London loves a good parade. We have the raucous world of Notting Hill Carnival, the odd royal hurrah and, last year, we had the occasional Olympic stomp too. But the most London-centric of the city’s pageants has to be today’s Lord Mayor’s Show. It’s a fantastically pompous affair that celebrates London’s curious traditions.
Now, the parade may only roll through our streets once a year, but the fabled side of London it represents is alive and well all year round. The most visual symbol of the City’s historical influence is its livery halls – homes of the trade unions of yore, which just ooze historical importance. In the name of the good of London and our Lord Mayor I thought I’d visit a few and tell you a bit about my favourites…
1. First on my list is Watermen’s Hall, which sits snugly down the road from the Monument. This space is smaller than most of the livery spaces (indeed the Watermen can’t officially lay claim to the livery title – for some mysterious reason they are limited to being a Worshipful Company). The hall itself, however, is a lovely space, full of historical artefacts related to the Thames and the people who look after it. The livery/company is still active today with lots of important duties, including organising the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee pageant.
2. For something more striking however, we must wend our way north to Drapers’ Hall, just behind the Bank of England. From the outside, Drapers could easily be missed; the entrance is positioned down a little private lane and looks pretty inconspicuous. However inside this is one of the most striking locations I know in London; in fact so impressive is the space that it’s regularly used as a replacement for Buckingham Palace in films and television.
3. Now, I’m not a big fan of armour – it’s just not something that comes up much in my life – but my third venue, Armourers’ Hall, is one of my favourite liveries. It’s a kitsch space that has been very much untouched by the modern era, full of deep mahogany wood furnishings and huge portraits of former members, along with lots (and I mean lots) of armour. Like the other halls, the space is still used by its members, although it’s now more often the venue for dinners hosted by companies and people wanting to show off their English credentials.
4. Up next is Ironmongers’ Hall, a space that is made by its surroundings. In the midst of one of London’s most dreary buildings – like the concrete architecture of the Museum of London – the hall itself is an odd oasis. Half-hidden behind these concrete facades, Ironmongers’ Hall is in a Tudor style, which is completely at odds with the spaces around it.
5. My final hall’s most lovely aspect is not the actual hall, but the private garden adjoining it. Stationers’ Hall sits down an alley off Fleet Street, hiding its secluded garden from visitors and locals alike and making this tranquil little square an oasis of calm. The building itself is really pretty with a romantic main hall full of character and warming stained glass windows. Stationers’ is used regularly for more unusual events, including a recent Giles Deacon fashion show and an episode of BBC Three’s ‘Don’t Tell the Bride’.
So if you have a moment, pop down to today’s parade but if you don’t, worry no more, for the romance of London’s past will linger throughout the year. Have a favourite Livery Hall that wasn’t on my list? Give me a shout on Twitter @reubensagar.