Common Council, at the Guildhall review
I only found out about this recently, but every now and then they hold a Common Council meeting inside the Guildhall which is open to the public. It's basically a big meeting for the city big-wigs, and is attended by the Lord Mayor in her golden chains and robes (the Lord Mayor is currently one of those lady people, of the woman variety).
The Guildhall is another one of those intimidating places that looks out of bounds to you and me, but it's actually really easy to get inside. You don't enter it from the grand facade though. If you stand in the courtyard and look to the left then you'll see some modern offices with a strange pepperpot building out the front. If you head through the glass doors to the left of that then you can stroll past security (you'll have to put your bags through the scanner if you're carrying stuff). Round the corner is a little glass corridor which you can follow into the Great Hall.
The meeting today started at 1 PM but it's definitely worth getting there half-an-hour early so you can have a look around the hall. They've got some great big statues of the great and good dominating the walls -- people like Churchill, Wellington, Nelson and Pitt. Up on the balcony staring down are the golden statues Mog and Magog, said to be the ancient Lords of London.
The public gets to sit at the back on about 8 rows of leather chairs, whilst the council occupies the front half beyond the barrier. Right at the top table is where the Lord Mayor of London sits, surrounded by an arc of Aldermen on either side. They've got almost as many seats in here as in the House of Commons -- for an area measuring just one square mile. Their writ doesn't run much further than the old city walls, so you're not going to hear anything of national importance. The subjects up for discussion today include on-street parking, public libraries, and the adoption of the West Smithfield Area Enhancement Strategy -- riveting stuff! You can pick up a paper by the door which lists all of the questions and members in attendance.
There are still 15 minutes to go at the moment, but it's starting to busily fill up with people. It seems to be a mix of bowler-hatted ushers (no joke), judge-like people in their white wigs, business leaders in smart suits and briefcases, and a few people like me just here to be nosey. These people look like the movers and shakers of the city. These aren't your £100 suits from M&S -- we're talking Savile Row and Jermyn Street here. These people look like the top of the tree. The kind of people who shave every day without fail, and take phone calls every five minutes. Buy! Sell! Buy! Sell! Gordon Gecko will probably stroll in soon.
All the smart suits are walking into the business end of the chamber, away from where the public sit. So these must be the people who decide stuff. All dressed up in their Sunday best. There's a load of folks at the top table in gold chains and ruffle wigs too. The Aldermen of London have taken their seats in the arc of chairs, and wait... wait a mo... here she comes, the lady Lord Mayor of London.
In she comes in her traditional garb, chains of state and huge black hat. Old guys lead her in with a golden sceptre and up we go... everyone stands up to see her parade her way to the stage. Then everyone bursts into a round of applause as she takes her seat. Then down we go... and the judge-like ringleader bangs his gable on the table to start the meeting.
A tip: You're not allowed to take any photos in the chamber once the meeting has started, so if you want a shot of the Mayor in her robes of State then it's best to wait outside in the courtyard, where her limo sits waiting. She came out at about 2 PM today, and you have a quick 30 seconds before she disappears into the car.
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