Inside Mercers Hall | Look Up London

Inside Mercers’ Hall

As an official City of London Guide, I was lucky to be invited to the Mercers’ Hall in December 2021 for their Advent Sermon. Unique amongst the City’s Livery Companies for having its own private chapel on site, here’s a look inside the Mercers’ Hall…

History of The Mercers’ Company 

The Mercers’ are one of the City of London’s Livery Companies (livery being a fancy word for uniform). They originated as guilds in the Medieval period which grouped together to regulate pricing, quality and who could enter the trade.

(We talk about them on the City: Power and Sacrifice and City Secret Gardens walks!)

The Mercers’ originally dealt in luxury fabrics and have a recorded history going back to 1304. Since 1515 (when the Lord Mayor decided to put a stop to incessant squabbles between the companies) the Mercers’ have been ranked No.1 in the Order of Precedence in terms of wealth and prestige. 

Around the site of their hall and along Long Acre (which they’ve owned since 1530) you can see their symbol – the Mercers’ Maiden – everywhere! Read more about it here.

Or watch my TikTok here;

@lookuplondon You can also see lots in the City! 👸🏻 #londonhistory #londonfacts #coventgarden #coventgardenhistory #londontourguide #lookuplondon ♬ original sound – user9662218687174

History of the Mercers’ Hall

You can find the Mercers’ Hall off Cheapside on Ironmonger Lane. 

As well as the telltale Mercers’ Maidens, look out for the stained glass windows.

Inside Mercers Hall | Look Up London
The stained glass windows show (L-R) King Richard II who granted the first charter, Saint Thomas Becket and Queen Elizabeth I

Based here since the 14th century, original the Mercers’ company hired rooms above the chapel of St Thomas of Acon, established in the 1220s in honour of the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket.

Image Credit: – Agas Map 16thC

Becket, martyred in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 then canonised soon after, had been born on the site and there’s a modern sculpture of him on the corner today.

The Mercers’ held meetings in rooms provided by the monastery here and then in the early 1500s bought part of the site for use as a permanent hall to go alongside their side chapel.

In 1538, following the dissolution of the monasteries, the Mercers’ bought the entire site from King Henry VIII and the chapel and adjoining hall were saved (more on that later).

Image Credit: – Tuder Map c.1520

Sadly, the hall didn’t survive the Great Fire of London and after rebuilding was subsequently destroyed again in 1941 by bombs. The current hall is on the same site and built on the same foundations but was rebuilt in 1958.

Inside the Mercers’ Hall

Given its long history, you’ll be happy to know that despite the relative newness of the Mercers’ Hall, it still contains plenty of historic artefacts and details. 

We were given a brief tour before the service, so here are a few highlights…

The Livery Hall

Of all the rooms in their headquarters, this is the heart of the Mercers’ Company and where dinners are held, building bonds and familiarity between members in the same tradition as the 14th century.

The twinkling chandeliers are from the 18th century and were saved during the Blitz because they were hidden in a Welsh cave!

The Chapel

Although rebuilt in the late 1950s, the Chapel still feels like a beautiful historic surprise, standing on the site of the former apse of the church. 

And it has a wonderful domed ceiling…

The Fishbone Effigy 

Pre-dating the Great Fire of London, this is the tomb of Sir Richard Fishbone (1562-1625).

He was a Mercer and on his death he left money for sermons to be preached in the chapel as well as large sums for charitable causes.

The Christus 

Discovered in 1954 amidst the rubble after the Blitz, this extraordinary sculpture dates from the time of the original chapel of St Thomas Acon and was probably sculpture between 1480 and 1520.

It’s an amazing find because it depicts a pre-reformation Christ. Presumably kept hidden from the authorities who were removing overly Catholic iconography at the time.

He’s shown emaciated with drops of blood and an extremely realistic anatomy and expression.

When it was first retrieve from its 400-year old hiding place it was painted vividly bright colours; blue veins and red blood against his palid, yellow skin while lying on a purple robe.

Visit Mercers’ Hall

The Hall can be hired out for events and you can see more pictures inside here. Aside from special events the Mercers’ Hall isn’t open to the public. 

However, since 1961 both the Advent and Lent sermons in the chapel are supposedly open to the public. In reality I’m not sure how this works, whether one can apply or has to be invited by members.

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