Guildhall -- Guided Tour review
Not many tourists bother with the Guildhall because it's tucked away in a side street off Cheapside. Not a lot of locals bother with it either, which is a shame, because it's one of the most historic buildings in London. The Saxons are supposed to have built the first one on the stumps of the Roman amphitheatre, but the one we see today is 15th-century. Ignore the white facade at the front (that was added in the 1780s), and forget the roof, because that was rebuilt after the Luftwaffe dropped a bomb on top. What you need to look at is the dark brown stonework in the middle. That's the historic Great Hall right there. That's the building that Dick Whittington would have seen going up in the final years of his life. That's Henry V. That's the Battle of Agincourt -- that's how old those brown walls are.
The easiest way to get inside is on a guided tour. They only hold them once a month though, and you have to email the lady on their website beforehand to stick your name on the list. Then you meet them in the cloakroom of the Guildhall Art Gallery next door. The guide we've got today is a nice granny-like lady called Heather. She won't mind be mentioning that she's elderly because I mean it as a compliment. In my experience older guides are definitely better because the young ones tend to rush around and tell too many jokes, like they're putting on a performance. Heather just takes her time and tells you the interesting history of it.
The Great Hall has got to be one of the most historic rooms in England. Henry V held a big banquet in here once, and Lady Jane Grey was put on trial for her life after her nine day reign. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Culpeper ended up here as well (the guy accused of sleeping with Catherine Howard). These days it's mainly used for meetings and formal dinners.
The roof has been remodelled a bit since Dick Whittington's day, courtesy of the Great Fire of London and World War II, but they've still got the heraldic shields and dusty flags and banners of the livery companies. The walls are decorated with statues of Nelson, Wellington, Winston Churchill and William Pitt, but look up on the balcony for the most famous ones: the golden statues of Gog and Magog. Legend says that they were originally a couple of giants that Brutus slayed and chained to his palace gates (on the same spot we're standing now). Over the years the've morphed into benevolent guardians, like the City's human guard dogs, and they've supplanted Brutus as the good guys. Every time they get destroyed we rush to rebuild them in case they bring bad luck upon the city.
Unfortunately that was all we saw today because they've stepped up the security due to the Manchester bombings last week. But in the past they've taken us into the crypt and Old Library as well. Hopefully by the time you visit everything will be back to normal.
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