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Dinners Of Old London

December 24, 2016
by the gentle author

Dinner at the Mercers’ Hall, c.1910

Is that your stomach rumbling or is it the sound of distant thunder I hear? To assuage your hunger, let us pass the time until we eat by studying these old glass slides once used for magic lantern shows by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society at the Bishopsgate Insititute. Observe the architecture of gastronomy as expressed in the number and variety of ancient halls – the dining halls, the banquet halls and the luncheon rooms – where grand people once met for lengthy meals. Let us consider the dinners of old London.

The choicest meat from Smithfield, the finest fish from Billingsgate, and the freshest vegetables from Covent Garden and Spitalfields, they all found their way onto these long tables – such as the one in Middle Temple Hall which is twenty-seven feet long and made of single oak tree donated by Elizabeth I. The trunk was floated down the river from Windsor Great Park and the table was constructed in the hall almost half millennium ago. It has never been moved and through all the intervening centuries – through the Plague and the Fire and the Blitz – it has groaned beneath the weight of the dinners of old London.

Dinners and politics have always been inextricable in London but, whether these meals were a premise to do business, make connections and forge allegiances, or whether these frequent civic gatherings were, in fact, merely the excuse for an endless catalogue of slap-up feasts and beanos, remains open to question. John Keohane, former Chief Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London told me that his troupe acquired their colloquial name of “beefeaters” because – as royal bodyguards – Henry VII  granted them the privilege of dining at his table and eating the red meat which was denied to commonfolk. In the medieval world, your place at dinner corresponded literally to your place in society, whether at top table or among the lower orders.

Contemplating all these empty halls where the table has not been laid yet and where rays of sunlight illuminate the particles of dust floating in the silence, I think we may have to wait a while longer before dinner is served in old London.

Christ’s Hospital Hall, c.1910

Buckingham Palace, State Dining Room, c.1910

Grocers’ Hall, c.1910

Ironmongers’ Hall, Court Luncheon Room, c.1910

Mercers’ Livery Hall, 1932

Merchant Taylors’ Hall, c.1910

Painters’ Hall, c.1910

Salters’ Livery Hall, c.1910

Skinners’ Hall, c.1910

Skinners’ Hall, c.1910

Stationers’ Hall, Stock Room, c.1910

Drapers’ Hall, c.1920

The Admiralty Board Room, c.1910

King’s Robing Room, Palace of Westminster, c.1910

Buckingham Palace, Throne Room, c.1910

Houses of Parliament, Robing Room, c.1910

Lincoln’s Inn, Great Hall, c.1910

Lincoln’s Inn Old Hall, c.1928

Drapers’ Hall, c.1920

Middle Temple Hall, c.1910

Mansion House Dining Room, c.1910

Ironmongers’ Hall, Banqueting Room, c.1910

Apothecaries’ Hall, Banquet in the Great Hall, c.1920

Boys preparing to cook, c.1910

Boar’s Head Dinner at Cutler’s Hall, c.1910

Lord Mayor’s Banquet at the Guildhall, 1933

Baddeley Cake & Wine, Drury Lane, c.1930

Glass slides courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

The Nights of Old London

The Ghosts of Old London

The Dogs of Old London

The Signs of Old London

The Markets of Old London

The Pubs of Old London

The Doors of Old London

The Staircases of Old London

The High Days & Holidays of Old London

7 Responses leave one →
  1. December 24, 2016

    Wonderful tables, what a lot of history. Valerie

  2. December 24, 2016

    Dear Gentle Author,

    Your blog today inspired me to write some doggerel. Blame those slides of grand but empty rooms and references to tradesmen’s guilds.

    Monarchs, lawyers, guildsmen all did dine
    in splendid halls and drank good wine.
    All gone, all gone
    Their races run
    Their time upon this earth all done.

    Time, like sand, keeps running through the fingers
    of the reaper’s hands
    and tradesmen almost all outdated
    by machines that replicated
    their diligence and skill;

    but lawyers, Lords and politicians
    are feasting still.

  3. December 24, 2016

    Merry and Peaceful Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

    Love & Peace

  4. christine cook permalink
    December 24, 2016

    Thank you so much for your wonderful daily blog. Always enjoyable and inspiring.
    I just want to wish you and yours and mister Pussy a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
    Christine Cook

  5. Adele permalink
    December 24, 2016

    As I looked at these pictures I thought of friends who went to the schools associated with these Guilds – Skinners, Grocers etc. Thank you for once again stirring up memories GA, and best wishes for a holiday season and new year filled with peace and happiness.

  6. Sonia Murray permalink
    December 24, 2016

    Thanks, Gentle Author! And Joan, for the verse – so very true! It was fascinating to see the picture of Middle Temple Hall because not long after it was taken, Gran’s brother dined there as a student. Do you by any chance have a picture of Poulterer’s Hall? A friend in Canada has ancestors who were poulterers and members of the Guild.

    May you and Mr. Pussy have a very Happy Christmas and a joyous New Year!

    All the best,

  7. pauline taylor permalink
    December 24, 2016

    Thank you GA for these, which like many of the slides and photos that you have shared with us throughout the year, most of us would never have a chance of seeing were it not for you. I always enjoy your insights into the history of the city which helps me to imagine how some of my ancestors would have lived, not only those who were fortunate enough to be well off, but those who just managed and those who only just scraped a living. No doubt some would have rowed the better off across the river on their way to partake of one of the magnificent feasts that took place in these halls long ago.

    Merry Christmas and a very happy and healthy New Year to you and Mr Pussy.


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