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History of the Hall

The Vintners of London have possessed a Hall situated between Upper Thames Street and the River Thames since the 15th century, and it is probable that for many years before that time they had occupied the same site and made use of a building there as their Common Hall.

The piece of land on which Vintners' Hall stands was bequeathed to the Vintners' Company in the will of Guy Shuldham, citizen and Vintner of London, dated 7 November 1446. The property is described in his will as follows: 'A great hall with kitchen and house for coals to be put in, and a pantry and a buttery and a void piece of land called the yard with a well and also a parlour above leaded and a counting house two chambers above the said house'. Shuldham also mentions '13 little mansions' on the site, which, he stated, were to provide homes for 13 poor and needy men and women of the said craft which their worldly goods by God's visitation and adverse fortune casually have lost and become very needy'. These 'mansions' became the Company's almshouses that were burnt down in the Great Fire and are now located at Eastbourne. Little is known about the appearance of the medieval Vintners' Hall as no plans or illustrations of it appear to survive. The building is believed to have been largely of timber but some parts, probably including the cellars, were of brick. The roof was tiled and the windows were glazed. There was a brass weather vane and a painted sundial on the outside of the Hall but it is not known where these were.

Information about the interior of the Hall is similarly limited -many rooms are named in the records but it is not known how large they were or in what position they stood relative to one another or to the yard. The earliest Hall inventory, which appears at the end of the accounts for 1546-8, gives a similar list of rooms to those described in Guy Shuldham's will. During the next hundred years, various architectural alterations and elaborations were made, such as stained glass windows and piped water.

Vintners' Hall and the almshouses were burnt down during the night of Sunday 2 September 1666, less than 24 hours after the Great Fire of London had broken out in Pudding Lane some 600 yards away. The Company officers had sufficient warning to enable them to remove some of the contents of the Hall, including the plate and Company's records, but nothing more could be done. On the morning of 3 September it seems that only some chimney stacks remained standing among the rubble that had once been Vintners' Hall.

The Company was to be without a meeting place for almost five years and during this period the meetings of the Court took place in City taverns which had escaped the fire. The rebuilding of the Hall was financed in a variety of ways: subscriptions were collected, the Company's fees were raised, heavy fines were imposed on members who wished to postpone taking the livery or who were unwilling to hold office and most of the Company's plate and even the rubble of the old Hall were sold. In addition the Company was able to meet some of the cost of the rebuilding from its own funds and from its Irish rents but even so the treasurer, John Billingsley (landlord of 'The Bell' in St Nicholas' Lane), complained of being 'much out of purse in carrying on the building of the Hall'.

The actual construction of the new Vintners' Hall took place in the 1670s. The new Vintners' Hall was a much larger and more magnificent structure than its predecessor. The committee acted in conference with the various master craftsmen engaged on the work, thus allowing for alterations and modifications to the plans as the building progressed. The plan adopted was to construct two wings at either end of the Hall, which together formed three sides of a square around a courtyard facing the street. The first Court meeting in the new Vintners' Hall was on 6 June 1671 and in June 1675 the Clerk was able to record that 'the buildings are near finished'.

During the 18th century only minor changes and improvements were made at Vintners' Hall, for example the windows were sashed and new iron gates with two lamps were installed. In the late eighteenth century, William Thornton wrote in A New History and Survey of London and Westminster that 'the hall is exceeding handsome and behind it is a garden with a passage to the Thames'. Alterations and elaborations continued to take place according to fashion, technological development and infringements or extensions to the block of land. Various rooms and architectural features were added and removed and the layout of the building was rearranged, although these changes did not affect the heart of the building. Vintners' Hall suffered only superficial damage during the Second World War and since then only subtle modernisation and redesign and careful restoration have taken place.

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