Guildhall, in the City of London is located right at the heart of the City, lying just off Basinghall Street and Gresham Street. It is used as the administrative and ceremonial centre of the City, although the Hall itself is only used for the City’s ceremonial functions such as, for example the Lord Mayor’s Dinner held each November and also providing marvellous venues for private dinners, lunches, receptions and presentations, the list is endless. The day to day business of the Corporation of London however, is now carried out from within the modern office block situated behind the Hall.
The only stone structure in London to survive the Great Fire of London in 1666, which had no religious connections, it contains other historic interiors, including the large medieval crypt, the porch and the old library. They are all being used as function rooms today.
However, it did not completely escape the Great Fire and the Grand Entrance, was added in 1788 by George Dance the Younger. Extensive restoration works undertaken by the City of London architect Sir Horace Jones, was completely destroyed on the night of 29/30 December 1940 during a German bombing raid and was restored in 1954 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.
Guildhall, had been constructed somewhere between the dates of 1411 and 1440. However, it is generally believed that some sort of structure had existed on the site since at least the reign of King Edward the Confessor and quite possibly even earlier, as the Saxon word ‘gild’ meant money or payment, therefore it follows that the ‘gild’ hall would have been where people went to pay their taxes.
During the days of the Roman occupation of Britain, it was the site of an amphitheatre, the partial remains of which can still be seen today, as they are on public display in the basement of the complex’s Art Gallery and the outline of the arena is marked on the paving in front of the exterior of the hall.
The Church of St Lawrence Jewry, makes up the southern side of the yard, the allignment of which appears to follow the elliptical form of the Roman amphitheatre below it.
Excavations at the entrance to the yard in the year 2000, brought to light the remains of a 13th century gatehouse, which had been sited directly above the southern entrance to the Roman amphitheatre, which may have influenced the positioning of both the Guildhall and the Church of St Lawrence Jewry.
There have been a number of trials conducted in the Great Hall, including those of: Lady Jane Grey, Guildford Dudley, Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey Anne Askew, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Thomas Cranmer, Henry Peckham, John Daniel, John Felton (Catholic Martyr), Roderigo Lopez, Henry Garnet (in connection with the Gunpowder Plot) and Sir Gervase Helwys (in connection with the Overbury plot).
It contains memorials to William Pitt the Elder, William Pitt the Younger, Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, William Beckford, and Winston Churchill. It also played a part in Jack Cade’s 1450 rebellion (a revolt which took place in 1450 during the reign of King Henry VI of England).
On 16 November 1848 Frederic Chopin gave his last public appearance on a concert platform here.
Guildhall itself and the adjacent historic interiors are open to the public during the annual London Open House weekend. The Clockmakers’ Museum and Guildhall Library, a public reference library with specialist collections on London, including material from the 11th century onwards, are also housed in the complex.