Today sees the City of London geared up for The Lord Mayor's Show, as another tricorned bigwig takes the helm. It's possible that the rain will have dried up in time for the fireworks finale, but the procession of livery companies, cadets and volunteers is likely to be a bedraggled affair. You can watch the parade of floats and military vehicles on BBC1, for reasons the rest of the country never understands, or head down and brave the weather to enjoy the peculiar spectacle in person. Daytrippers will be pleased to hear that this is the one day of the year that St Paul's Cathedral is free to enter and explore, saving £18, which is a true mayoral bargain. Or, as I'm about to recommend below, you could come down another day and enjoy attractions in the heart of the City for nothing.
This is new. This is very new, it opened on Monday, in the space at Guildhall Library formerly occupied by the Clockmakers Museum. That's ticked off to the Science Museum, second floor, leaving room for the London's alternative law enforcers to showcase their heritage. The rest of London is overseen by the Met, but the Square Mile has its own force and has since 1839, before which every male resident had been expected to become a 'watchman' for a year. Back then the population of the Square Mile was 125000, over ten times what it is today, and poverty and violent crime were rife. One fascinating display looks at the City's only Ripper murder, in Mitre Square, featuring a virtual reality cell and a map depicting the beat system that delivered PC Edward Watkins to the site of the still-warm body. Did you know, and I didn't, that the City of London Police are the reigning Olympic Tug of War champions... but only because the event was discontinued in 1920. See their gold medal, and a variety of old uniforms, and an original light blue police box, and a selection of radio communication devices, and the nameplate from the front of the crushed Moorgate tube train, and a range of confiscated 'weapons' including chairlegs and a comb. One particular map shows the location of the 16 gateways through the Ring of Steel, now that the chief threats the force faces are fraud and terrorism, as the story winds round to the present day. I'd say 30 minutes max to look around, but it's an interesting tale, and bring some money in case you fancy a Police Duck or a model Ford Cortina on the way out. [Londonist video]
Across the courtyard, and past another security guard, is a rather splendid collection of art. The Guildhall Art Gallery holds a large collection of Victorian paintings, with dozens attractively displayed around the upper level in themed groups. Meanwhile a separate subset downstairs considers the transformative role of the telegraph on Victorian society, it being precisely 150 years since the first transatlantic cable was laid. Imagine how the world suddenly shrunk when messages to America could be sent at a dozen words a minute rather than in print by ocean liner. The scientific background is well covered, including a variety of code books used to shorten transmission, while the paintings are merely loosely thematic. In an adjacent gallery is another treat, at least until the end of next week - two contrasting Thames panoramas. One is an engraving by Visscher scratched in 1616, the best depiction we have of London's low pre-Fire cityscape. The other shows the scene exactly 400 years later, drawn with wit and style by Robin Reynolds, now with financial towers replacing church spires and the city spreading further beyond. If all this art's not enough, don't forget the amazing treasure in the basement, namely the remains of Londinium's Roman amphitheatre. This was discovered when the gallery was being built in the 1990s, so plans were tweaked, and now you can stand amidst the very walls and ditches which once ran with blood... and maybe hire the space for your next corporate cocktail do. [Ian's Visited]
That's a Centre for the City, not a city centre, essentially a space used to drum up business and encourage companies to move in. What better to inspire investors than a giant 3D map showing every building in the Square Mile, and quite a few on the South Bank, constructed with loving care to 1:500 scale. If it currently has planning permission it's here, we're told, which is a shame because there are quite a few lumpen towers scheduled for the central City cluster, and a few ghastly standalones our skyline is somehow going to have to come to terms with. Nothing's labelled, but you'll recognise a number of the newbuilds, and swiftly deduce which one has been nicknamed the 'Can of Ham'. I noticed that the northernmost edge of the City is missing, presumably because it has no immediate potential for being knocked down and rebuilt into something shinier. The model's magnificent, if perhaps not quite as amazing as the scale model at the Building Centre off Tottenham Court Road, which covers much more of central London, at admittedly weaker scale. But again, if you ever have a drinks reception or an awayday to host, this echoing basement would love you to hire it. [Londonist visit]
A short walk away, on the eastern side of England's economic strongbox, is a free museum devoted to explaining more about our money. The security check to get inside is a little more stringent here - a full arch scan - but then expect to take an hour to look around before you're done. The building on Threadneedle Street was once glorious, but in the 1920s was entirely knocked down save for the curtain wall, with the museum galleries deliberately designed with several original flourishes. In the midst of the main gallery is a peculiar video game in which you take the helm of a virtual ship and try to steer it through an economic storm, splicing in some quantitative easing as required. Expect a booming voice to announce your abject failure at the end of the simulation. Several of the displays focus on banknotes, these being the BoE's forte, including a new gallery which explains all the clever swirls and tweaks added to make our currency incredibly difficult to forge. The new plastic fiver features heavily, which I was amused to see described as "the new polyer £5 note" in a badly proofread sentence above a short video. There are also several cases of old and new coins, even though these are really the Royal Mint's prerogative (I suspect they're buttering you up before trying to flog you pristine proof sets in the shop on the way out). But your highlight is likely to be the chance to hold an actual gold bar, securely positioned inside a perspex case, and to try to lift it a centimetre or two (sheesh, that's heavy!) before regretfully letting go. If you've never been, absolutely worth a look. [Ian'sVisited]
And if all that hasn't filled your free City day out, there's always...