East City, London
The Guildhall, the administrative headquarters of the Corporation of London, the local authority for the financial and commercial heart of Britain, the City of London, and meeting place of the Court of Common Council, dates from 1430, although the only surviving parts of that building are sections of the external walls, the Great Hall and the crypt. The porch (1425-30), with the coat of arms of the City of London (motto "Domine dirige nos", "Guide us, O Lord"), leads into the Great Hall. In this hall the Court of Common Council meets every third Thursday at 1pm to discuss municipal business. The public is admitted to these meetings, at which the city fathers appear in all their splendor, complete with the Mace and Swordbearer, the Recorder, Chamberlain and other officers. Other public occasions are the election of Sheriffs on June 24, a picturesque and colorful ceremony held on a dais erected at the east end of the Great Hall, and the swearing in of the new Lord Mayor, another annual ceremony conducted with traditional ritual. The Guildhall is also used for official receptions and banquets, and is closed to the public for two to three days before and after such occasions. The Great Hall, over 50m long, 16m wide and 29m high (152x49x89ft), is well worth seeing even on "ordinary" days. Its Victorian timber roof was destroyed in 1940 and rebuilt by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott with stone arches and a paneled ceiling.
Around the hall are banners bearing the arms of the 12 great "livery companies" the old city guilds. They are, clockwise: the Grocers, Fishmongers, Skinners, Haberdashers, Ironmongers, Clothworkers, Vintners, Salters, Merchant Taylors, Goldsmiths, Drapers, Mercers. The arms are also painted on the cornices. On the windows are inscribed the names of Lord Mayors. The west end is occupied by the gallery, with a minstrels' gallery above it; this end also has a fine oak screen and figures of Gog and Magog. Immediately following the statues of William Pitt and Lord Mayor Beckford on the south wall are a canopied oak dresser housing the City sword and sceptre; the Royal Fusiliers' Memorial and the only surviving 15th century window. Along the north wall are statues of Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, William Pitt the Younger and the Earl of Chatham (William Pitt the Elder). The two galleries are for the press and the Lady Mayoress. The east end of the hall has fine oak paneling. On a dais are the seats occupied by Aldermen of the Court of Common Council.
The Guildhall was badly damaged by the Great Fire in 1666; the subsequent rebuilding and additions, such as the neo-Gothic style south frontage erected in 1789, were damaged in an air-raid in 1940. The interior and exterior were restored after World War II.
Under the Great Hall is the 15th century Crypt, which is also open to visitors. Restored after war damage, it has one of the finest medieval groined vaults in London. In February 1988 excavation in the courtyard uncovered remains of a Roman amphitheater, dating from the first century A.D., beneath medieval buildings. The site is screened off from the public but will be on display when work is completed.