Essential Architecture-  London

Mansion House

architect

George Dance the Elder

location

London EC4N 8BH

date

1739-1752

style

Palladian Georgian

construction

The Mansion House has three main stories over a rusticated basement. The entrance facade features a six column portico. The building originally had two prominent and unusual attic structures, but these were removed in 1794 and 1843.

type

House
 
 
 
  A public session at the Mansion House, London (c. 1840)
 
  An early 19th century banquet in the Egyptian Hall at the Mansion House
Mansion House is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London. It is used for some of the City of London's official functions, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer's annual "Mansion House Speech" about the state of the British economy. The Guildhall is another venue used for important City functions.

The 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. 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.

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 Egptian motifs. British architecture's mild flirtation with Egyptian motifs lay several decades in the future.

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

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Mansion House is one of the grandest surviving Georgian town palaces in London, with magnificent interiors containing elaborate plasterwork and carved timber ornament. It is unique as the only purpose-built home of the Lord Mayor of the City of London, providing not only living and working space for the Lord Mayor and his household but also room for large ceremonial entertainments and banquets.

The building of Mansion House was first considered after the Great Fire of London in 1666, but the first stone was not laid until 1739 after much discussion over the selection of the site, the design and the architect. Sir Crispin Gascoigne was the first Lord Mayor to take up residence, in 1752.

A fashionable Palladian style with a large classical portico was chosen by the City's Clerk of Works, George Dance the Elder. Built around a central courtyard it contained a cellar, a ground floor for the servants and the kitchen, a grand first floor of offices, dining and reception rooms, including the Egyptian Hall where banquets were held, a second floor with a gallery for dancing and chambers for the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, and a third floor of bedchambers.
The Egyptian Hall is so named because its form was thought to replicate the dining halls used in Egypt in Roman times, with giant columns supporting a narrower attic area. Reconstructions of such halls were studied in Roman times and became very fashionable in the 18th century. However, there is nothing Egyptian about the decoration, which is classical in style. Although Mansion House retains much of its original character, there have been changes - one of the most important of which was the covering of the internal courtyard to form what is now known as the Saloon to provide a large reception area.

During its life the house has undergone a number of extensive repair programmes. The most recent was the refurbishment work of 1991-3, when structural repair, careful conservation and complete redecoration were carried out. The result was well received and won a number of conservation awards. 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 two centuries later.

Mansion House is open by appointment only for visits by organised groups (minimum 15 people, maximum 40). Applications should be made in writing to the Principal Assistant, Mansion House,
London EC4N 8BH.

links

 
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