Skip to content

At The Drapers’ Hall

November 15, 2021
by the gentle author

The Drawing Room

As long ago as 1180, the Drapers in the City of London formed a Guild to protect their interests as small traders and help members who fell into distress. The full title of the company was, “The Master and Wardens and Brethren and Sisters of the Guild or Fraternity of the Blessed Mary the Virgin of the Mystery of the Drapers of the City of London.” More than eight hundred years later, it still exists to administer charitable trusts, inheriting headquarters that have been rebuilt over the centuries upon the site of Thomas Cromwell’s house – taken by Henry VIII after Cromwell’s execution at the Tower in 1540 and sold to the Drapers in 1543.

For years, I walked down Throgmorton Avenue and peered through the railings at the Mulberry trees growing there with out knowing that this tiny enclave of greenery in the heart of the city was the last remnant of Thomas Cromwell’s garden. Consequently, I was fascinated to visit the Drapers’ Hall and explore the chambers of the ancient livery company arranged around a hidden courtyard, following the ground plan of the great medieval hall that once stood upon this site. Until then, I had no idea that these palatial spaces existed, sequestered from the idle passerby.

Cromwell’s mansion was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, then rebuilt to designs by Edward Jarman in the sixteen seventies and later remodelled in each of the subsequent centuries to arrive at the rambling construction I encountered, which delivers some breathtaking architectural contrasts as you walk from one space to another. Offices occupy the ground floor that give no hint of the grandeur above, unless you step into the courtyard and raise your eyes to peer through the tall windows upon the first storey where the gleam of vast chandeliers reveals lofty painted ceilings. Standing there in the stone yard surrounded by an arcade embellished with heads of the prophets, you might be in Venice or Rome.

A magnificent eighteen-nineties staircase by Thomas Graham Jackson, lavishly encrusted with alabaster and red emperor and green chipolina marble, and light by a five thousand piece chandelier, offers a suitable introduction to the wonders at the top, where the grand Dining Room awaits on your left and the even grander Drawing Room on your right. Overlooking the garden, the Dining Room is one of the oldest chambers at the Drapers’ Hall, dating from the seventeenth century yet heavily embellished with coats of arms in the mid-nineteenth century to create a shining firmament overhead, glistening in diffuse chandelier light.

Crossing the landing, you enter the Court Room where Nelson and Wellington face each other from full-length portraits at either end. Lit by tall windows overlooking the courtyard, even the grandeur of this space gives no indication of the vast Livery Hall beyond. In the sepulchral gloom, larger than life-size portraits of British monarchs line up around the walls of this cathedral-like space, where no sound of the city penetrates and the depth of silence hums in your ears. Incredibly, the embellishment in this ornate room was simplified in the eighteen nineties because the original decoration was so elaborate that it prevented the entry of light.

A narrow corridor leading from the hall and overlooking the courtyard holds the company’s succession of charters including Edward III’s Patent of 1364 followed by those granted by James I, Elizabeth I and our own Elizabeth II. Facing the Livery Hall across the courtyard is the Drawing Room, a chamber worthy of any of the royal palaces of Europe. Created by architect Herbert Williams and interior designer John G. Crace, it remains as they left it in 1868, – an exquisitely modulated symphony of gilt panelling and mirrors, glowing golden in the cool northern light.

Over-awed by the majesty of the building and distracted by the collection of old paintings worthy of any museum, I rubbed my bleary eyes when I found myself back in the dusty streets around Liverpool St Station in the grey dusk of the late afternoon, and it caused me to question whether my visit to the Drapers’ Hall had, in fact, been an apparition conjured by a daydream.

Bearded Persians by Henry Pegram flank the Throgmorton St entrance.

Staircase designed by Thomas Graham Jackson in the eighteen nineties.

A five thousand piece chandelier lights the staircase.

Jason and the Golden Fleece, portrayed upon the celiing of the Court Dining Room

Looking from the Drawing Room through to the Dining Room.

The Drawing Room by architect Herbert Williams and interior designer John G. Crace, 1868.

The Drawing Room c. 1920

The Shepherd Boy by Thorwaldsen, 1893.

The Livery Hall, c. 1920

The Livery Hall

The Livery Hall c.1920

The Livery Hall

The Livery Hall, c. 1890


This dial in the Livery Hall indicates the wind direction.

The Courtyard c. 1920

The last remnant of Thomas Cromwell’s garden.

The Garden, c. 1920

Glass slides courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to read about

At the Vintners’ Hall

13 Responses leave one →
  1. November 15, 2021

    I remember your visit well Gentle Author. My pics in the website link:-)

  2. Milo permalink
    November 15, 2021

    How very lovely. I could see myself having a Grand old time wandering that place. I don’t suppose they let it out as an ‘airbnb’ do they?

  3. Bernie permalink
    November 15, 2021

    Fabulous opulence! Would make a splendid concert-hall for chamber music.

  4. Lorraine permalink
    November 15, 2021

    Opulence is the word! Does anyone know what the building is used for now?

  5. November 15, 2021

    Thirty years ago, I worked for a lawyer who at that time was Master. I accompanied him on several visits during his tenure, including once when they were doing an afternoon run-through for a dramatic reading by Micheline Wandor in celebration of the Hall’s surviving the Great Fire. The Queen was expected that evening, a narrow stage had been erected along the long wall of the great hall shown in the photos, and the space was being filled with hundreds of chairs. I stood on the balcony and looked down at what felt more like preparations for a school play, with a posh chair front and centre for the head of governors, than anything else. It blew my mind to think that lovely private entertainments like that – in sequestered grand buildings like this – occur throughout the City on a regular basis, yet you can walk the EC postcodes from one end to the other at night, and see nothing but buses and the occasional stray tourist. Even more surreal was repairing at one point to the Master’s private apartment for a fine bone china mug of PG Tips in the butler’s kitchen.

  6. November 15, 2021

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a fabulous description and pics of Drapers Hall. So glad it has been saved from the wrecking ball of urban development. What a history!

  7. November 15, 2021

    Cue the harpsichord music. I think I’ll just join you, GA, in a major case of Over Awe.
    Those nearby soulless glass-and-steel towers appear, like a lava flow, ready to engulf all of this impeccable beauty and tradition.
    Dare I say, the vintage photos did not do it justice. So glad to have a present-day glimpse at this amazing location. (those gargoyles!!!???)
    Stay safe, all.

  8. November 15, 2021

    A treasure !!

  9. November 15, 2021

    Stunning building. Love the garden too.

  10. Pence permalink
    November 15, 2021

    Glouious building. I am so glad it has survived.

  11. Richard permalink
    November 18, 2021

    I remember encountering that staggering entrance when I was taking a walk around Bank area. And the garden around the side. I agree, a great place for a concert. Do they do weddins?

  12. Graham permalink
    November 20, 2021

    The livery hall has just been renovated/redecorated to stunning effect – the photos here show it as it was before this. The hall is usually open as part of the London Open Houses weekend in September with no need to book. It is otherwise rented out for events (with income helping cover the costs of maintaining the building) and used by the Drapers in support of their corporate and charitable activities.

  13. Carolyn Hooper permalink
    November 23, 2021

    I’m speechless……..

    Enormous thanks, gentle author for bringing this account and beautiful photos to us. Amazing!

    I would be simply overjoyed to own the courtyard!!


Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS