The Freedom of the City of London was in earliest times a
prerequisite for all who wished to carry on business and prosper in trade
within the Square Mile. The privileges were eagerly sought while the duties
and obligations of Freemen were faithfully observed and this led to the
forming of Guilds and Livery Companies founded on the basis of commerce,
benevolence and religion. This formed trade specific standards within each
trade, enhanced reputations and protected the interests of customers.
The involvement of Freemen in the development of London's government can be traced back to Saxon and Norman times. As London grew and its trade and craft industries expanded, the direct involvement of Freemen in determining the evolving structure of local government gave way to indirect involvement through the Masters and Wardens of the Guilds and Livery Companies. Still today it is necessary for Liverymen to be Freemen of the City and it is the Liverymen who participate annually in the election of the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs.
The proud history of the City of London is such that many men and women rightly continue to regard it as a privilege to be admitted to the Freedom; further, the charitable activities of Freemen have been maintained in many different ways and by a great variety of City institutions.
Throughout the period of change in the 19th century it became possible to apply for the Freedom of the City without having to be a Liveryman. This development led to the foundation in 1908 of The Guild of Freemen of the City of London. Today the Guild is uniquely representative of all who enjoy the Freedom of the City of London, with a large number of Liverymen among its membership, coming together for the purpose of Charity, Benevolence, Education and Social activities. True to tradition the Guild's Charity provides support to many deserving causes including individuals and educational establishments associated with the City of London.
It has become a happy tradition that the Lord Mayor honours the Guild by becoming its Patron during his year of office, and that the Dean of St Paul's serves as its Honorary Chaplain.
The Guildhall is the home of the City of London
Corporation and has been the centre of City Government since the Middle
Ages. It is the largest civic hall in England and the only stone built
secular building in the City to have survived the Great Fire of London in
The first documentary evidence of a Guildhall on this site is dated 1128 and the current building was begun in 1411 and completed in 1440 although there are vestiges of Roman remains, including an amphitheatre, which can still be seen below Guildhall today.
The building of Guildhall was a demonstration of the wealth and pride of the City during the 15th century with the Livery Companies and Guilds contributing towards its cost. A legacy from the will of the famous Lord Mayor Richard 'Dick' Whittington was also made available to assist in the Guildhall's completion.
The roof of the Guildhall has been replaced several times following destruction through fire, war and reconstruction, and the oak panelled roof you see today is the fifth to rest on the medieval walls.
Throughout history the Guildhall has been the scene for much feasting and celebration, and a place where Royal and State visitors have been entertained throughout the centuries. In addition, it has been the setting for famous trials such as that of Lady Jane Grey and Thomas Cranmer.
In November each year the Lord Mayor's Banquet takes place
in the Great Hall, marking the start of the Lord Mayor's year in office.
Equally prestigious in December is the Annual Banquet of the Guild of
Freemen of the City of London, which is the highlight of the Guild's
programme of events and the Master's year.
As you look around this Medieval Hall you see stained glass windows and monuments to such national heroes as Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill. Tonight we dine in good company!
Built in 1582 for Sir Richard Martin. the Master of the
Mint and 3 times Lord Mayor of London the house v as lived in by various
individuals until Mary, Dowager Countess of Home bequeathed it to her
daughter Anne, wife of the Scottish Royalist John Maitland, the Earl of
Lauderdale - hence its name.
In 1649 Lady Lauderdale gave the house to John Ireton, brother of Cromwell's son-in-law, General Henry Ireton, who lived there until the Restoration. It was then returned to Lady Lauderdale, whose husband was a member of the Cabal and therefore a key advisor to Charles II who allowed the King's mistress, Nell Gwynn, to live there.
Changing hands many times, Lauderdale House's last private owner, Sir Sydney Waterlow, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1872-3, leased it to St Bartholomew's Hospital as a convalescent home. By 1883 the house lay empty, so in 1889 Sir Sydney gave it and its grounds to the London County Council "for the enjoyment of Londoners".
The 29 acres of land became a public park and the house a tearoom until a fire in 1963 destroyed much of the interior. It lay derelict until the local community established the Lauderdale House Society, the charity which now runs the house. In 1978 it was opened by Yehudi Menuhin as an arts and education centre.
The Great Hall, in which we are privileged to be dining
tonight, is part of Guildhall, the home of the City of London Corporation
since the Middle Ages. It is the largest civic hall in England and is the
only stone built secular building in the City to have survived the Great
Fire of London in 1666 that is still standing today.
Building of the present Guildhall commenced in 1411, some 600 years ago, but it is thought that an earlier civic hall existed on the site in the 13th century with vestiges of the earlier structures being incorporated in the west crypt when the new building was undertaken.
The rebuilding of the Guildhall was an ambitious undertaking which continued until approximately 1430. It was a demonstration of the wealth and pride of the City during the fifteenth century. Construction costs were raised through a variety of taxes with contributions also being made by many of the livery companies and other private sources. Towards its completion a legacy from the will of the famous Lord Mayor, Richard ‘Dick’ Whittington, was also made available to assist with the completion of the windows and paving. As early as 1419 it was possible for hustings (election campaigning) to be held inside the new building.
In 1666 the Great Fire swept through the Guildhall complex resulting in the loss of most of the ancillary buildings. However the structure of the hall itself, although losing its roof and the majority of the interior, was left standing. As soon as possible a flat roof was erected over Guildhall to enable resumption of its use. At the time this roof was meant to be of a ‘temporary’ nature but did in fact last for 200 years, until 1866, when an extensive restoration was carried out by City of London architect, Sir Horace Jones, who added a new timber roof in close keeping with the original.
In 1940 fire bomb raids caused serious damage to Guildhall and again the ancillary buildings and the roof of the hall were lost, but still the main walls survived and remained standing. A temporary structure was installed over the roof and it was under this steel canopy, in 1943, that Winston Churchill received the Freedom of the City of London. The present oak panelled roof was installed during restoration works which were completed in 1954 and is the fifth to rest on the medieval walls.
Throughout history the magnificent hall has been the scene of much activity including many famous trials. These include those of Anne Askew (Protestant Martyr), Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Lady Jane Grey, Thomas Cranmer, John Felton (Catholic Martyr) and Henry Garnett (in connection with the gunpowder plot).The Great Hall has also been the scene for much feasting and celebration. By the seventeenth century hospitality in the City and at Guildhall was already famous. Samuel Pepys is said to have dined here as did, on many occasions, Charles II. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century many magnificent banquets were held in honour of visiting heads of state, a tradition which still exists today. It is however said that few can rival the banquet held in 1900 by Queen Victoria to welcome soldiers returning home from the Boer War.
Among the many prestigious events held in the great hall today is the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, the first to be hosted by the new Lord Mayor in November each year. Equally prestigious, in December each year, is tonight’s Annual Banquet of the Guild of Freemen of the City of London, a tradition which is the highlight of the Guild’s programme of events.
As you look around the Great Hall you will see a number of splendid monuments which date back to the eighteenth century. The oldest, erected in 1772, was dedicated to Lord Mayor William Beckford who is represented addressing a remonstrance to King George Ill, after the king had apparently rebuffed an address from the City. Both William Pitt the Elder and William Pitt the Younger have their own monuments depicting the onset of prosperity achieved by the City during their lifetimes. Other monuments include tributes to Admiral Viscount Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Chatham and, more recently, Sir Winston Churchill. Tonight we dine in good company!