Above: The east crypt, with a roof supported by marble pillars.
One of the most remarkable buildings in the City of London is the Guildhall whose exterior walls, enclosing a large rectangular hall were last constructed 1411-25. This means that they have been standing for 600 years! As well as the remarkable hall, it was constructed over a crypt of supporting arches and pillars – as was typical of this kind of building. If the Guildhall is open when you visit it, there is a chance that the crypt might also be open although it is not always the case. It is believed that the crypt may have been built under an earlier hall, dating from the time of Edward the Confessor – possibly 1042. There are essentially two adjacent crypts known as the East Crypt and the West Crypt, adjacent to each other but built at different times. Today they can be divided into two separate parts when one or both are used as dining venues.
The East Crypt survived the Great Fire and boasts a stunning vaulted ceiling decorated with carved bosses of heads, shields and flowers resting upon stone and marble pillars. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind in England.
The East Crypt’s windows were donated by the Clothworkers’ Company. They depict the Guildhall in flames with a phoenix below along with representations of five famous Londoners – Geoffrey Chaucer, William Caxton, Sir Thomas More, Sir Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys. Close inspection of the pillars in the East Crypt reveals dents in the stonework. They were once at ground level and horses were tied up beside them while their owners went about their daily business.
Above: The west crypt.
The West Crypt was built later – dating from the 13th century. It was completely sealed off after collapsing under the weight of the Great Hall’s fallen roof in 1666. It was not until 1973 that it was restored and reopened, following extensive restoration. The windows of the West Crypt represent some of the City’s famous Livery Companies.
The area below ground forms the largest medieval crypts in London. Most people are familiar with a church having a crypt. A good example of that is the crypt under the nearby church of St Mary le Bow. In medieval times it was usual for all types of buildings to have a crypt but none of the those remaining is as extensive as that of the Guildhall.