The Guest Books of the Lord Mayor of London (1893-1894)

The Guest Books of the Lord Mayor of London (1893-1894)

Tyler, Sir George Robert, 1st Baronet (1835-1897). Invitation Book. Mansion House. The Right Honourable George Robert Tyler, Lord Mayor. 1893-94. 36 cm; [WITH] Visitor’s Book. Mansion House. The Right Honourable George Robert Tyler, Lord Mayor. 1893-94. 41 cm.  Each approximately 300 leaves, writing on rectos only. Both volumes bound in red morocco stamped in gold, AEG, wear to covers, but bindings sound and still very handsome.

     The original guest books maintained by the Lord Mayor of London during the height of the Victorian era, with thousands of entries for government officials, authors, artists, prelates, and other distinguished guests.

     In The corporation of the city of London and the first twelve of the great city guilds in the diamond jubilee year of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, R.&I (1898), Alfred Arthur Sylvester described Sir George Robert Tyler (1835-1897) as “one of those genial, hearty personages who are best described as ‘fine old English gentlemen.’” Tyler led the firm of Venables, Tyler & Company, paper makers, founded at the turn of the 18th century. (The Venable brothers, who ran the firm in the first half of the 19th century, were Dickens’s models for the Cheeryble brothers in Nicholas Nickleby.) Tyler balanced his business life with a long career in public office. He was elected Common Councilman for Queenhithe Ward in 1877, and afterwards served as Deputy. In 1887 he succeeded to the office of Alderman. In 1892 he served the office as sheriff of London, and in 1893 he was elected Master of the Worshipful Company of Stationers. He was also a member of Ye Olde Sette of Odd Volumes, the Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers’ Company, the Constitution Club, and the Junior Carlton, City Carlton, and Royal Thames Yacht Clubs.


     In 1894, Tyler was elected Lord Mayor of London. Sylvester summarizes his tenure thus:

Whilst occupying the Mansion House Sir George Tyler had a very busy year. On the 13th of July the Lord Mayor and Corporation visited Windsor and personally conveyed to the Queen the civic congratulations on the birth of a direct heir to the Throne, the infant Prince born in June to the Duke and Duchess of York [i.e. Edward VIII]. Another notable event was the opening of the Tower Bridge, which was stated to have cost upwards of a million sterling, and was formally opened on the 30th of June by the Prince and Princess of Wales, accompanied by their daughters and by a brilliant bevy of royalties. It was in commemoration of this and of the birth of Prince Edward of York that the Lord Mayor received the intimation, gracefully conveyed at the opening ceremony, that the Queen had conferred upon him the honour of a baronetcy….

            Other events occurred which rendered his year of office specially conspicuous. He showed breadth of mind at the same time as he exercised lavish hospitality. Thus one day we find him entertaining the dignitaries of the Church, and the next, so to speak, exercising his casting vote in favour of the opening of the Art Loan Collection at the Guildhall on Sundays. He hospitably welcomed the Toynbee Students; entertained the members of the British Institute of Public Health and of the Hospital Sunday Fund; fèted Her Majesty’s Judges, and attended almost innumerable meetings in the cause of charity.

As Lord Mayor, Tyler also played diplomatic roles. He paid a state visit to Antwerp and Brussels, and received not only the honor of Commander of the Order of Leopold but also the distinction of having a street named after him (“Rue Lord Mayor Tyler”), though this appears to have since been renamed. He hosted a reception on 24 July 1894 in honor of the Japanese Minister, Viscount Aoki Shuzo. A contemporary notice remarked on the lavish proceedings:

The ladies’ costumes were elegant; those of the Japanese being especially notable for the beauty of embroidery on the rich silks they wore. There was an exhibition of Japanese art and metal work lent by members of the Japan Society. In the selection of vocal and instrumental music several pieces of Japanese origin were performed. The reception was attended by about six hundred ladies and gentlemen.

In return, Tyler was decorated with the Japanese order of the Sacred Treasures.

     While he fulfilled his ceremonial roles with enthusiasm and grace, Tyler’s first priority was always the administration of the City.  His article “Municipal problems of London” (North American Review, October 1894, pp. 448-56), made an argument for a federated metropolis consisting of “free-governing communities, working together with concurrent action under a superintending central control, and dignified by association with the ancient Civic Government, which is “a relic of a great age in our national story.”” – surely an alderman’s dream!

     The present offering, two hefty volumes, chronicle the social aspects of Sir George Robert Tyler’s tenure as Lord Mayor of London. The first, in a secretarial hand with occasional printed lists incorporated, compiles the guest lists for formal receptions and banquets at the Manor House. The second contains the signatures and addresses for daily visitors to the Lord Mayor and his wife.  Together, the two volumes offer fascinating insight into the ceremonial functions and operations of one of the oldest elected offices in the world.

     London officeholder and civic leaders were among the most frequent guests at the Manor House during Tyler’s tenure. In equal abundance were knights and titled personages – the Duke and Duchess of York (Edward VII and Alexandra), Count Francis von Hohenstein, the Duke of Teck (honored in with a banquet on February 13, 1894), the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Prince Henry of Battenberg, the Prince of Roumania, and many others. The Easter Banquet on April 2 brought together Ambassadors, Charges d’Affairs, and Consuls General from Russia, Germany (Count Metternich), Turkey, Austria-Hungary, the United States, France, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Norway, Persia, Portugal, Siam, Netherlands, Japan, Belgium, Paraguay, Romania, Serbia, Greece, China (Sir George Macartney), Switzerland, Canada, New South Wales, Tasmania, and elsewhere. 

     Guests at a banquet for book collectors – the Club of Odd Volumes – on March 16 included Bernard Quaritch, J. W. Brodie-Innes (incidentally, a member of the mystical Order of the Golden Dawn), Richard Le Gallienne, Sir James Linton, and George Augustus Sala, who had to decline due to health.  (A long marginal note in the Invitation Book observes that the writer later complained in a note in Sala’s Journal that he had never been invited to a banquet of the Odd Volumes: the mayor’s household reminded him otherwise and asked him to publish a correction.) Four years, a correspondent for the Journal of the Ex Libris Society reminisced “Well, we had a very merry night on that celebrated March 16, 1894, although (or perhaps because) there were no ladies present.”

     James McNeill Whistler and Arthur James Balfour graced a banquet on April 18 that honored the directors of major British banks, including the Rothchilds.  Lord Curzon, Baden-Powell, and the Bishop of Uganda were among the dignitaries at the banquet for St. George’s Day (April 23rd), which assembled colonial administrators from every corner of the Empire – British Guiana, the Leeward Islands, Jamaica, Australia, and a very large contingent from the India Office. Other guests at Mansion House included the Archbishop of Canterbury and other prelates from America and the colonies, industrialists, celebrities, and international bon vivants: the Cunards, the Roosevelts, Henry Irving, Arthur Sullivan, Pierre Loti, Stanley Waterloo, and others too numerous to name. In all, a rich lode of material for the study of social and civic life of London during its dazzling heights.

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