Surprisingly few people know this, but it’s possible to visit the City of London’s magnificent Guildhall building, the oldest non-ecclesiastical stone building in the City.
Guildhall was built around 1411-40 and although it’s had rebuilding work over the centuries, the core of the building is still the original that medieval masons worked on.
Originally it had a medieval hammer-beam ceiling, similar to the one in Westminster Hall, but that was burnt down in the Great Fire of London, and while replaced by a replica, that was also destroyed during WW2, and replaced with the current design, by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.
Up on the minstrels gallery are two giants — Gog and Magog.
Legend has it that these two giants were defeated by the legendary founder of London, Brutus of Troy and chained to the gates of his palace on the site of Guildhall. Wooden carvings of Gog and Magog are kept in Guildhall and 7-foot high wicker effigies of them donated by the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers in 2007 lead the procession in the annual Lord Mayor’s Show.
Lining the walls are the sort of thing you expect in a grand old building — namely statues and monuments. Although here there’s fewer than you might expect as they’ve gone for a few massive statues than lots of smaller ones.
The monument to Sir Winston Churchill, being one of the more recent additions is also the most modest of them. Simply the man in a chair.
The others are full of imperial majesty, when a person wouldn’t expect to be cast in stone without a whole panoply of additional support acts to show off how mighty and important you are.
That said, the speech commemorated by this statue of the Lord Mayor of London is accompanied by two very bored looking ladies. Maybe the sculptor is making a comment on the speech.
Being the heart of local government, the hall has served as a legal court of law, which never rarely seemed to work out that well for those bought before it.
It also houses the official standards, as they were at the time — and you’ll see some of them under the windows. Others are in Trafalgar Square, although these days official standards are made by more exacting methods than a strip of metal nailed to a stone wall.
Most people who know the Guildhall exists presume it’s closed to the public. Many sources say that it’s only open to the public for Open House Weekend, which indeed it used to be. As far as I can tell, it started opening to the public in 2015, and today all you need to do is hope there isn’t a big function going on, and you can just wander in to have a look around.
Entry is via the West Wing Reception (the modern building next to the church) — and you pass through the usual security and then just wander down the corridor to the Guildhall itself.
It’s open Monday to Saturday 10am – 4.30pm, and between May to September, also on Sundays 10am – 4.30pm.
On a mid-morning in the middle of the week, there were just three other visitors, so it’s an exceptionally rare chance to have a magnificent venue pretty much to yourself.
Entry is free of charge, which makes it even odder that so few people visit. If showing friends around the city, take a detour into this “private” building and impress them with your ability to find hidden things to visit in London.
Just check their website before visiting, in case it’s closed for a function.