National Geographic : 1961 Jun
oldest guild. Other lesser ones include the Armourers and Brasiers, Bowyers, Farriers, Needlemakers, and Saddlers. As you might suspect, most guilds no long er regulate their old trades. They exist as fraternal and charitable organizations of businessmen. Some, however, still perform services. The Goldsmiths, for example, con duct assays and grant a hallmark, and the Apothecaries give certificates to pharmacists and diplomas to physicians and midwives. Many livery companies maintain baronial meeting halls, showplaces of the City. The Guildhall, however, always refers to the City's historic center of government, a mag nificent place of assembly whose crypt and scarred walls survive from the early 15th century. Two disasters, London's Great Fire of 1666 and the Nazi blitz in 1940, badly damaged the old pile. But skilled hands each time faithfully -one could almost say with reverence- restored the roofless, gutted main chamber, called the Great Hall. Sheriffs' Office Dates From 7th Century There, on the traditional Midsummer Day, I witnessed a ceremony that brought back the look, the sound, even the smell, of bygone centuries-a sheriffs' election (page 739). Two sheriffs represent the City. Their office, mentioned in seventh-century docu ments, is 500 years older than that of the Lord Mayor. Gowned as splendidly as cardi nals, they attend sessions at the Old Bailey, London's famous Central Criminal Court, and head the Lord Mayor's official retinue. Have you ever attended a costume party in a business suit? Then you can imagine my sense of unease upon arrival at Guildhall. Approaching the Gothic porch, I confront ed a phalanx of guild beadles, each wearing a gown and a gold-laced, tricornered hat, each carrying a formidable mace. Behind the beadles the liverymen rallied, many in fur trimmed robes, dignified specters from the past forming for a solemn procession. I slipped warily between two mace-bearers and entered Great Hall. To record the inte rior setting, let me quote from my notebook: Here, in the solid reality of stone and oak, is the old English hall of everyone's fancy: great arches soaring to meet a high ceil ing, galleries of intricately carved wood, stained-glass windows, the statuary of re vered heroes - Nelson, Wellington, a stern Churchill... the picture lacks nothing. Normally the room's dominant color would be a subdued brown, but the reddest 742 carpeting I have ever seen extends down the central aisle and flows up onto a large dais. "Sweet-smelling herbs," saffron in color, have been sprinkled on the carpet. This dates from times when the fragrance of herbs was thought to ward off the plague that might lurk in every public gathering. The fragrance once also masked the rath er gamy odor of medieval crowds. A charm ing custom, now preserved by some of the best-scrubbed men in the realm. Soon the liverymen, following their beadles and the masters of their companies, filed in and took seats on either side of the aisle. (Continued on page 750, afterfoldout) Shaking festive streamers, a young onlooker salutes the Lord Mayor's Show. This colorful spectacle traces its origin to the 13th century, when the City's mayors journeyed to West minster (now a London borough) to receive the Crown's approval, as they still do. Artillery rumbles past the Royal Courts of Jus tice (background) during a drizzle. Bank ban ner and British flags fly in honor of the Show.