London really is full of surprises. I never fail to marvel at how often I go out to do one thing, and end up doing something else as well. For instance, we went out last week with our friend Annette to see an art show about "London through the eyes of artists." The show was at the Guildhall art gallery, in the heart of the oldest bit of London. The Guildhall was built between 1411 to 1999 in (as you'd guess) many different styles...plus there's part of a 2,000 year old Roman amphitheatre in the basement.
The paintings in the show spanned four hundred years or so, and the one below particularly appealed to me. It seems that around 1600 a legal clerk commissioned a theatrical scenery painter to show how Old St. Paul's Cathedral would look if it was restored. It was at the time very neglected - in fact, its spire had collapsed - and his set of pictures included "before" pictures and the hoped-for "after" pictures. Here's an "after" picture of the interior. Do you notice a dog being chased out of the church in the bottom right?
This exterior "after" picture shows how very different Old St. Pauls looked from the current one, even without the beautiful golden angels flying all around it.
It is just as well perhaps that the repairs don't seem to have been done, since it would have been very expensive - because, sadly, Old St Pauls was burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666.
After viewing the show, we thought we'd look at some of the Guildhall's permanent art collection, so off we went went in search of it. We quickly found ourselves before a large arched doorway, which led into a series of grand rooms, some of them very large. These were crowded with stalls selling all kinds of unexpected things. After a while, we realised we'd stumbled upon a bazaar raising funds for the work of the Red Cross.
And I do mean "grand" rooms. The statues decorating the walls were larger than life sized, if you notice. It was not at first immediately obvious that many of the stalls were run by livery companies, but they were. Livery companies are a bit like medieval trade unions, but now they play a mainly networking and ceremonial role in City life. Many are incredibly wealthy after centuries of endowment and land purchase, and they play an important part in maintaining many of the beautiful old churches and chapels in the City. (They also do other charitable work. For example, the Dyers Company supports S and Little A's junior school, which is in an area once traditionally associated with leatherwork and dyeing. )
The Blacksmiths were selling splendid ironwork of all types, the Masons had stone carvings which I guess you could buy and build into your house - I'm sure they were open to commissions too. Here are a couple of stallholders in Red Cross aprons and guild regalia. The Gardeners had a wonderful display of extremely reasonably priced and beautiful plants lining a long Gothic corridor.
The Launderers Company were in what looked some kind of a vestry. One of them told me that some of their members supplied them with vast quantities of hotel quality duvet covers and towels so they could sell them at knock down prices and raise money at the bazaar.
This gentleman below was MC-ing and his voice would appear out of nowhere over several of the vast rooms. T. reckons the collar and cuffs must have been made by the Lacemakers' Company, except that I don't think there is one, since lace was generally made at home by women.
Annette bought some books and a gourmet Christmas pudding and we went down a long stone staircase decorated entirely with fir boughs and coloured lights, and ended up in one of the Crypts. These are often amazingly decorated for functions (see this site http://www.guildhall.cityoflondon.gov.uk/east-west-crypts) but in the past were sometimes used to confine people that the authorities didn't like. On the occasion of our visit, the crypt housed a pop up cafe called the Clink (an old name for a jail, based on the noise the jailers made when they walked around with their bunches of keys). One of the stalls there was giving away free glasses of excellent wine, so we ended up pretty happy.
So eventually we peeled ourselves away from the crypt and went off to have a late lunch - it was nearly 2 PM - and noticed that the lights were on in St. Lawrence Jewry church, which stands nearby. So in we went and found we were at the end of a wonderful free organ concert. Several city churches have free organ concerts weekly. St. Lawrence is every Tuesday at 1 PM. So we decided to come back and hear one of the organ concerts the following Tuesday.
And that's what we did yesterday. This is a picture of the main organ - in fact, it has two cases, the big one in the main church, and a smaller one in a side chapel, and they can be played either together or separately. I'd love to hear them both played together.
And since it is connected with the Guildhall, and those livery companies, there's a stand for the ceremonial mace of the Lord Mayor of London. The aldermen sit behind him (or her) in those pews.
At the concert I heard for the first time some work by the composer Max Reger - a Chorale Fantasia. I was very impressed. If you want to hear it, Youtube has a good performance, although I have to say that however well performed it is, it's not really as good as hearing it on a real organ.
After the concert yesterday, we noticed the main door of the Guildhall was open. There was no particular event on, so we thought we'd drop in to see what it looked like without all the stalls, or the cafe, or anything. I'm not sure we were really supposed to be there, but it was a very interesting little walk, and this time we managed to take some photos of the stained glass windows in the crypt which showed the arms of some of the livery companies. This, below, for the Spectacle Makers, was my favourite. Each of the windows is full of imagery, but I particularly liked the butterfly with the "eyes" on its wings, and all the pairs of old fashioned spectacles.
Here, the Air Pilots and Navigators are one of the more modern companies.
And I did like the Farriers - so many different types of horses to be seen.
I'd have liked the chance to buy a book with pictures of all the windows, and explanations, but there wasn't one in the little shop by the gallery.
A few days ago we also took the chance to go to an exhibition called "Hidden London" - it's about the abandoned and disused tube stations of London. To get to Covent Garden, where the museum is, we cycled through Regents Park and were waylaid there, too. The weeping willows are often the last trees to shed their leaves and they did make a wonderful sight.
The Hidden London exhibition is due to close in January, and is worth catching if you can. It's exceptionally lively and theatrical for a small exhibition and you feel almost as if you really are going underground into a warren of abandoned or re-purposed stations. Old tube stations have been used for more things than I ever knew, from wartime headquarters to hydroponic salad factories!
One of the exhibits in the show was the London tube map with ONLY the disused stations marked.
The show was put on to launch the museum's own tours of disused stations in real life, which sound very good, and something I'd like to try before too long. I have to say I am a bit of a sucker for old railway stations.
Now that December has started, I really have to get moving on my Christmas preparations. Somehow they always catch me by surprise. Have you started your preparations yet?