We kick off a new series this week looking at 10 of most memorable (and historic) views of London and to kick it off, we’re looking at the views from one of London’s most prominent historic institutions, St Paul’s Cathedral.

There are two external galleries at St Paul’s – the first is the Stone Gallery which stands at 173 feet (53.4 metres) above ground level. Encircling the dome, it is reached, via a route which takes the visitor through the internal Whispering Gallery, upon climbing some 378 steps.

Located above it, encircling the cathedral’s famous lantern (which sits on top of the dome), is the Golden Gallery. It stands some 280 ft (85.4 metres) above the cathedral floor, and can be reached by a climb of 528 steps.

From it – and the Stone Gallery below it – can be seen panoramic views of the City of London and across the Thames to Southwark.

The lantern above, meanwhile, weighs some 850 tonnes and on its top sits a golden ball and cross – the current ball and cross, which weigh about seven tonnes, were put there in 1821, replacing the original ball and cross which had been erected in 1708.

St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building in London from 1710 into the 1960s (when it was surpassed by Millbank Tower and what is now known as the BT Tower). Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s is not as tall as the original medieval cathedral which reportedly had a spire reaching 489 feet (149 metres) into the sky compared to St Paul’s as it is now, standing to a height of some 365 feet (111.3 metres) above ground level.

WHERE: St Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’s Churchyard (nearest tube station is St Paul’s); WHEN: The galleries are open from 9.30am to 4.15pm, Monday to Saturday; COST: £18 an adult/£16 concessions and students/£8 a child (6-18 years)/£44 a family of four; WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk

PICTURES: Top – Looking up at the lantern with the Golden Gallery around the base; Below – View looking west from St Paul’s down Fleet Street (the spires of St Brides and St Dunstan-in-the-West can be seen).

BT_Tower-1This West End district, located between Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Soho, probably owes its name to the Fitzroy Tavern, a public house which in turn is believed to owe its name to the Dukes of Grafton, whose family name was Fitzroy.

The Fitzroys (the name derives from  a Norman-French phrase and was typically associated with base-born royal sons), owned land in the area until the end of the 1800s.

The family first become associated with the area after the Manor of Tottenham (more on that name in an upcoming post) came into the possession of Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of King Charles II who became the Earl of Euston and later Duke of Grafton.

Incidentally, the grand Fitzroy Square, developed by the duke’s grandson, and Fitzroy Street are both also named after the family as are numerous other locations in the area including Grafton Street.

Fashionable as a residential area in the 1700s, the houses were gradually transformed into workshops – the area was noted for furniture-makers in particular – or cheap tenements and it’s during this period in the early 1800s that artists like John Constable were living in the area.

The name Fitzrovia apparently became popularised for the district which in the inter-war years, due to the community of artists and writers that met at the pub; it is said to have first appeared in print in the 1940s. Among those who were associated with the area during this period were the likes of writers Dylan Thomas and George Orwell and artists like Roger Fry and Augustus John.

More recently the area has become home to numerous media companies, particularly TV-related companies, and still hosts ample pubs, restaurants and cafes.

Notable buildings in the area include the BT Tower, a communications tower completed in 1964 which was until 1980, the tallest building not only in London but in the UK (and from where panoramic views could once be had – sadly it’s been long closed to the public).

Fitzrovia is also home to the quirky Pollock’s Toy Museum.

PICTURE: David Castor (caster)/Wikipedia

Around London…

September 9, 2010

• It’s only a week to go until the annual Open House London event. Held on the 18th and 19th September, Open House London is your chance to get inside all manner of buildings – from private homes through to grand edifices – which are often normally closed to the public. Be warned, however, that some buildings, such as the BT Tower (open for the first time) require bookings to be made. These close 15th September, so you’ll have to be quick. The free event, which has run for 18 years, also includes neighbourhood walks, cycle tours and talks. For more information on the event, to purchase the guide (an electronic copy can be downloaded for £3.50) or to find out how to book, head to www.openhouselondon.org.uk.

Looking for a weekend out of the city? English Heritage’s Heritage Open Days program – which doesn’t cover London – runs from today until Sunday and grants free access to properties around the country which are either normally closed to the public or usually charge admission fees. The program includes buildings ranging from medieval castles and Georgian townhouses through to World War II cemeteries and 21st century eco-homes. Among the properties within easy reach of daytrippers from London are Waverley Abbey in Fareham, Surrey – founded in 1128, it was the first in England housing Cistercian monks; an historic ‘net shop’ in Hastings, East Sussex; the Battle of Britain command centre at Bentley Priory in Stanmore, Hertfordshire (see picture of the entrance hall above); and, the new Aardman Animation headquarters in Bristol, home to the creators of Wallace and Gromit. Some places require prebooking so check before heading off. For more information, see www.heritageopendays.org.uk.

• The headless skeleton of a rare North Atlantic right whale recently found in the Thames has gone on display at the Museum of London Docklands. The seven metre long, half tonne skeleton was unearthed at Bay Wharf Greenwich by archaeologists and is believed to be the largest single object ever found at an archaeological dig in the city. The skeleton is only on display in the museum’s foyer until 14th September when it goes to the Natural History Museum. Entry is free. For more information, see www.museumindocklands.org.uk.