The foot of Her­cules

The livery halls were the first pub­lic build­ings in the City to be re­con­structed after the Great Fire in 1666. Anya Matthews looks at one sur­viv­ing hall from the pe­riod to find out why

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Tal­low Chan­dlers’ Hall, Lon­don EC4

Fa­mously, the Great Fire, which burned from septem­ber 2–5, 1666, de­stroyed a huge swathe of the City. The litany of build­ings lost in the dis­as­ter rapidly be­came a fea­ture of con­tem­po­rary ac­counts and re­mains a com­mon­place of mod­ern his­to­ries of the event: 13,000 houses, 400 streets, 87 churches, the City gates, the Royal Ex­change, New­gate prison, Bridewell, the ses­sions House, the Guild­hall and st Paul’s. Forty-four Halls be­long­ing to livery Com­pa­nies also lay in ashes. Th­ese were the head­quar­ters of the City’s guilds, cor­po­rate bod­ies that de­vel­oped from the late mid­dle ages to reg­u­late trades and crafts. as John Eve­lyn noted in his di­ary on septem­ber 6: ‘all… the Com­pa­nies Halls, sump­tu­ous build­ings, arches, en­ter­ies, [were] all in dust.’

The trauma of fire was fol­lowed by a huge re­con­struc­tion ef­fort. an in­scrip­tion on the mon­u­ment erected to the Fire in 1669 de­clared, rather op­ti­misti­cally: ‘Haste is seen ev­ery­where, Lon­don rises again, whether with greater speed or greater mag­nif­i­cence is doubt­ful, three short years com­plete that which was con­sid­ered the work of an age.’ The sur­vey­ing of thou­sands of plots and some re­con­struc­tion had been ac­com­plished by 1669, but thou­sands of houses, as well as the City’s pub­lic ed­i­fices and churches, re­mained un­built. Con­struc­tion of the lat­ter would con­tinue well into the 1680s.

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