It was a gorgeous day on Wednesday. London looked so pretty. The traffic, as we approached the City, was awful and the driver took us over Tower Bridge, down Tooley Street and back across London Bridge as that was the quickest way to St Paul’s. When we got off the coach, several people asked me the way to go. I pointed, vaguely, away from the river and latched on to friends who actually had some idea where we were going.
We went to the Guildhall first. This is open to the public, except when it isn’t. They don’t publish in advance whether it is open or not, for security reasons if a Foreign Dignitary (or possibly even a Brit) is coming to call.
It was to be open in the morning. We read the sign. £2.50 entrance, or £1 for concessions. My friends, a little older than I, grinned smugly. I fumbled in my bag for coins. Straight-faced, the woman at the desk said “That’ll be a pound each.” I was mortified. Only a couple of weeks earlier, when we’d got a block booking for over-60s to Windsor Castle and I was the only one of 49 who has not reached this august age, I felt the need to wrinkle my face and let my chins down. Evidently I had not yet regained my normal smoothly unblemished youthfulness.
We went through the art galleries, which have pre-Raphaelite paintings, official portraits and some 20th Century art. Then we went down into the Roman amphitheatre which was brilliant. It was only discovered about 20 years ago and the restoration has continued until recently. It was really a pleasure to wander in the empty galleries, unobserved by attendants (although, of course, less visibly seen by the CTTV) and to see meetings carrying on in adjoining rooms. How enjoyable, to go to work and take for granted surroundings like those.
By this time my friend Sue and I were getting giggly and we exclaimed joyfully over the food on offer at the sandwich bar. Not a drop did we have all day, I assure you. We were high on springtime, perhaps? It was sunny and fresh and everyone in the streets looked smart and cheerful. And very prosperous. The City of London gives an impression, at present, of streets paved with gold. There’s a lot of it about. Positively glistering, it is (are you going to quote Gray at me?).
Goldsmiths’ Hall was great. There is a small exhibition on in the foyer, and we’d booked for a private tour. A most engaging chap whose name, sad to say, I didn’t catch, showed us round and told us of the history of the Goldsmiths’, one of the twelve Great Livery Companies. They are fifth in order of precedence, immediately after the Fishmongers, which rather appeals to me.
Gorgeous marbled halls, gilded and painted columns and ceilings, splendid candelabra – if you go to an evening reception in the Livery Hall, the 493 candles are lit in the 5 candelabra – all by one nimble chap, apparently – but they are wired too and we had lightbulbs. At dinner, silver-gilt rosewater bowls are passed around for the guests to rinse their fingers. Messy eaters, these City people, it seems.
Each year, in October, the Goldsmiths’ Fair is held and most of us keenly put our names down on the mailing list – one friend who has been says that it’s wonderful. Like the Guildhall, it is a working building and it’s where silver, gold and platinum items go to be hallmarked (as well as to the other assay offices in the country, Sheffield, Birmingham and Edinburgh).