That’s what Margaret Thatcher called the City of London Guildhall – in comparison to the United Kingdom’s national parliament; itself often called the mother of all parliaments.
Near Gresham Street in the City of London (the City), the Guildhall has been the centre of municipal government in the City since medieval times. In fact, it is one of the world’s oldest seats of municipal government.
You can visit the City of London Guildhall most days, just call ahead in case it’s in use. Provided it’s available for viewing, present yourself to staff at the main reception and ask to see the ‘Great Hall’. You’ll be issued a pass and directed to the Hall.
The current building dates from the 1420’s – commissioned by Dick Whittington. It’s been ravaged by fire over the years; not least the Great Fire of 1666 and in the Blitz of 1940. But each time resurrected. It was probably intended as a building that could rival the King’s medieval Westminster Hall – a ‘palace’ for the City’s Lord Mayor.
Inside you’ll see the banners of the twelve great Livery Companies of the City of London Guildhall. These are the trading companies (originating in 1135 with the Weavers) and growing to one hundred and ten companies today; mostly operating as charitable enterprises that collectively raise around £40 million annually for good causes. Their names call out the top trades in medieval London; the Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Skinners, Merchant Taylors, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironworkers, Vintners and Clothworkers. And lining the walls are monuments to Britain’s national heroes — Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill.
The Great Hall, being close to the prisons of the Tower of London, has seen many famous trials. Most prominently, this is where Lady Jane Grey received her death sentence – carried out at the Tower. It’s also where Mary I beseeched the Lord Mayor and Aldermen to protect her from protestant rebels’ gathering outside the City gates – the City duly obliged the catholic Queen.
Finally, don’t miss the legendary founders of the City; the colossal figures of Gog and Magog looking down from the gallery – keeping their eyes on present day democracy.
The City of London is real history without the tourist crowds. Moreover, it’s free to visit all week from 1000-1630. You can check ahead by calling 020 7332 1313.