History of the Hall

Merchant Taylors’ Hall has been on this same site since 1347, when the Company acquired the mansion house of John de Yakeslee, pavilion maker to Edward III. In subsequent years, this mansion will have been altered or cleared away to build a Hall for the Company. The Dining Hall is still the same structure as it was before the Great Fire, and so is the Kitchen. The present Parlour is likely to have been the Court Room. This would give a common medieval layout.

The entire Hall was burnt out in the Great Fire in 1666, and later rebuilt. In 1940 the Dining Hall, Staircase, Parlour and Drawing Room were again burnt out. However the south and east sides of the Hall survived, including the Kitchen, Court Room (of the 1870s, in an Elizabethan style) and Library (1870s).

The present building is a mixture of many different periods, and many small changes have been made to its layout over the centuries. For example, the present western entrance dates only from 1843, and replaced a courtyard entrance where the eastern entrance now is. The cloister dates from 1927. Visible medieval fabric includes the 14th-century crypt beneath the Beadle’s Office; the Kitchen , built in the 1420s and possibly incorporating a door of the 14th century; and the late-15th-century oriel window (now used to display plate) in the north-west corner of the Dining Hall.

Behind the panelling or the Dining Hall, the medieval and Tudor walls survive almost to the ceiling. This was discovered in 1940 when the post-Fire panelling was burnt away.  The top of a second oriel, on the courtyard side, can still be seen from the courtyard. This probably incorporated a spiral staircase to an upper floor.

The courtyard is a delight in fine weather, but was originally a much larger garden containing intricate flower beds (“knottes”) and a bowling alley. This garden probably extended south of the Parlour to the west, and out past the Kitchen to the east.

The present magnificent Dining Hall, Parlour and Drawing Room are part of the post-war reconstruction. The panelling of the Dining Hall is supposed to have been unwanted by the Bank of England. The Parlour is more or less a facsimile of what was destroyed in the war. The 18th-century Chinese wallpaper in the Drawing Room was purchased at auction in 1957. It had never been used, and was still in its original export boxes with Chinese markings.

Further information about the Hall can be found in Matthew Davies and Ann Saunders, The History of the Merchant Taylors’ Company (Maney, 2004). This includes a select bibliography. Copies are available from the Hall for a contribution to the Livery & Freemen Fund.