Resurgam3
Old St Paul’s Cathedral was certainly the largest and most famous casualty of the Great Fire of London of 1666. And its passing – and rebirth – is recorded on several memorials, one of which can be found on the building itself.

Set on the pediment which, carved by Caius Gabriel Cibber, sits above south portico off Cannon Street, the memorial depicts a phoenix rising from clouds of smoke (ashes), a symbol of Sir Christopher Wren’s new cathedral which rose on the site of the old Cathedral in the wake of the fire. Below the phoenix is the Latin word, ‘Resurgam’, meaning “I Shall Rise Again”.

The story goes that Wren had this carved after, having called for a stone to mark the exact position over which St Paul’s mighty dome would rise, the architect was shown a fragment of one of the church’s tombstones which had been inscribed with the word.

The foundation stone for the new cathedral, largely built of Portland stone, was laid without any fanfare on 21st June, 1675, and it only took some 35 years before it was largely completed. Some of the stonework from the old cathedral was used in the construction of the new.

We should note that the old cathedral was in a state of some disrepair when the fire swept through it – the spire had collapsed in 1561 and despite the addition of a new portico by Inigo Jones, it was generally in poor condition.

Stonework from the Old St Paul’s – everything from a Viking grave marker to 16th century effigies – are now stored in the Triforium, rarely open to the public (tours of the Triforium are being run as part of the programme of events being held at the cathedral to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire – see www.stpauls.co.uk/fire for more).

PICTURE: givingnot@rocketmail.com/CC BY-NC 2.0 (image cropped)

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Soho-Square

Originally named King’s Square in honour of King Charles II, Soho Square was laid out on what had been known as Soho Fields as a residential square with a garden at its centre in the late 1670s – part of the general demand for homes that came about after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

A fashionable place to live when built, among the early mansions was Monmouth House, a grand mansion originally built for James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and illegitimate son of King Charles II who lost his head after leading a rebellion against King James II) and later used by the French ambassador before it was demolished in the 1770s. Two of the square’s original homes are located at numbers 10 and 15.

A number of trees and shrubs were recorded as being planted here including cherry, peach and almond trees as well as lilacs, jessamine and honeysuckle – it’s suggested these may have been chosen by botanist Sir Joseph Banks who lived at number 32 from 1777 until his death in 1820.

King-Charles-IIThe square, which was opened to the public in 1954, is today at the heart of the West-End district of Soho, once synonymous with late night entertainment including the sex industry but also home to a growing number of film and media-related organisations (for a look at the derivation of the name Soho, see our earlier post).

Indeed, a number of media companies are based in the square itself – British Movietone, which was produced the Movietone news, was located here at number 22 for years while current inhabitants include Twentieth Century Fox (located in a building at number 31-32 where the botanically minded Linnean Society once met).

Other buildings of note in the square include the French Protestant Church, built in 1891-93 and located at numbers eight and nine and St Patrick’s Church, located at on the corner of Soho Square and Sutton Row. While a chapel was first consecrated here in 1792, the current building dates from the 1890s (reopened in 2011 after a £3.5 million restoration) and has catacombs which spread a considerable distance under the square. In a nod to less savoury aspects of the square’s past, the White House Brothel was also located here – at number 21 – in the late 18th century (the building is now known as Manor House).

The oldest statue in the square is that of Caius Gabriel Cibber’s King Charles II which dates from 1681 (pictured right) – a reminder of the square’s past name.  Originally part of a larger monument containing a fountain, it was removed in 1875 to make way for the distinctive half-timbered Tudor-style hut (pictured above) used by gardeners which, having been rebuilt in the 1930s, currently sits at the square’s centre and only returned to the gardens in 1938. There’s also a bench in the square which commemorates the late singer Kirsty MacColl, writer of the song Soho Square.

For more on London’s squares, see Gary Powell’s Square London.