Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Guildhall

E.A.A.C. A.K.A. Deborah, reporting for duty.  The cat’s out the bag.  Or on the wall…see trip numero uno.  Or in the cabinet, possibly…teaser for a future trip!  So the lovely Jess has bestowed upon me the responsibility of updating the blog on this week’s excursion into one of the lesser visited nearby wonders of the City.  I will attempt to do her proud.  By the way, I say lesser visited because you will be amazed, after I reveal this week’s destination, to learn that we were two of only a mere handful of visitors over the course of time we spent in awe of the great spectacle we found ourselves smack, bang in the middle of.  London is amazing.  So much to see, with just the minimum of effort, just a few steps from the office.

So we set off for Guildhall, walking boots on, past Girdlers Hall.  The Worshipful Company of Girdlers is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London.  The organisation was awarded the right to regulate Girdlers in 1327; it was granted a Royal Charter in 1449.  You will be impressed to hear that The Girdlers' Company stands twenty-third in order of precedence of the 108 livery companies, and has an active livery of around 80, governed by a Court consisting of the Master, Upper Warden, Middle Warden, Renter Warden and up to 24 Assistants. 

The Livery Companies are 108 trade associations in the City of London, almost all of which are known as the "Worshipful Company of" the relevant trade, craft or profession. The medieval Companies originally developed as guilds and were responsible for the regulation of their trades, controlling, for instance, wages and labour conditions. 

The Girdlers, or makers of belts (as in swordbelts and dressbelts) and girdles (not sure what kind of girdles!), are no longer closely related to their original trade. Along with the products of many other Livery Companies, girdles have lost the importance they had in medieval times. The Company remains as a charitable enterprise.

Anyway, what we were most fascinated with was the plaque - made out of Portland stone and containing lots of tiny broken fossils.

A few mins around the corner was a very old-looking building, complete with gothic arched windows and gargoyles (although no competition for the Cornhill Devils, looks-wise - those devils were a handsome trio), which turned out to be part of Guildhall and which, apparently, holds City Briefings for Liverymen.  Small world!





 
 

We followed the criss-cross paved path into Guildhall Buildings and found a couple of attractive fellows:  A curly-haired Wren, responsible for so much of London, and Shakespeare, looking fine and dandy and deep in thought.  There are four busts in total - we missed Pepys and Cromwell - and a statue of our old friend, Dick Whittington.




The impressive Guildhall was across the yard.  Built between 1411 and 1440, Guildhall has been the City powerhouse since the twelfth century.  In an era when the Lord Mayor of London rivalled the monarch for influence and prestige, this was where he and the ruling merchant class held court and fine-tuned the laws and trading regulations that helped create London’s wealth.  Today, 800 years on, Guildhall is still home of the City of London Corporation, and acts as a grand setting for glittering banquets in honour of visiting Heads of State and other dignitaries, royal occasions, and receptions for major historical anniversaries.




Detail of the top of Guildhall

We were excited to find an old gas streetlamp, still in operation.  A rare find and centuries old!  Here’s some background:  On the 28th January 1807, the gas lamps on Pall Mall were lit by the London and Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company, making it the first street in the world to be illuminated by the warm glow of gas light.  Less than two years later, on the 31st December 1813, Westminster Bridge was also lit by gas.  Incredibly, several areas of London are still lit by gas two centuries on, including a large part of Covent Garden, the Royal Parks and the exterior of Buckingham Palace.


Our excitement turned to double excitement when we spotted an old police call post, across the yard, no longer in use but now one of only half a dozen or so scattered across London.  Incidentally, the one in Grosvenor Square still works and has been Grade II listed by English Heritage.


Ok, enough frivolity!  What we really came to see was in the darkened basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery: A Roman Amphitheatre, nearly 2000 years old but, amazingly, only discovered in 1988…and less than 10 mins around the corner from the office!

Entrance to the Art Gallery

Detail over the doorway

This astonishing discovery, uncovered during an archaeological dig taking place in preparation for the new Art Gallery building project, changed the face of Roman London, and in 2002 the doors to the capital’s only Roman Amphitheatre opened for the first time in nearly 2,000 years.  Built in about AD 70 the amphitheatre was then later enlarged to hold an audience of about 6,000 spectators at a time when the population of Londinium may only have numbered between 20,000 and 30,000. 

Down in the basement, we proceeded through fragments of the stone walls of the eastern entrance, the passage used by those entering the arena.  A sobering experience when you realise we were treading the path that countless humans and animals had trod, walking towards certain death in the form of gladiatorial combats, animal fights, and public execution, all for the purpose of entertainment for those bloodthirsty ancient Romans.

East Entrance to the Arena

Ancient wall fragment

The jolly, futuristic, Tron-like, neon-green “gladiators” seemed a little out of place. 
Here you can also see some of the original timber drains, which would have been buried below the arena floor to take away excess water.  Along the line of the drain is a box silt trap to stop the drains clogging up.  The drain routes are marked in the floor in stainless steel (see first pic, above). 
 
The London amphitheatre was abandoned in the 4th century.

The grey curved line in the floor tiles outside Guildhall shows the edge of the site of the amphitheatre.
The clock tower in the background is part of St Lawrence Jewry.

We had a little time, so we went to visit St Lawrence Jewry, just off the yard.  The items you can see in the  cabinet (below) were salvaged from the church, following the Great Fire of London in 1666 in which the church was destroyed.  Wren to the rescue!  It was rebuilt in 1680.




Time to stroll back to work, with just one last stop at the Armourers and Brasiers Hall.  Incidentally, the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers (armour makers and brass workers) are at no. 22 on the big 108, just ahead of the Girdlers.  Those cheeky Livery folk do get about!




Detail from the top of the building

Lamp over the doorway



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