour. This noble room is decorated with several splendid monuments, all of which were erected at the City expense, to perpetuate the fame of Chatham, Beckford, Pitt, and Nelson, whose several public services are here recorded. It has two beautifully painted windows, under one of which stand the colossal figures of Gog and Magog. The Common Council Room is a well-proportioned apartment, at the upper end of which is a fine statue of George III.; it contains also a good collection of paintings. The Chamberlains office contains a series of prints by Hogarth. The City Library contains a valuable collection of bunks; and adjoining it is the Museum, for the reception of works of art and antiquities belonging to the City. The Courts of Law for the City are on the right of the entrance; and on the opposite side is the Justice Room, where an alderman sits daily to hear complaints. On the 6th of June 1814, the Prince Regent, the Emperor of Russia, King of Prussia, Prince Blucher, Prince Platoff, and an immense number of distinguished foreigners, were entertained here at a grand banquet that cost 20,000l.; and upon the entrance of Alderman Cowan into office on the 9th of November 1837, the City was honoured by the presence of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, who, upon that occasion, went in great state to Guildhall, accompanied by some members of the Royal Family, attended by the Ministers of State, several of the Judges, the chief Law Officers, &c. &c. Her Majesty, in her progress through the streets, that were upon this occasion lined with the military, was rapturously received by the immense assemblage that attended to witness the procession; was met at Temple Bar by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen; and after being presented by the former with the sword of state and City keys, was conducted with much ceremony to Guildhall, and sumptuously entertained at a grand banquet given there.

source: Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

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Guildhall dates originally from the time of Henry IV., which, however, is not responsible for the mean and miserable jumble of a front stuck on to it by Dance in 1789. The old walls, on the other hand, are of so splendid a solidity that they stood triumphant through the Great Fire of 1666, towering amid the flames "in a bright shining coat, as if it had been a palace of gold or a great building of burnished brass." The old crypt, too, of the same date (1411), is a beautiful piece of work, 75 ft. long by 45 ft. wide, and divided into three aisles by six clusters of circular columns in Purbeck marble, supporting a fine groined roof, partly in stone, partly in chalk and bricks; the principal intersections being covered with carved bosses of heads, shields, and flowers. The vaulting, with four-centred arches, is considered to be one of the earliest as well as one of the finest examples of its kind in England. At the eastern end is a fine arched entrance of Early English, and in the southeastern angle an octagonal recess about 13ft. in height. The length of the great hall is 150 ft., its height 55 ft., and its breadth 50 ft. The side walls, which are 5 ft. in thickness, are divided by clustered columns and mouldings into eight spaces, and at each end of the hall is a splendid Gothic window, occupying the whole width, and nearly perfect in all architectural details. Only the upper portions, however, are filled with stained glass, and that chiefly of modern date. In corners, on lofty octagonal pedestals, are the two famous giants. - (See GOG AND MAGOG.) The great State Banquets are held here; the hall being capable of containing between 6,000 and 7,000 persons. It was here that Whittington, entertaining in his capacity of Lord Mayor Henry V. and his queen, paid the king after dinner the delicate compliment of burning, on a fire of sandal-wood, his majesty's bonds for £60,000; and it was here also that a successor of equal loyalty, but perhaps hardly equal felicity in its demonstration, seized Charles II. by the arm, as that merry monarch was endeavouring to beat at least a partially sober retreat, and peremptorily insisted upon his brother potentate remaining for "t'other bottle." Even in these moderate times the Lord Mayor's feast is a Gargantuan institution, involving the services of twenty cooks, the slaughter of forty turtles, and the consumption of somewhere about fourteen tons of coal. Around the Guildhall are a cluster of courts, duplicating those at Westminster, and there are also numerous other apartments, such as the Common Council Chamber, the Court of Aldermen, the Chamberlain's Office, the Chamberlains Parlour, the Library (one of the finest in the kingdom), &c., with a court called the Lord Mayor's Court, nominally for the recovery of small debts incurred in the City. NEAREST Railway Stations, Mansion House (Dist.) and Moorgate-street; Omnibus Routes, Moorgate-street and Cheapside; Cab Rank, Lothbury.

source: Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

As we go down King Street, the venerable Hall faces us, with its open yard in front, and its throng of sleek and knowing pigeons, amongst which, as they busily feed, we must carefully pick our way. Though the building itself is of great antiquity, the front is comparatively modern, tracing its birth back onhy to the earlier half of the last century, while the body to which it is the stony face had its first birthday about 470 years ago. The modern face has a peculiar appearance, which is not easily forgotten. It might almost be compared to a piece of petrified gingerbread; its Gothic composition presenting an odd mixture of church and castle styles of architecture; while at the top the City arms are prominent-two grifilns watching over the shield, which is surmounted by the cap of maintenance,' and has below it the motto, Domine, dirige nos, Lord, direct us.' 
    We enter the fine old porch, we notice its arch within arc.n, its panelled walls, the pillars on the stone seat, and the gilt bosses with which the arches are profusely studded. From this we emerge into the grand banqueting hall. This is the place in which the new Lord Mayor, each 9th of November, presides over the feasting of a thousand guests or more, amid a blaze of light and a brilliant display of dress and ornament. We may imagine the buzz of a thousand tongues, on such an occasion, in the intervals of feasting and speechifying. But now the grand old hall has a different influence upon the mind. Its sounds are few and subdued; its light is of the dim religious kind which we associate with the aisles of an ancient cathedral or abbey; and the sudden transition from the bustle of Cheapside into its semi-darkness is at first a little depressing. However, we gaze around and find plenty to interest and delight us. The glorious mass of colour in the large windows, the arched roof of oak, and the two giants, Gog and Magog, keeping watch and ward, will bear looking at again and again; while the monuments to the great Chatham, and his son, William Pitt, to Nelson, Wellington, and other worthies, serve to stimulate us to high purpose and steady action. At the western end we find a memorial window to Prince Albert, and a clock-which warns us to pass on to other sights.
    This old hall has witnessed many a stirring scene since its first erection. here, in 1546, the noble-minded Anne Askew was tried and condemned for so- called ' heresy.' And here, a few years later, in Mary's reign of bloodshed, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was tried for high treason, and by his wonderful eloquence and courageous spirit so influenced the jury that they were bold enough to pronounce him not guilty,' and for this daring act were themselves punished with imprisonment and heavy fines. At the time of parliamentary elections, Guildhahl has heard many a loud harangue, and many speeches have been rendered inaudible by the hubbub amongst the crowd, that might have listened, but would not.
    Going up a flight of stairs, we come to the room known as the Court oI Aldermen, where those gentlemen hold their meetings and transact much business of importance. The ceiling of this room is divided into compartments, some of which have been ornamented with paintings from the brush of Sir James Thornhill; while its cornice consists of the carved and painted arms of all the mayors since 1780. Near this is the Council Chamber, in which we shall find some good historical paintings and sculpture.
    The crypt or vault under Guildhall is a fine example of old architecture, with its clustered pillars and groined arches; and now, having had a good brush up amid clearance from the dust and rubbish with which it long was choked, it serves a useful purpose as the arnioury of the London Rifle Volunteer Brigade. At the eastern side of Guildhall we find the Library-a nice light room, fitted up with handsome oak bookcases, which contain many thousand volumes. Here we can sit down and improve our mnimids by reading, without having to pay a penny to anybody; and this is a great boon for those who have neither books to read, nor a quiet corner at home to read them in: but, for our part, we much prefer reading at home. Why, books have twice the charm at home, and yield us twice the enjoyment there, that they would at any less favoured place.
    Beneath the Library is the City Museum, which contains many interesting relics of old London, and where we may see coins, and shells, and horns, and glass, and red Roman pottery, which have been discovered in making various excavations.
    Now we must refer our readers to the picture, in which our artist has skilfully presented Guildhahl by day and by night, inside and outside, with its two burly guardians, and the feathered favourites that throng its yard and make themselves at home on roof and façade.
    So, farewell, ye peaceful pigeons; farewell, Cog and Magog, best-behaved of giants. We leave your quiet quarters, and mix once more in the bustle of Cheapside, and resign ourselves to be hustled along eastward, till we arrive at that large opening which our continental friends would dub with the name of Place or Platz, Piazza or Plaza, as being a fine space for a neat review or a small revolution, but which to the bewildered eyes of our coummtry cousins presents a sea of people and cabs and busses and carts, which it is hopeless to attempt to cross.

source: Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895 (3 ed.)

GUILDHALL, CITY ... The chief seat of the civic government. The great hall, recently restored, is 153 feet long, 48 feet broad, and 50 feet high. In it is held, annually (Nov. 9), the great banquet at which members of the Cabinet, the civic dignitaries, and other distinguished guests,  numbering about 1,000 persons are entertained, on the occasion of the new Lord Mayor entering office. In the Hall and Council Chambers, are many statues, paintings, and some fine stained glass. Admission to the Hall, free, daily; to the Council Chambers on application to the Hall Keeper. Adjoining are the Guildhall Free Library, Reading Room, Museum and City Art Gallery. The Library, a large and handsome building recently constructed, contains over 40000 volumes, MSS. and Maps, and is open free, daily, 10a.m. to 9p.m. The Reading Room, adjoining, supplied with commercial papers, books &c. is also open, free, during the same hours. The Museum (entrance in Basinghall St.) contains a valuable collection of civic antiquities, coins and other interesting objects. Open free, daily, 10 to 4 or 5 p.m.
    CITY ART GALLERY, GUILDHALL YARD. Contains a collection of oil paintings, engravings, and sculpture, belonging to the Corporation, and is open free daily, 1st  March to 1st October, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; 1st October to 1st March, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
    All the above institutions in connection with the Guildhall are closed annually, 6th to 12th of November.
    CITY, GUILDHALL MUSEUM ... A collection of civic Antiquities, &c.; entrance in Basinghall St. Open free daily, 10 to 4 or 5.

source: Reynolds' Shilling Coloured Map of London, 1895


The Great Hall at the Guildhall is a noble chamber, used for a variety of civic purposes not the least important of which is the Lord Mayor's annual banquet, attended by nearly a thousand guests. The wooden roof is particularly handsome. Ranged round the walls is statuary against the north wall - to the right in our picture - are monuments to Chatham, Wellington, and Nelson; against the south wall, to William Pitt and Lord Mayor Beckford. The western stained glass window, shown above, is one of the many memorials to the Prince Consort, and opposite to it is another presented by the cotton operatives of Lancashire in acknowledgment of the City Corporation's liberality during the historic famine. The Court of Common Council sits in a chamber reached by way of the stairs facing the main entrance

source: The Queen's London, 1896


It can hardly be said that the Guildhall, seen from King Street, presents an appearance worthy of the Council Hall of the Corporation of the Metropolis. The Hall was originally built at the beginning of the fifteenth century. The present front, designed by Dance, was erected in 1789, and since then there have been various other alterations. The arms of the City will be noticed above the porch, through which the handsome Great Hall (see p. 54) is entered. The building to the right is the Art Gallery of the Corporation, containing many fine pictures; and to the left is the Guildhall Police Court, where a man has evidently been summoned to answer a charge of cruelty to the horse standing in the square.

source: The Queen's London, 1896