Draper’s Hall

Architects: H Williams and Sir T G Jackson (1868)

Audio-described architecture tour for Open House London 2015 led by VocalEyes Describer Willie Elliot with Penny Fussell, Archivist from The Draper’s Company.

Founded over 600 years ago, the Drapers’ Company is incorporated by Royal Charter and is one of the Twelve Great Livery Companies in the City of London. It has moved with the times and evolved into an organisation that addresses contemporary issues, gaining a new relevance through its philanthropic role.

As the trading activities of the guilds expanded, members required a Hall where they could meet to discuss and co-ordinate business. At first, they used individuals’ houses but in the 1420s the Drapers’ guild decided to build its own Hall. This first Hall was in St. Swithin’s Lane.
The present Hall, situated in Throgmorton Street, was bought from King Henry VIII in 1543 for the sum of 1,800 marks (approximately £1,200). This had been the house of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex and Chief Minister to Henry, but had been forfeited to the King on Cromwell’s execution in July 1540.

Destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, Drapers’ Hall was rebuilt between 1667 and 1671 to designs by Edward Jarman. In 1772, it was again rebuilt after a fire which did considerable damage and, in the 1860s, the frontage was changed and the interior altered by Herbert Williams. It was later altered once more in 1898-9 by Sir Thomas Graham Jackson.

The tour took blind and partially sighted people on a journey through the Draper’s Hall from the entrance on Throgmorton Street along the panelled corridor with the stained glass window that contains the coats of arms of four naval heroes, Sir Francis Drake, Nelson, St. Vincent and Raleigh with a visit into the internal courtyard. Then moving up to the first floor and into the main rooms of the Draper’s Hall via the marble and alabaster staircase, with its delicately carved balustrade in Italian Quattrocento manner, one of the finest of its date, passing by at its base an early 19th century statue by Rudolf Schadow, ‘A girl fastening her sandal’ before reaching the first floor landing.
At the first floor landing the tour visited the Court Dining Room which has a stunning ceiling centre painting of Jason and The Golden Fleece by Félix-Joseph Barrias, a grand example of a mid-19th century fire place and a portrait of Her Majesty The Queen by Sergei Pavlenko, commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Her Majesty becoming a Freeman of the Company which was unveiled by The Queen in November 2000. The legend of the Golden Fleece is also depicted in the Gobelin tapestries which were made in the reign of Louis XV which were purchased by the Company in 1881 at a Christie’s auction.

The Gobelin tapestries continue into the Court Room with splendid wall panelling decorated ceiling plaster work and chandeliers that date back to 1797.

Then the tour went on to the main Livery Hall With its 28 marble columns, statues of ‘Venus’ by John Gibson and ‘Hypatia’ by Richard Belt which were purchased in the1890s And the mighty ceiling paintings by Herbert Draper (1903 – 1910) which depict scenes from The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and representations of History, Science, Ethics and Literature. The hall is adorned with Royal Portraits from William III, Queen Anne to Queen Victoria and Edward IV. Which continue into the Livery Hall corridor where a number of the Company’s charters are on display along with a massive iron chest, known as the Armada Chest. The tour concluded in the Victorian opulence of the Drawing Room with its plump chairs and sofas, deep coffered ceiling and a fine chimneypiece. The Drawing room also contains a sculpture bust of Her Majesty The Queen by Lorne McKean commissioned by the Court of Assistants in 1985 and a statue of ‘The Shepherd Boy’ by the Danish sculptor Thorwaldsen which was purchased in 1893.

Audio playlist