Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most iconic buildings in the City of London. Recognised throughout the world by its impressive dome, tourists flock to stand in front of or even go inside to explore the famous cathedral. Crowds gather in the churchyard to sit and rest or eat picnics on a nice day but how many people take notice of the history around them? St Paul’s may be a huge tourist attraction, however, there is so much more to see hidden within the surrounding streets.
To begin with, there are many things worthy of note in the vicinity of the cathedral. Opposite the steps to St Paul’s stands a plinth with a statue of Queen Anne (1665-1714), the first monarch of Great Britain. As many people are aware, St Paul’s Cathedral burnt down during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was rebuilt using Wren’s designs soon after. The building was completed during Anne’s reign, therefore, it is for this reason that a statue of the Queen was erected here to commemorate the completion of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in 1712. What visitors to St Paul’s see today is not the original statue by Francis Bird (1667-1731) but a replica that was put in place in 1886 after the first version started deteriorating.
Surrounding the statue of Queen Anne are four female figures to represent Britannia, France, America and Ireland, four countries that the newly established Great Britain had some control over. The reason for the railings which surround the entire sculpture is supposed to prevent anyone from damaging the statues, something which an Indian sailor managed to do in 1769.
By entering the churchyard, a number of other statues can be discovered, most famously the St Paul’s Cross. This is a column mounted with a gilded statue of St Paul to mark the location of the original St Paul’s Cross. The original, however, was not a column but a place for religious gatherings and news reports. It was first used in approximately 1191 and continued to draw a crowd until 1643. During the Reformation, William Tyndale’s (1494-1536) New Testament was burnt by Catholics at the site because it was in English. At other times, many other protests involving public opinion occurred here and it became a place to publicly preach the Christian faith.
On the other side of St Paul’s Churchyard is a bronze statue of John Wesley (1703-91), the theologian, cleric and co-founder of Methodism. Depicted wearing a cassock and holding a Bible, the statue is 5’1″, the exact height Wesley was during his life. Although St Paul’s Cathedral is not a Methodist building, the statue has been placed here to commemorate the changes Wesley brought to the British Christian faith and acknowledges that he used the nearby Chancel of the Cathedral for worship.
Whilst it may be tempting to stay and relax in St Paul’s churchyard, there are a number of other small parks to visit nearby. On the opposite side of the road sit Carter Lane Gardens, which were improved and made pedestrian friendly in 2006. Although it may be noisy because it is situated on the carriageway between Godliman Street and New Change, it is full of flower gardens, lawns and seating. It is also the site of the City of London Information Centre where tourists can buy guides or ask for directions.
Close by, at the top of St Peter’s Hill, is the National Firefighters Memorial depicting three bronze fireman in action, wearing the typical uniform of the 1940s. It is a comparatively new statue that was commissioned by the Firefighters Memorial Charitable Trust which was unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1991. Initially, the memorial was for the men and women who lost their lives fighting the fires caused by the Blitz in WWII when the city was attacked by bombs for 57 consecutive nights. Later, it was decided that the memorial would honour all firefighters throughout the UK who had been killed whilst doing their duty. The names of the 1,192 heroes were inscribed on plaques surrounding the monument in September 2003.
On the same side of the road as and a mere stone’s throw away from the cathedral is the award-winning Festival Gardens. Created in 1951 by Sir Albert Richardson (1880-1964), the sunken lawns and water feature were established to tidy up the damage caused by the war. It was once the site of Cordwainers Hall, where shoemakers practised their trade as well as a number of other halls at various points in history.
Hidden in the shade of the trees is a recent statue depicting the bust of the poet John Donne (1572-1631) who once lived across the road on Bread Street. It was commissioned by the City of London in memory of Donne’s devotional poems, particularly Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward from which words have been extracted and inscribed below the bust: “Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the West/This day, when my Soul’s form bends to the East”
Famed for his poems and coined phrases, such as “No man is an island” and “For whom the bell tolls”, Donne was also a priest and preacher who worked at St Paul’s during the early 17th century. It is for this reason that the first public memorial to Donne was placed in this location.
Whilst visiting the Festival Gardens, it is worth crossing New Change and entering Watling Street. So narrow that it is almost inaccessible to cars, Watling Street was once an ancient Briton trackway between Canterbury and St. Albans. Later, after the invasion of the Romans, the road was extended as far South as Dover, through London, and all the way to Wroxeter in Shropshire. Today, many parts of Watling Street are still used, however, have been diverted or converted into more car-friendly roads, for instance, the A2 and the A5.
Those who visit St Paul’s Cathedral because of their passion for history, art or architecture will be interested in visiting the Guildhall Yard on Gresham Street. The Guildhall has been used as a town hall for hundreds of years and is currently the ceremonial and administrative centre of the City of London. Occasionally, the yard will be out of access due to royal events, however, the majority of the time it is open to the public. The courtyard itself is paved over but has a circular line running across the flagstones, indicating the position of the Roman amphitheatre, which lies beneath the ground.
A section of the Roman amphitheatre can be seen for free via the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery on the righthand side of the courtyard. The art gallery was built in 1885 as a place to contain the art collections from the City of London Corporation. Today, the gallery rotates the 4000-piece strong collection, showing 250 paintings at a time. The majority of these paintings represent London, however, there are some from the Victorian era, including the Pre-Raphaelites.
On the façade of the Guildhall Art Gallery are four busts of well-known Englishmen: Oliver Cromwell, Christopher Wren, William Shakespeare and Samuel Pepys. Each of these men contributed significantly to the history of the city and have rightfully been commemorated. Without them, the City of London would not be what it is today.
On the opposite side of the yard is grade 1 listed Baroque church, St Lawrence Jewry, the official church of the Lord Mayor of London. Like St Paul’s Cathedral, this church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). It is believed that before it became a Church of England, St Thomas Moore, the Lord High Chancellor during the reign of Henry VIII, preached on the site.
Those who prefer a quieter place to sit and escape the hustle and bustle of the city should head to the Brewers’ Hall Gardens in Aldelmanbury Square. Situated behind Brewers’ Hall, there are a number of benches and flowerbeds, popular with office workers who want a peaceful lunch before heading back inside.
The original Brewers’ Hall was built in 1420, making the Brewers one of the first Guilds to have a Hall of their own. As with many buildings in this area, the Hall also succumbed to the flames in 1666 and was rebuilt in 1673. Unfortunately, the Blitz saw off the second Hall in 1940. The present Hall has been safely in place since 1960, along with the small garden.
In 1971, the gardens became home to a gardener, a life-size bronze statue by Karin Jonzen (1914-98). The male figure is on his knees, touching the ground in front of him as though tending to a plant. Jonzen was commissioned to produce the sculpture as a tribute to all the unseen gardeners around the city who tend to the many parks and green areas.
London is full of different memorials, some already mentioned, and there is yet another in a park not too far away from St Paul’s Cathedral. Postman’s Park, the site of the former headquarters of the General Post Office, was opened in 1880 on the original churchyard of St Botolph’s Aldersgate. Since 1900, however, the park has become famous for the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice established by the artist George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
The memorial commemorates ordinary people who died saving the lives of others who otherwise would have been forgotten. A wall of 54 ceramic tablets with names and dates from 1863 to 2007 state the heroic acts and circumstances of death. Examples include Mary Rogers who gave up her lifebelt on a sinking ship, Alice Ayres who save three children from a burning house at the cost of her own life, and Leigh Pitt who saved a drowning boy from the canal at Thamesmead but drowned himself.
It is difficult to believe that less than a hundred years ago the area around St Paul’s Cathedral was a bomb site, completely pulverized by the enemy during the Blitz. So many buildings were destroyed, it is a wonder that the cathedral remained standing. To the north of St Paul’s is the current location of the London Stock Exchange and an urban development plaza, owned by the Mitsubishi Estate Co. Named Paternoster Square from the Latin pater noster, meaning “our Father”, thus connecting it with the nearby place of worship, it replaces the demolished Paternoster Row, home to the centre of the London publishing trade pre-World War II.
The redevelopment took place during the 1960s and two decades later became popular with many investment banks. The paved square is surrounded by restaurants and cafes, making it the go-to place for many office staff at lunchtime. Yet, like most places in the area, it also houses a couple of monuments.
The most important, unmissable monument in Paternoster Square is the 75 ft (23m) tall Paternoster Square Column. Often confused with the Monument to the Great Fire of London near London Bridge, this column was erected in memory of both the fire of 1666 and the devastation of 1940 in this particular area. Made of Portland stone, it is a Corinthian-style column topped with a gold leaf covered flaming copper urn. Although it looks similar to the age-old monuments around the city, it has a fairly modern usage. The plinth contains ventilation shafts for the car park hidden underneath the square.
On the opposite side of the square is a bronze Paternoster sculpted by Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930-93) in 1975. Also known as the Shepherd and Sheep, it was commissioned by Trafalgar House in memory of Newgate Market, which once stood in Paternoster Row where farmers sold their livestock. Incidentally, Paternoster Square is situated very near to the old site of Newgate Prison, which existed from 1188 until 1902.
Upon the side of one of the office buildings and easily missed by those hurrying by is a sculptural piece of steelwork that functions as a sundial. Rather than telling the exact time, the dial indicates the month of the year as well as the Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter equinoxes. Within each months’ section are 28-31 notches to indicate the day, which the tip of the shadow moves across as the sun rises and sets. There are also small notches that the shadow passes at midday. Erected in 2003, it remains in perfect condition and is an amazing invention.
In order to return to St Paul’s from Paternoster Square, people must walk under an ornamental gateway named Temple Bar. It was once the principal ceremonial entrance to the City of London on the western side and is attributed to Sir Christopher Wren. In 2004, the structure was moved and repositioned at the entrance to Paternoster Square. Like the memorial in the middle of the square, Temple Bar is also made from Portland Stone
The number of places, statues and so forth that can be found in the vicinity of St Paul’s, both ancient and modern, is astonishing. Tourists make a beeline for the Cathedral and dismiss everything else as modern offices and unimportant buildings. However, by taking the time to look carefully, a whole wealth of history can be uncovered. Away from the busy roads are small alleyways with interesting establishments and quiet retreats away from the bustling city workers and sightseers.
Personally, I had the chance to discover these historical and urban sites with the aid of a treasure map produced by Treasure Trails. The trail challenges explorers between the ages of 6 and 106 to follow a set of clues to locate where some (fictional) long-lost treasure may be buried. The directions lead to all sorts of places that are often overlooked, such as statues, plaques on buildings, road signs, pubs and so forth. It is a fantastic way of learning more about the city without the need for a local guide or expensive book. At £6.99 per trail, it is a wonderful and enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.
Whether you explore the city by yourself or opt for the fun-filled treasure trail, there is so much to discover around St Paul’s Cathedral. From historical monuments to more recent developments, there are a number of interesting things to locate and appreciate. Regardless of how you go about exploring, here is a piece of advice: always remember to look up!
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