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Date updated: 26/04/2024

Until the mid-18th century, Lord Mayors used their own houses or livery halls for their work as head of the City's governmental, judicial and civic functions. The idea of creating a permanent residence came after the Great Fire of 1666 to provide a house for Lord Mayors who did not have their own livery hall.

It was almost a century later however, that the architect and Clerk of the City's Work, George Dance the Elder, was chosen to design and build Mansion House. The first stone was laid in 1739, and the first Lord Mayor to take up residence was Sir Crispin Gascoigne. The House was completed in 1758.

Imposingly Palladian in style, it is faced by a grand temple portico at the front approached by flights of steps each side. The entertaining rooms were built on the first and second floors. The first floor had a roofless courtyard (later covered to form the Salon, the entertainment space) and the great Egyptian Hall. The second floor has a ballroom and private apartments of the Lord Mayor and family. The third and fourth floors contain meeting rooms and staff rooms. The cellars have storage space and once held prisoners' cells, reflecting the former use of the Mansion House as the Lord Mayor's Court.

While the Mansion House retains much of its original character, there have been changes. Some 50 years later, two large roof pavilions were found to be unsafe. Dance's son, George Dance the Younger, removed one in 1795. The other was removed in 1846, and at the same time, the main entrance to the house was moved round the side, after various road works narrowed the esplanade up the steps at the front. There were refurbishments in the 1860s, and 1930s, and again in the early 1990s.

The Walbrook Entrance

This part of the house was originally designed as an eight-stall stable and coach house, though it was never used for that purpose. In 1846 James Bunning, an architect working for the City of London Corporation, was asked to design a new entrance at the side of the House so that the Lord Mayor could come and go without being in the full view of the general public.

The benches date back to 1811 and the chairs were made during the refurbishment in 1991/93 to complement the benches.The most striking piece of furniture is the 18th century Hallkeeper's Chair, designed to keep the draught out as he met and greeted the Lord Mayor's guests outside the house. The drawer at the bottom was used to put a hot pan or coal in to keep the Hallkeeper warm.

The Entrance is now used to bring the Lord Mayor's guests into the vaulted areas on the ground floor ascending to the Salon.

The Salon

Originally designed to be a roofless courtyard, it was covered almost as soon as the Mansion House was opened by George Dance the Younger. It provides a large reception area under a stunning row of crystal chandeliers.

Originally the Mansion House shared the chandeliers to light banquets with the Guildhall, and they were moved back and forth at great risk. In the late 1700s the inevitable happened as they were bringing the chandeliers back from Guildhall: a number of chandeliers were broken. When it was all swept up, the Court of Alderman allowed the Mansion House to obtain its own lights.

In 1875 the firm of Messrs Osler was asked to create and install the dramatic row of chandeliers which today adorn the Salon and ante-room to the Venetian Parlour.

Each button and pear contains more than 30% lead, to deepen the sparkle and colour. The chandeliers are cleaned and re-pinned on a regular basis. The skilled craftsmen, who undertake this work, say that the Mansion House chandeliers are unmatched.

The Drawing Rooms

An interlinking pair of rooms with a scheme of decoration inspired by descriptions from the mid-19th century, when the suite of chairs and sofas known as the Nile Suite (c.1803 to commemorate Nelson's sea victories) were first used to furnish these capacious, stately rooms. The Drawing Rooms provide an intimate setting for part of the Samuel Collection. Directly opposite the Drawing Rooms across the floor of the Salon is the Long Parlour.

An elegant room, probably the room least changed, the Long Parlour is primarily used for business meetings and dinners. The present furnishings and decoration are designed to recall the mid-18th century character of the room.

The Egyptian Hall

A grand room, seating 350, this Hall has nothing Egyptian about its decoration. It should actually be known as the Roman Hall, as it is based on designs by the classical Roman architect Vitruvius of Roman buildings in Egypt, with giant columns supporting a narrower attic area. The Italian architect Andrea Palladio was much taken by this style in the 16th century and it was very fashionable in the 18th century.

The marble statues date from 1854-64 and the stained glass from 1868. The paintwork is close to the original stone colour, which, with the gilding, is intended to create a dignified effect appropriate to this great civic interior.

The Old Ballroom

The mood of the Old Ballroom is light and airy throughout with an abundance of elaborate plasterwork representing musical instruments etc and carved timber ornament. It is used for meetings, conferences and dinners.