Hall Marks

The majority of the first Guild-halls in the Middle Ages were much more than meeting places, being of prime importance to the City as warehouses for the storage of coal and grain against times of shortage, as well as armouries for reserves of guns and gunpowder in emergencies.

As a start, the Bakers has hired a tenement in Dowgate for £3 a year in 1490, but their first proper Hall was a large mansion in the centre, then of the City’s wine trade district and which was bought for £20.00 in 1506. It had once been owned by a famous vintner, Richard Lyons, who was executed in the ‘Peasants’ Rising’ of 1381 and latterly by a Lady Elizabeth Boughcher, one of the 24 children of John Chicheley, Chamberlain of London from 1434 to 1449.
It was situated in Sigrymes Lane, subsequently named Hart Lane and now Harp Lane and it had all the requisite accommodation aforementioned plus administrative offices, temporary quarters for liverymen, and Almshouses. There was a large banqueting hall, with a Minstrels’ Gallery and a garden which ran down to the river and where grapevines and herbs were grown - together with a bowling alley.
All this was lost in the Great Fire and a similar fate befell the second Hall which replaced it in 1673. This second Hall had wisely been insured for £75.00 when in 1715 another fire raged in Thames Street.
That bakers were also builders in bygone days is demonstrated by the Master and Wardens having personally supervised the various tradesmen employed in the re-building of the third Hall between 1719 and 1722. This was the Hall which survived for over 200 years until the night of the first ‘blitz’ on the City in 1940. It had much oak and pine panelling and each stair was made from a solid baulk of oak. There were stained glass windows bearing the Coats of Arms of former Masters and the Livery Hall had a Minstrel Gallery hung with banners.
An interesting relic from this Hall is the old oak Charter Box, now in the ante-room, with a carved panel on the front giving the date 1722. There was also saved the Beadle’s oak seat now in the vestibule and a set of eight large marble panels depicting the life of the Company through the ages and now lining the walls of the staircase. These plaques had formerly been in the front passageway between the offices of wine merchants flanking the entrance gates fronting on Harp lane and leading to the small courtyard and main doors of the 1722 Hall. They are most unusual, having been executed in a rare and skilful manner in 1882, the lines of the drawings being chiselled out of fine marble and a leaden wire let into the grooves.
Further, surviving so importantly, almost from the time of the first Master of the Company, John Jenyns in 1481, are some of the Company’s records dating back to 1491.
The present, 4th Hall stands on the original freehold site of 1506. It was built in 1963; and the ‘War Damage Commission’ having paid little more than a token sum, the construction of a modern block of offices above was essential to fund rebuilding. Each new Hall has, of necessity, been smaller than its predecessor and the main accommodation is now the Court Room on the lower ground floor, with the Charter Gallery and Livery Hall above, seating about 90 for dining - which brings to mind a tradition from far-off days when one of the Toasts after dinner was invariably ‘To the Merry Maids, the Good Wives, and the Buxom Widows of the Bakers’ Company’!
As a reminder of the destruction of the three former Halls, the stained glass windows in the Livery Hall were designed by the famous artist, John Piper, and symbolize the three fires in an abstract fashion, whilst the specially commissioned wall-covering of the Ante-Room shows the legendary Phoenix ever rising from the ashes.
Out of today’s 110+ Livery Companies, only 38 are so fortunate to still have their own Halls.
The immediate vicinity has of course totally changed from when, until 1940, the Hall stood in a narrow lane which opened onto Great Tower Street, whereas since 1961 Harp lane now ends in a courtyard - ‘Bakers’ Hall Court’. In the centre of this, the Company planted a chestnut tree to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977. Strangely, even though in the City’s wine district the next two lanes to the east had such improbable names as ‘Water Lane’ and ‘Beer Lane’ so it may be poetic justice they should be swept away with the post-war re-routing of Lower Thames Street towards the Church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower.