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
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.