historicity: a walking podcast to reveal cities
Angus Lockyer & Jelena Sofronijevic are behind new podcast series historicity, Each episode is an hour long walking tour exploring how cities came to look & be how they are. The first three episodes focus on the City of London, this text introducing their approach & just one building featured in the opening episodes.

How did cities evolve to become the way they are? It’s easy enough to date the buildings that survive, to work out why they look the way they do, and identify their architectural kin. It’s a bit harder to see how they’ve changed over time – or to imagine what was there before. Trickier still may be to link architectural text and historical context to understand how a particular site connects to the wider city and world – how these connections have changed over time and how a place has changed as a result.

Our new podcast, historicity, tries to help. Starting with London, it provides audio walking tours – divided into manageable one-hour episodes – that explain why a city looks, feels, and works the way it does. The first walk, A Tale of Two Cities, explores the relationship between the City of London and Westminster, the twin-headed beast that birthed the world’s first global city, as well as the communities and industries that emerged in the space between the two. Walking the streets makes it possible to see the tension between wealth and power that has made London (and its buildings) what it is.


Even a single site can prove the point. To some critics, plutocracy reigns in the City of London Corporation, the body which manages the 2.9km² area which makes up the City of London, the only area of the country over which Parliament legally has no authority. It is a centre of government which might be said to be the world’s oldest continuous municipal democracy, elected by its 9,000 residents – but really by the 24,000 voters who represent the multinational and other businesses that occupy the square mile. The Corporation’s home is Guildhall, a collection of buildings which at a glance illustrate how the city has shifted over time.

Before the Guildhall, there was an amphitheatre, built by Roman colonisers in 70 CE, discovered by archaeologists in 1988, then excavated over the next five years. It is now displayed to striking effect in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery (below) which opened in 1999 – to public visitors by day and private clients by night, the glass-floored space can be hired for receptions and dinners with London’s hidden history underfoot.


But it took another millennium before the Guildhall began to take shape. Its rights and privileges – or liberties – may be ancient, but it was only in the early 12th century that the city built its first actual guildhall, as a place to run things, administer justice, collect taxes, and the like – incidentally, Guildhall may derive from gild, meaning payment. By the end of the century, there’s a church close by, St Lawrence Jewry, named after the Jewish community whose neighbourhood this was.

None of those survive. The first guildhall was replaced in 1270 (though the undercroft of the second still survives, as below.) Jews were expelled from England in 1290. Then, in the early 15th century, the guildhall was rebuilt again and the kernel of the current building began to take shape. A huge Great Hall was constructed, smaller only than the King’s new one in Westminster, and the second largest structure in the mediaeval City after St Paul’s. Two and a half centuries later, Jews were allowed back and the church burned, rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire. The Hall survived, though the roof had to be replaced.


It’s in the following century, though, that the City truly begins to flex its muscles, as its traders begin to dominate markets and establish footholds overseas. The Guildhall provides a stage for the contradictions of trade and empire to play out. On the one hand, in 1783, it served as the court for hearing for a contested insurance claim. A slave-trading syndicate, based in Liverpool, tried to claim for the lives of slaves who had been thrown overboard during a voyage from Accra to Jamaica. The insurers refused to pay, with the jury finding for the slavers before the judgement was overturned on appeal. It was a case that catalysed the abolitionist movement.

Five years later the Guildhall itself was extended, including the porch which still stands today. The East India Company had been building its authority in Bengal, following its victory over the local ruler and French allies. Artists had begun to travel and sketch the Mughal, that is, mainly Muslim architecture of North India. William Hodges’ Select Views of India was published in 1785, and so in 1788-89 George Dance the Younger, who had succeeded his father as the City’s architect, produced the current mashup of European and south Asian bits and pieces, starting a trend for what was called Hindoo-Gothic– even though it wasn’t.


This isn’t the end of the story. A century later, the East India Company had been removed from power in India and the pendulum had swung back. The Guildhall needed mediaevalising, in line with the Royal Courts of Justice and the Palace of Westminster, to buttress city and state against imperial competition and industrial present. So Horace Jones, the new City architect, added a Victorian Gothic layer to the building, with turrets, gables, and a crenelation. Still the yard in front of it was narrow, the Hall hemmed in by other buildings.


It was only a century later, from the 1950s and following World War bombing, that the Guildhall as we see it today began to emerge. First came some offices to the north. Then, in the late 60s and early 70s, more offices and a library, a faint echo of the earlier Gothic surrounding a newly extended yard. The old, narrow yard had been cherished by some for being gratifyingly informal and intimate, but now the Hall could emerge and be seen whole. Twenty years later came the excavations, the Library, and the art gallery – where we began.

One site, several layers, many stories. But even a building as rich as the Guildhall hardly stands alone. To understand why it takes the form it does, one has to trace its connections, within the City, to the rest of the city, across the world. Walking the streets is one way to begin to do this. We hope that our podcast, historicity, can help.

figs. ix,x

Angus Lockyer was born in Singapore, brought up in the UK, and went to grad school on the West Coast. He taught Japanese, Asian, and global history in North Carolina and London for two decades, with a particular interest in the history of cities. and has written about the histories of museums, expos, and golf, mainly in Japan. He currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he is redesigning his life.

historicity is a new series of audio walking tours, which explores how cities got to be the way they are. Most existing tours either explore particular themes in a city’s history (like crime) or use the city as a stage for other stories (like works of literature and art). historicity focuses instead on the city itself, weaving its stories together with its connections to the world beyond, and so explaining why we see what we do. Recorded on location and delivered as a podcast, each walk is designed to be followed in real time, at the listeners' own pace.


historicity have published three one-hour-long podcasts on the architectural history of the City of London looking at The Power of Finance, Connecting Wealth and Power, and The Pull of Power:


fig.i Guildhall + Roman amphitheatre on the Guildhall Yard - Left Side Panorama 01. © 3BRBS. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence. Available on Flickr at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guildhall_%2B_Roman_amphitheatre_on_the_Guildhall_Yard_-_Left_Side_Panorama_01.jpg.
fig.ii Guildhall Roman Amphitheatre, City of London 20161207 104906. © Irid Escent. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence. Available on Flickr at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guildhall_Roman_Amphitheatre,_City_of_London_20161207_104906_(47696224712).jpg.
fig.iii The Crypt, Guildhall, London. © The wub. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence. Available on Flickr at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Crypt,_Guildhall,_London_(2).jpg.
fig.iv Guildhall, City of London - Diliff. © Diliff. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence. Available on Flickr at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guildhall,_City_of_London_-_Diliff.jpg.
fig.v A View of Part of the Ruins of the City of Agraf (1787) by William Hodges © British Library. Available at: .
fig.vi The Guildhall. © Garry Knight. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence. Available on Flickr at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Guildhall_(6413950941).jpg.
fig.vii The Guildhall. © Garry Knight. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence. Available on Flickr at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Guildhall_(6413950941).jpg.
fig.viii Guildhall, City of London - Diliff. © Diliff. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence. Available on Flickr at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guildhall,_City_of_London_-_Diliff.jpg.
figs.ix,x historicity logos, courtesy of historicity.

publication date
20 August 2022

Archaeology, City of London, City of London Corporation, Democracy, East India Company, Guildhall, Guildhall Art Gallery, Historicity, William Hodges, Jewish, Horace Jones, London, Angus Lockyer, Podcast, Power, Jelena Sofronijevic, Walking