Mansion House is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London.
Built between 1739 and 1752, it was designed in the then fashionable Palladian style by the City of London surveyor and architect George Dance the Elder.
The site, at the east end of Poultry
, had previously been occupied by the 'Stocks Market', which by the time of its closure was mostly used for the sale of herbs. 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. Construction was slowed by the discovery of springs on the site, which that meant piles had to be sunk to form the foundations. The original building had two clerestory roof extensions, nicknamed the Mayor's Nest
and Noah's Ark
. In 1795 George Dance the Younger re-roofed the central courtyard, and had the Noah's Ark
demolished. In the same year, the original Grand Staircase was removed to make way for a further two rooms. In 1835 the entrance steps were reduced to one flight; and in 1842 the Mayor's Nest
was demolished after the Ball Room was reconstructed. The Lord Mayor's private entrance in Walbrook
was created in 1845; and in 1849 the former Swordbearer's Room was converted into the Justice Room.
Mansion House is home to The Harold Samuel Collection of Dutch and Flemish Seventeenth Century Paintings, described as the finest collection of such works to be formed in Britain this century
It consists of 84 paintings and includes some outstanding works by artists including Hendrick Avercamp, Gerard Ter Borch, Pieter Claesz, Aelbert Cuyp, Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch, Jacob van Ruisdael, Jan Steen, David Teniers the Younger and Willem van de Velde.
In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Mark Twain made up a story about the erection 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.«
The Mansion House in London (1837). One of the usual attics on the roof can be seen. It was removed in 1843, as the one to the rear had been removed in 1794.
Engraving by J Woods after a picture by Hablot Browne and R Garland.