London Guildhall

Crafting a response to a traditional banquet chair that’s fit for a new era

With a history stretching back 2,000 years, London’s Guildhall has witnessed some incredible events. Its importance to the capital began in Roman times as the site of an amphitheatre, and later the seat of the City of London Corporation. In the 1400s, a grand oak-framed Gothic building designed by John Croxton was built on the site to cement the city’s powerful status. Parts of its medieval architecture still stand today. Guildhall has been the stage of historic state trials like Lady Jane Grey’s in 1553, seen its roof destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, and suffered further damage in the Blitz. In recent times this landmark complex of medieval and post-war buildings enjoys a less turbulent existence as the site of major civic ceremonies and celebrations. The marathon runners of the London Olympics passed through its stunning geometrically-paved plaza in 2012. And it was the venue of choice for The Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations in 2016.

Banquet chairs at London Guildhall
upholstered banquet chairs

Today the Guildhall is in great demand as an iconic place for hosting high-profile gatherings, lectures, banquets and parties. The dramatic Great Hall – with its soaring stained-glass windows, stone pillars, and dazzling ornament – is one of eleven spaces to hire, along with galleries, crypts, suites and parlours. When the opportunity came up to replace the Great Hall’s 19th-century ceremonial banquet seating, Luke Hughes jumped at the chance to provide a crafted and bespoke update in keeping with the heritage of the building.

Dating from 1890, the original leather-upholstered banquet chairs were as much a part of the Guildhall’s fabric as the architecture, appearing in paintings and photographs of the building held in its gallery. But the original banquet chairs were both outdated and had seen a great deal of wear and tear. Unable to be stacked, the facilities team found them particularly cumbersome to clear away and store neatly.

A closer look at the Great Hall’s banquet chairs showed them to be similar in proportion to the Downing Chair – the upholstered stacking chair Luke Hughes designed for diners at Downing College, Cambridge.

In open, public tender for the project, the team at Luke Hughes designed three versions of this elegant oak-framed chair for the evaluation team at the Guildhall, each with a slightly different shape and finish of backrest.

The winning design features an inset seat and back upholstered in maroon leather to match the original, and the back bears the gold City of London crest that makes the Great Hall’s luxury banquet chairs so recognisable.

Another element of faithfulness to the original banquet chairs is the curving top rail. When seen in rows, the chair backs bring a harmonious and softening rhythm to the space. They also have a hidden detail that makes the chairs even easier to move about. A scoop was carved out of the back of the top rails to make them easy to grip and pick up. With a total of 1,000 banquet chairs to reconfigure in the Great Hall’s busy schedule, this detail was much welcomed by the client’s facilities team.


banquet seating at London Guildhall
stackable chair dolly from Luke Hughes

Stackability was another important requirement of the update. The niches in the north ambulatory of the Great Hall are used to store banquet chairs when not in use. Being able to store the majority of the bespoke upholstered stacking chairs in these niches was important. Keeping the Downing chair’s compact dimensions meant sets of the banquet chairs could be easily stored on a stackable chair dolly. As some of the chairs are stored elsewhere in the building, a chair trolley set was also provided to aid the furniture being moved around without damage.


luxury banquet chair

London Guildhall banquet chair

Banquet chair designed and produced by Luke Hughes

Stackable chair dollies

Chair trolleys from Luke Hughes

Banquet chairs at London Guildhall


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