At Goldsmiths’ Hall
The Leopard is the symbol of the Goldsmiths’ Company
Whenever I walk through the City to St Paul’s, I always marvel at the great blocks of stone which form the plinth of this building on the corner of Gresham St and Foster Lane – and observing the fossils interred within the Haytor granite commonly sets me wondering at the great expanse of geological time.
Yet Goldsmith’s Hall has stood upon this site since 1339 and the current hall is only the third incarnation in seven hundred years, which makes this one of the City’s most ancient tenures. The surrounding streets were once home to the goldsmiths’ industry in London and it was here they met to devise a system of Assay in the fifteenth century, so that the quality of the precious metal might be assured through “Hallmarking.” The origin of the term refers to the former obligation upon goldsmiths to bring their works to the Hall for Assaying and marking and, all these years later, Goldsmiths’ Hall remains the location of the Assay Office. The leopard’s head – which has always been the mark of the London Assay Office – recalls King Richard II, whose symbol this was and who granted the company its charter in 1393.
Passing through the austere stone facade, you are confronted by a huge painting of 1752 – portraying no less than six Lord Mayors of London gazing down at you with a critical intensity. You are impressed. From here you walk into the huge marble lined stairwell and ascend in accumulating awe to the reception rooms upon the first floor, where the glint of gold is everywhere. The scale of the Livery Hall is such that you do not comprehend how a room so vast can be contained within such a restricted site, while the lavish panelled Drawing Room in the French style with its lush crimson carpet proposes a worthy stand-in for Buckingham Palace in many recent films, and exists just on the right side of garish.
A figure of St Dunstan greets you at the top of the stairs, glowing so golden he appears composed of flame. A two thousand year old Roman hunting deity awaits you the Court Room, dug up in the construction in 1830. A marble bust of Richard II broods upon the landing, sceptical of your worthiness to enter the lofty company of the venerable bankers and magnates whose names adorn the board recording wardens stretching back to the fourteenth century. In every corner, portraits of these former wardens peer out imperiously at you, swathed in dark robes, clutching skulls and holding their council. I was alone with my camera but these empty palatial rooms are inhabited by multiple familiar spirits and echo with seven centuries of history.
“observing the fossils interred within the Haytor granite commonly sets me wondering at the great expanse of geological time”
St Dunstan is the patron saint of smiths
The four statues of 1835 by Samuel Nixon represent the seasons of the year
Staircase by Philip Hardwick of 1835
William IV presides
The figure of St Dunstan holding tongs and crozier was carved in 1744 for the Goldsmiths’ barge
Dome over the stairwell
Richard II who granted the Goldsmiths their charter in 1393
The Court Room
Philip Hardwick’s ceiling in imitation of a seventeenth century original
Roman effigy of a hunting deity dug up in 1830 during the construction of the hall
The Drawing Room
Clock for the Turkish market designed by George Clarke c.1750
Eleven experts worked for five months to make the Wilton carpet
Ormolu candelabra of 1830 in the Drawing Room
The Drawing Room, 1895
Mirror in the Livery Hall
The Livery Hall
The second Goldsmiths’ Hall, 1692
The current Goldsmiths’ Hall, watercolour by Herbert Finn 1913
Benn’s Club of Alderman, 1752 – containing six Lord Mayors of London
Although the Hall is not open to the public, as part of the forthcoming Huguenot Threads festival, there will be a free visit in July.
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