Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Celebrating 600 years of the Guildhall and 1000 years of the City of London

I don’t want you to think that my life as Master at the moment is one long social whirl – it is, but I just don’t want you to think that. I am managing to squeeze some work in as well but perhaps I will write about that at another time.

Monday, December 6, was a lecture at Guildhall by Dr Simon Thurley, CE of English Heritage, to celebrate the 600th anniversary of Guildhall. He also wrote and presented the TV series, The buildings that shaped Britain, and brought the same verve and scholarship to this subject as he did to that. This was followed by a reception where the canapés were derived from recipes marking the different centuries. (I didn’t have the 20th Century canapés, which looked suspiciously like prawn cocktail, but the 19th Century was Beef Wellington, of course.)

There was so much information packed into Dr Thurley’s lecture that I can’t even scratch the surface. The Guildhall is certainly a treasure of the City – a treasure in stone. It is the oldest secular building in the City – how many buildings built 600 years ago are still in use for their original purpose? It was part of a campaign of civic and public improvement started in the first half of the 15th century and was commissioned by the then Mayor, one Richard (aka Dick) Whittington. There have been changes and improvements since then but the Guildhall is still not only the physical heart of the City, sitting over Bank station, but also the civic heart.

This was followed by the launch of, London 1000 Years, Treasures from the Collections of the City of London, by David Pearson, Director of Culture, Heritage and Libraries at the City of London Corporation. The City Corporation is the custodian of a significant part of the nation’s and particularly London’s heritage. Its records go back to the Norman Conquest in almost unbroken sequence. You can access images of every major London event, for example, from paintings of the Great Fire of London to the Blitz during WWII.

Some of the treasures were on display including a very poignant letter from John Keats to his fiancée, Fanny Brawne, after the onset of the TB which eventually killed him telling her not to visit him today - Keats House in Hampstead is managed by the Corporation. There was also the Lloyds loss and casualty book showing the entry covering the fate of the ship, the Mary (Marie) Celeste.

The book brings us right up to the present time as the archives also include very moving letters and notes pinned up at various sites in London after the bombing of the Underground in 2005 and more cheerfully a very early book by Fanny Cradock and review notes of the book by Elizabeth David.

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