Within the City of London are a number of grand livery halls, and as they are mostly private, a richly illustrated book lets us peek behind locked doors.
The livery halls were essentially the meeting places for people who engaged in the city’s regulated trades, and the regulator got rich on the tithe paid by the traders — and often built rather grand buildings with their wealth.
Of the 40 Halls standing today, half remain on their medieval sites, but all have been rebuilt several times. To give only two examples: there have been six incarnations of Clothworkers’ Hall on Mincing Lane and six Salters’ Halls on three different City sites.
All the livery halls that existed at the time burnt down in the Great Fire, and a good many were also destroyed in WW2, so London is left with a curious mix of very old decorations, or strikingly modern designs.
One of them is even on the River Thames.
As they are mostly closed to the public, save Open House Weekend, or occasional open days for tours — the new book, by Anya Lucas and Henry Russell is a rare chance not just to see inside, but also rather more rarely, see them empty of other people.
As befits such sumptuously decorated buildings, the photography, Andreas von Einsiedel is equally rich and glossy, but it’s not just a photo book but also a brief history of each of the halls. A layout of the livery halls, with all their different rooms, lobbies and staircases helps to orient the reader as the halls are described in the text.
There’s also a large section at the back into the Livery Halls that are no longer with us.
During the lockdown we might not be able to go into the City, but this book is a very rich way of bringing the City to us.
The only irritant is that the book is very large and heavy, which is normally good, but it doesn’t open out flat so it can be a bit of a handful to hold the pages flat for reading.