Mansion House Tour review
I went on a tour of Mansion House today. That's the place where the Lord Mayor of London lives. You have to queue up round the side until a nice lady comes and lets you in at 2 PM.
Our tour group consisted of about 25 old people and me. And some of them were even older than old, older than the building itself. Maybe that was why the security was so lax. The security guy just seemed to stuff our bags through the scanner and let everyone through the gate. I had my camera, phone, money and keys, and not a single beep went off. I'm sure the old people had a few metal hips and canes too, but this x-ray machine didn't want to know. Maybe the machine was asleep.
The tour begins in the entrance hall, which also happens to be the only place where you can sit down. This is handy because the guide launches into a very wordy speech which rattles along at a steam train pace for the next 60 minutes. Not a lot of people know the history of the Guilds and the Lord Mayors of London, so all the facts she fires at you are brand new. Like a scattergun they come, rat-a-tat-tat, from the time of Magna Carta up to the present day. It's all about the building, its history, the aldermen, the art and architects... my head was stuffed with so much stuff it's all fallen out and I can't remember any of it. I could see people's faces slowly starting to lengthen as she carried on, their lids and chins getting dragged down my gravity. Their ears were willing to listen, but their eyes had other ideas.
She also spoke at length about the current Lord Mayor, what her role is, and how she came to be elected. Everyone thinks that the Lord Mayor is Boris, but of course it isn't — he's the Mayor of London (Greater London) whereas the Lord Mayor looks after the Square Mile. She's only been in the job for 12 months but they actually let her live in Mansion House, which is some perk! You don't get to see any of her private rooms though, it's strictly about the 'State Rooms' below. But two of them are absolute stunners.
There are only about 5 rooms in total, but two of them are blinders. You might have seen one of them on the TV already — the Egyptian Hall. That's where the Chancellor gives his annual speech to all the bankers and the money men. But the first room you see is an interior courtyard which used to be open to the sky. Now it's all roofed over and decorated with huge white columns and crystal chandeliers. As an entrance hall it would work pretty well, but apparently the little pokey place where we'd just been sitting was the main way in. The grand facade that you can see outside from Bank is almost never used, she said. Even the Queen has to come in the side way. It seems like an terrible waste to me. It's as if they bricked up the front steps of St. Paul's, and sent everyone through the Crypt.
The next stop is the boardroom, used for official meetings. Like most of the rooms and stairwells on the tour, its walls are decorated with little Dutch landscapes, with a few portraits of old Lord Mayors and Aldermen too. I didn't recognise the names of any of the painters, but the pictures were nice enough. There is also lots of very ornate plasterwork on the ceiling. (I know exactly what you're thinking... dutch paintings and plasterwork... it sounds boring. But give it a chance!)
Then comes the real glory — the Egyptian Hall. This place is three stories high and reminded me a little bit of Banqueting House. It has a line of Corinthian columns down all four walls, a minstrels gallery running around the top, marble statues of gods looking on, and stained glass windows lighting up either end. The windows tell the story of the City, from the Magna Carta and Peasant's Revolt, all the way through to the charters of Elizabeth I and Edward VII's entry into London. It's a monumental space and one of the best rooms in the city.
The tour lasted one hour exactly. But it was a long hour because most of that was standing on the spot listening to her talking about paintings and plasterwork.
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