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Mansion House, London - Life at the Mansion House


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Mansion House, London

Mansion House

An early 19th century banquet in the Egyptian Hall at the Mansion House

A public session at the Mansion House, London (c. 1840)

Mansion House is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London in London, England. It is used for some of the City of London's official functions, including an annual dinner, hosted by the Lord Mayor, at which the Chancellor of the Exchequer customarily gives a speech – his 'Mansion House Speech' – about the state of the British economy. The Guildhall is another venue used for important City functions.

Mansion House was built between 1739 and 1752, in the then fashionable Palladian style by the City of London surveyor and architect George Dance the Elder; its site had formerly been occupied by St Mary Woolchurch Haw, destroyed in the Great Fire of London. The construction was prompted by a wish to put an end to the inconvenient practice of lodging the Lord Mayor in one of the City Halls. Dance won a design competition over solicited designs from James Gibbs and Giacomo Leoni, and uninvited submissions by Batty Langley and Isaac Ware.

Mansion House has three main stories over a rusticated basement. The entrance facade features a portico with six Corinthian columns. The building originally had two prominent and unusual attic structures, but these were removed in 1794 and 1843. The building is on a confined site, and in the opinion of Sir John Summerson it gives 'an impression of uneasily constricted bulk… On the whole, the building is a striking reminder that good taste was not a universal attribute in the eighteenth century.' The main reception room was a colummned hall called the 'Egyptian Hall', which was so named because the arrangement of the columns chosen by Dance was deemed to be 'Egyptian' by Palladio, rather than because it employed Egyptian motifs. British architecture's mild flirtation with Egyptian motifs lay several decades in the future.

The residence is unique in having its own court of law, since the Lord Mayor is the chief magistrate of the City while in office. There are eleven holding cells (ten for men and one, nicknamed 'the birdcage', for women). A famous prisoner here was the early 20th century suffragette women's rights campaigner Emmeline Pankhurst.

Mansion House is home to The Harold Samuel Collection of Dutch and Flemish Seventeenth Century Paintings, described as 'the finest collection of such works to be formed in Britain this century' (Sutton 1992). It consists of 84 paintings and includes some outstanding works by artists including Hendrick Avercamp, Gerard Ter Borch, Pieter Claesz, Aelbert Cuyp, Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch, Jacob van Ruisdael, Jan Steen, David Teniers the Younger and Willem van de Velde.

Mansion House is not open to the public except for guided group tours, which must be booked in advance.

Mansion House is a rare surviving Georgian town palace in London. With its magnificent interiors and elegant furniture, the Mansion House provides the Lord Mayor of the City of London with living, working and entertainment space. Built in the age of Hogarth, the Mansion House, then as now, is a symbol of the City of London as the world’s leading international financial and trading centre.

Click on the Lord Mayor of the City of London to learn more about the office today, History of the Mansion House to learn more about the building and its collections, and History of the Government of the City of London and  History of the Mayoralty for a brief historical survey.

Life at the Mansion House

Mansion House was originally intended to enable the Lord Mayor to represent the City in appropriate style, and it continues to fulfil this function more than 250 years later.

The Mansion House is both a private residence for the Lord Mayor and family, and a base for the Lord Mayor’s office, a department of the City of London Corporation, and provides a location for business meetings, conferences, banquets and entertaining. Some 40,000 people visit the Mansion House every year.

The Lord Mayor's office organises his overseas and domestic programmes. See a Typical Day for the Lord Mayor in London and a Typical day for the Lord Mayor overseas.

When not abroad, the Lord Mayor sees on average a head of state or government at least once a month and hosts a finance minister or ambassador weekly. These are usually highly focused meetings between the visitors and City businesses, and they are part of a busy schedule of business visitors/ meetings at Mansion house. 

Perhaps the most famous events at Mansion House are the dinners and banquets. They have always been splendid occasions: once upon a time they would last several hours, and guests would take food to the window to hand down to waiting friends and servants.  Today the Lord Mayor hosts ten banquets a year which provide a platform for ministers (at Guildhall), while every week sees businesses and livery companies hold dinners at Mansion House, at the invitation of the Lord Mayor  Literature

In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Mark Twain made up a story about the construction of the building:

It reminded me of something I had read in my youth about the ingenious way in which the aldermen of London raised the money that built the Mansion House. A person who had not taken the Sacrament according to the Anglican rite could not stand as a candidate for sheriff of London. Thus Dissenters were ineligible; they could not run if asked, they could not serve if elected. The aldermen, who without any question were Yankees in disguise, hit upon this neat device: they passed a by-law imposing a fine of £400 upon any one who should refuse to be a candidate for sheriff, and a fine of £600 upon any person who, after being elected sheriff, refused to serve. Then they went to work and elected a lot of Dissenters, one after another, and kept it up until they had collected £15,000 in fines; and there stands the stately Mansion House to this day, to keep the blushing citizen in mind of a long past and lamented day when a band of Yankees slipped into London and played games of the sort that has given their race a unique and shady reputation among all truly good and holy peoples that be in the earth



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