London: N.P.A. Rota, copyright The Times, 1 July 1943. Photograph. This original press photograph captures Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill on 30 June 1943 delivering a speech at the Guildhall during the ceremony at which he was awarded the Honorary Freedom of the City of London. The gelatin silver print on matte photo paper measures 8 x 10 in (20.3 x 25.4 cm) with a tattered paper caption extending an additional 1 in below (anchored to the verso). Condition is very good minus. The paper is crisp, clean, and free of scratches with only some minor edge wear, bumping to the corners, and light cockling overall. This photograph once belonged to the working archives of The Times. The verso bears a copyright stamp of “N.P.A. Rota” supplied by The Times, a second stamp reading “The Times Copyright”, and a typed caption reading, “MR. CHURCHILL RECEIVING THE FREEDOM OF THE CITY OF LONDON. Our photograph shows Mr. Churchill speaking during the ceremony at the Guildhall.”
On 30 June 1943 the City of London bestowed its greatest honor on the man who was leading them through the war when it presented Prime Minister Winston Churchill with the Honorary Freedom of the City of London. Composition of this photograph of Churchill speaking at the ceremony is striking. Few spaces could speak as eloquently to the steadfast resilience of wartime Britain as London’s Guildhall. Built between 1411 and 1440, Guildhall spent half a millennium as a civic and ceremonial centre of London before its Great Hall’s roof was razed by German air raids on the night of 29 December 1940. In this image, the venerable walls are a manifestly ancient presence, further emphasized by the ceremonial dress of the foreground audience and the Lord Mayor’s scepter and sword crossed on the table behind Churchill. Visible to Churchill’s left are his wife, Clementine, and his daughters, Mary and Sarah, each in uniform.
The Freedom of the City of London, like many British traditions, is centuries old and today far removed from its original purposes. Established in the 13th century, the Freedom originally meant that its recipient was not the property of a feudal lord and had the right to earn money and own land. Today the Freedom is bestowed on those who have made a significant impact in their field in London. The Honorary Freedom is a far rarer and greater honor usually bestowed only on Heads of State during a formal ceremony at the Guildhall.
At the Guildhall ceremony Churchill gave a lengthy speech, opening with thanks for the honor, “The strain of protracted war is hard and severe upon the men at the executive summit of great countries, however lightly care may seem to sit upon them. They have need of all the help and comfort their fellow countrymen can give them. I feel myself buoyed up by your good will here today, and indeed I have felt uplifted through all these years by the consideration with which the British people have treated me, even when serious mistakes have been made.” (Complete Speeches, Vol VII, p.6792)
During the first half of the twentieth century, photojournalism grew as a practice, fundamentally changing the way the public interacted with current events. Newspapers assembled expansive archives, including physical copies of all photographs published or deemed useful for potential future use, their versos typically marked with ink stamps and notes providing provenance and captions. Photo departments would often take brush, paint, pencil, and marker to the surface of photographs themselves to edit them before publication. Today these photographs exist as repositories of historical memory, technological artifacts, and often striking pieces of vernacular art. Item #005617