The City of London is a dreamy place on a weekend with its quietly deserted streets and striking architecture, unlike during the week when suited and booted city folk pound the pavements. Sure, you may bump into the odd tourists, but on a drizzly January Saturday morning at 11am it’s just us.
We amble along and finally enter the Guildhall Yard where we notice an 80m-wide curved line of dark stone – the edge of what used to be a Roman Amphitheatre.
The Guildhall Art Gallery building was destroyed by a fire during the second world war and was rebuilt from designs created by Architect Richard Gilbert Scott (great grandson of the great Gothic Revival architect George Gilbert Scott who designed the Foreign Office amongst many other London landmarks).
The project to rebuild the gallery began in 1987 with an archaeological investigation of the site which unearthed Saxon remains and part of a Roman amphitheatre, this meant Gilbert Scott had to alter his designs but also that there is a new added aspect to the gallery.
It is in the amphitheatre that we begin our visit. The toddler seems to have equated the Roman time period with dinosaurs (everything is possible in a two year old’s imagination) and he is excited to stomp around in the sand that was used to soak up Gladiator blood – but unfortunately no dinos in sight. We try to balance as we walk over the thick glass showing the remains of the draining system and the digital projections and audio help us get an idea of what this place used to be like, a hub of activity in Roman Londinium.
Certainly not a timeframe that I would like to return to – should my three year old’s time machine ever come to fruition. Back to Guildhall Art Gallery and now we’ve climbed the stairs on to the main galleries where there are beautiful Victorian paintings on show and on the second Saturday of the month there’s a bunch of family friendly activities to keep the little ones entertained.
We played with the backdrop of the ‘Floating Batteries at Gibraltar’ by John Singleton Copley, made our own newspaper (the toddler enjoyed being allowed to cut with real scissors and as a journalist I particularly enjoyed this activity), we spoke about the stories in the paintings, build a new city of London and enjoyed a story or two. There is also a couple of dressing up outfits so you can get into the Victorian state of mind by wearing their outfits, hearing their stories and seeing their paintings.
Most of the activities are suited for slightly older children, but there is enough to keep toddlers entertained, and it means adults can enjoy ogling at some pretty unusual scenes in the city of London and some colourful renditions of London’s historical moments like the opening of Tower Bridge in 1894 and the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Family activities at the Guildhall Art Gallery take place on the second Saturday of the month from 11am until 4pm and are free to the public. For further info please visit their website here.