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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
City and County of the City of London (London Borough)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 32529 81387


627/10/42 BASINGHALL STREET EC2 10-NOV-77 (West side) Former Guildhall Library and Museum


Former Guildhall Library and Museum

Former public library and museum, now adapted for use as a reception chamber and archive depository. 1870-72 by Sir Horace Jones (1819-1887), Architect and Surveyor to the Corporation of London. Perpendicular Gothic Revival style.

MATERIALS: rough-faced Kentish Ragstone masonry with Bath Stone dressings; slate and lead-covered roofs.

PLAN: internal entrances on west side from Guildhall; public (and ceremonial) entrance from Basinghall Street to east. Former library in rectangular church-like chamber aligned north-south, with secondary chamber (former reading room) to south and with other rooms (former committee room and former clock room) and entrance to east; former museum in large undercroft-like basement, reached via stone stairs in south-east corner.

EXTERIOR: principal elevations to north and east, of Basinghall Street; other elevations hidden by Guildhall (to west) and Guildhall Art Gallery (to south). Irregular east elevation with gabled bay to south with canted bay window: ten-light mullion and transom window to ground floor, fifteen-light window to upper floor with trefoil-headed arches at top; crenellated parapet above. Coped gable with carved animal finials; similar carving to hopper head. Lower entrance bay with moulded arched entrance, flanked by paired shafts and bestial label-stops. Outer arch bears painted inscription in Lombardic letters 'THE FREE LIBRARY AND MUSEUM OF THE CORPORATION OF THE CITY OF LONDON'. Arched window above with pair of cusped lights. North-facing recessed eturn with cusped lights set beneath hood-moulds at ground and first floor level. East elevation continues, behind low stone wall, with a pair of cusped four-light windows to each floor; next to these is a projecting ten-light mullion and transom window to each floor with crenellation at mid- and upper-height, beneath a parapet faced with blind tracery. Pair of mansard louvres at attic height, beneath lead-covered roof with cast iron cresting to ridge. Tall stone chimney with crenellated top behind. Next section to north comprises a three-bay, three-stage elevation with buttresses. Triple lights to lower floor set within four centres arched hood-mould. Central section sports three arched recesses with cusped arches, flanking columns and crocketed finials over: inside each, standing on an octagonal plinth with foliate capital, is a statue of a queen, representing Elizabeth I, Anne, Victoria. Arched windows above with triple Perpendicular lights. Recessed upper stage with triforium lights to former library. Two-storey projection in angle of return with single light windows to upper floor; angle buttress adjoins. North elevation with triple window to upper chamber of two orders, with triple cusped lights to centre, paired lights to sides, with crenellated transom, set below depressed arched hood-moulds; similar lights to lower chamber. Crenellated parapet rising to centre, with frieze band of blind tracery; recessed gable end to upper stage with moulded stone chimney to centre. Recessed link to west adjoins post-war extension. INTERIOR: entrance to west via staircase, set beneath two moulded arches, leading to a pair of double doors set within stone arched surrounds with hood moulds and blind tracery to spandrels; north side has a six-light Perpendicular window (easternmost light is blind) with arched double door to centre. North entrance is via an arched door at end of passage. Main library chamber comprises a 7-bay aisled hall, 100 ft by 65 ft, 50 ft high to centre, with arcades of slim stone piers and traceried timber trusses to the roof, with three louvres to central ridge. East end with stained glass window by Ward & Hughes, depicting scenes from history of printing in London: Caxton's press at Westminster (upper register), Bishop de Bury of Durham buys Abbot of St Albans' library (lower regsiter), flanked by early printers and London writers. Below is a long fireplace of d'Aubigny stone with carved heads of Carpenter (founder of City of London School) and Chaucer: frieze of painted tiles showing procession of arts and sciences not present at time of inspection. Timber roof springs from carved beasts bearing arms of principal City companies, together with those of the Royal Family and of the City of London. Spandrels of arcade are decorated with carved high relief portrait heads, set within tracery, emblematic of the arts and sciences: History (Stow and Camden), Poetry (Shakespeare and Milton), Printing (Gutenberg and Caxton); Architecture (Wiliam of Wykeham and Wren), Sculpture (Michelangelo and Flaxman), Painting (Holbein and Hogarth); Philosophy (Bacon and Locke), Law (Coke and Blackstone), Medicine (Harvey and Sydenham); Music (Purcell and Handel), Astronomy (Galileo and Newton), Geography (Columbus and Raleigh), Natural History (Linnaeus and Cuvier) and Botany (Ray and Gerrard). Side windows at triforium level decorated with mottoes from Shakespeare. Richly carved stairs lead to modern gallery on either side. Double door within moulded stone arched frame at south-west, with framed brass inscription panel above. Southern end with large central door surround with hood mould, blind tracery decoration to spandrels, double timber doors. Stone chimneypieces flank on either side: that on east side inscribed in Gothic lettering 'Anno domini MDCCCLXXII', that to west 'Domine dirige nos'. Former reading room to south with open timber part-glazed roof, pair of four-centred arched chimneypieces to south side, arched door surrounds at either end. Former hall (later Clock Room) with open timber roof to east of former library at top of stairs, entered via arched, glazed wooden screen. Committee Room to north with stone fireplace, now entered via groin-vaulted entrance hall off Basinghall Street (but formerly entered direct from library). Stairs to former museum in south-east corner: fifteen-light stained glass window bearing arms of City companies; open well stone staircase with stone fretted balustrade; wooden roof; triple cusped window with Gothic ironwork along bottom flight of stairs; arched opening at foot (blocked at time of inspection leading into former museum in crypt), carried on an octagonal pier with foliate capital to right. Former museum in crypt: a six-bay aisled undercroft with long cast-iron beams carried on piers with foliate capitals, forming part of original fire-proof construction system. Narrow stone stairs leading from north-west of upper chamber, with stone fretted balustrade, widening to bottom. Architectural items from 17th century demolished City buildings on south wall, hidden behind later shelving.

SUBSIDIRY FEATURES: affixed to south wall of former museum are a number of large items from the former Guildhall Museum collections: a plaster Stuart coat of arms from Wren's St Michael Bassishaw (dem. 1899); the sign of the Boar's Head, Eastcheap (1668), and the sign of the Bull and Mouth coaching inn, a striking Mannerist relief carving of a huge mouth swallowing an ox with accompanying verse. Statues in western vestibule of Sir John Cass (bronze, by Roubiliac, from Sir John Cass's Foundation), Charles II and Sir John Cutler (both Portland Stone, by Arnold Quellin, from former College of Physicians in Warwick Lane).

HISTORY: Corporation of London set up a committee to consider a new library and museum in 1869. Building work started in 1870 and the new premises were opened in November 1872 by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Selborne. The contractors were Trollope & Sons; the stained glass was by Ward and Hughes, and the carving by J.W. Seale. The sides of the library were formerly lined with bookstacks, and the long chamber to the south served as the reading room. The library suffered from bomb damage in 1940-41: Sir George Gilbert Scott oversaw the restoration. The collections having outgrown the Victorian premises, the library was transferred to the new Guildhall Library in 1974, at around which time the new Museum of London (o.1976) assumed the role of the Guildhall Museum; the racking inside the crypt dates from c.1960. The former library was adapted for use as a reception chamber, the book bays being taken out in c.1975 while the former museum was filled with shelving and used as an archive depository, shelving being installed in c.1960. The building forms an integral part of this highly important civic ensemble: despite the loss of its fittings, it remains a High Victorian public building of very high quality.

SOURCES: The Architect, 9th November 1872, 263-64; John Price, A Descriptive Account of the Guildhall of the City of London (1886), 228 ff.; Francis Sheppard, The Treasury of London (1991), ch. 2.

Listing NGR: TQ3252981388


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Price, J, A Descriptive Account of the Guildhall of the City of London, (1886), 228
Sheppard, F, The Treasury of London, (1991)
'The Architect' in 9 November, (1872), 263-64


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 23 Aug 2005
Reference: IOE01/14704/21
Rights: Copyright IoE Miss Patricia Philpott. Source Historic England Archive
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