Inside Goldsmiths’ Hall
Along Foster Lane in the City you can easily walk past this stone, 19th century building without giving it much thought. But it’s worth looking a bit closer at Goldsmiths’ Hall, an institution that’s been here since 1339.
I was recently invited to have a look inside and can confirm the interior is far more glittering than the outside suggests!
History of the Goldsmiths’ Company
One of the Great Twelve Livery Companies of the City of London, the Goldsmiths received their first Royal Charter in 1327 but were probably operating as a trade guild for a long time before.
They regulated the quality of craftsmen and traders and since 1300 have been responsible for testing the quality of gold and silver.
This still continues today in their adjoining assay office which still tests precious metal and applies hallmarks. The word, hallmark, coming from the Goldsmith’s hall where craftsmen would receive their mark.
Another historic legacy is the trial of the pyx, an annual ceremony dating back to the 12th century where the realm’s coinage was tested.
Public records start in 1248 and record twelve City Goldsmiths taking part. Until 1870 the ceremony took place in the Pyx Chamber at Westminster Abbey but now it takes place in the Goldsmiths Hall.
Unlike many of the other 111 City Livery Companies, the Goldsmiths retain very close links with the trade and one of their main objectives is to support craftspeople and the wider industry.
The Goldsmiths’ Leopard
Even before you enter, you’re met with some of the key symbols of the Goldsmiths’ Company, the major one being the leopard’s head.
The leopard’s head first appears in 1300 as the King Edward I’s mark to confirm the standards of gold and silver objects.
Leopard is actually a corruption of “leo part” heraldic speak for a lion’s face head on. But it’s changed throughout history to look more defined (and fearsome) so can be seen absolutely everywhere.
And that goes for the wider City of London too, the Goldsmiths own a lot of property across the Square Mile so it’s worth looking out for their crest which is a signal that they own the freehold. It’s something we talk about on my City: Power and Sacrifice walking tour.
Inside Goldsmiths’ Hall
The current hall was built in 1829-35, designed by Philip Hardwick.
The first room is the Staircase Hall. Originally this was covered in wood panelling but upgraded to colourful marble in 1871.
Flanking you up the stairs are four statues depicting the seasons carved by Samuel Nixon in 1844.
There’s also a brilliant gilded wooden statue of St Dunstan, patron saint of the company, which dates from 1744 and who used to stand at the front of the Company’s state barge.
Dunstan who lived c.909-988AD rose to Bishop of London and then Archbishop of Canterbury but was once a lowly Blacksmith. In one hand he clutches his Bishop’s crosier but in the other are his blacksmith’s tongs which by tradition he used to pinch the devil on the nose when he appeared to tempt him.
The show stopper room is the Livery Hall itself with its opulent coffered ceiling with epic chandeliers designed by Perry & Co and dating to 1835.
In amongst the decoration you can spot pineapples, a symbol of wealth and hospitality. The Goldsmiths’ have apparently very much leaned into this and if you ever visit for a dinner here you will always be served the ‘Goldsmith dessert’ on a pineapple theme!
Another nice detail pointed out to me was the patch of darker ceiling, showing the results of restoration work.
Unsurprisingly the hall is used for a lot of filming and most recently appears in The Crown Season Four (see great pictures in the here and here as well as Killing Eve, Bridgerton and an even an Ellie Goulding music video).
There were more fun details to find in the light-filled Drawing Room.
These included 17th century Le Clerc tapestries that were seemingly too risqué for the Victorian members, the ladies’ exposed leg only relatively recently revealed when the tapestries were cleaned!
In The Court Room you’re transported back in time to the former 18th century hall, with oak panelling and portraits of Goldsmith members.
At one end there’s an amazing stone altar, dating from the 2nd Century AD and a piece of Roman London uncovered while digging the foundations for the current hall in 1830.
One of the most striking paintings a wonderful portrait of Queen Elizabeth II’s post-coronation banquet at Mansion House.
It’s painted by Terence Cuneo whose trademark was including a tiny mouse in every painting so we had a lot of fun trying to track it down, eventually finding it hiding on the table amongst the floral displays!
The final room we saw was the Exhibition Room, a starkly different feel as it was designed post-WWII. So while some of the rooms like the Drawing Room were also redesigned following bomb damage, they were done in a more historic style.
Visit Goldsmiths’ Hall
Although it’s not regularly open to the public, Goldsmiths’ Hall, unlike many of the City’s Livery Halls, is a bit easier to visit.
Each year they open for the Goldsmiths’ Fair so not only can you admire the building but they also have a display of contemporary jewellery, artwork and crafts to purchase. You can find out more about the 2023 fair and get tickets here.
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