Rome has its seven hills, Athens has the Acropolis and Paris – well, who can go past Montmatre? Yet, while hills may not be the first thing which come to mind when thinking of London, the city is home to numerous (low) peaks which have shaped the urban environment since ancient times (and some of which provide magnificent viewing points).
First up, we’re looking at Ludgate Hill, located in the western end of the City of London. One of the three ancient hills within the City walls, Ludgate Hill, which is now the site of St Paul’s Cathedral, is believed in Roman times to have been the site of a temple dedicated to Diana.
The hill, which today rises just 17.6 metres above sea level (the highest point lying apparently just to the north of the cathedral), is named after the former city gateway of Ludgate which is, in turn, named after the mythical King Lud.
These days the hill’s name is also commemorated in a street – Ludgate Hill – which runs from Ludgate Circus at its western end to St Paul’s Churchyard at its eastern end. It was also formerly the name of a railway station which opened in the late 1860s but was closed in 1923.
Tomorrow is the Lord Mayor’s Show and once again the great procession will make its through London’s streets so the Lord Mayor may swear their loyalty to the Crown. So, to celebrate, we thought we’d interrupt our regular programming and bring you 10 facts about the Lord Mayor’s Show…
1. The origins of the Lord Mayor’s Show go back to 1215 when King John granted the city the right to elect their mayors but only on condition that they made their way to Westminster to swear their loyalty each year. There is evidence that by the late 14th century, the journey had turned into something of a procession.
2. Lawyer Fiona Woolf is the 686th Lord Mayor, formally taking on the job when outgoing mayor Roger Gifford hands the City insignia to her in what is known as the Silent Ceremony held at Guildhall today. She is only the second woman to ever hold the post; Mary Donaldson was the first to do so in 1983.
3. The person responsible for organising the day is the Pageantmaster. The current Pageantmaster is Dominic Reid – he gets to travel in a ceremonial Landrover.
4. The day was originally held on 28th October, the Feast of St Simon and St Jude, but was moved to 9th November in 1751 when Britain adopted the Gregorian Calendar. Because this meant it call be held on any day of the week, to simplify matters in 1959 it was decided that the Show would be held on the second Saturday in November.
5. Effigies of Gog and Magog, seen guardians of the City of London, have appeared in the Lord Mayor’s Show since at least 1554, during the reign of King Henry V. For more on Gog and Magog, see our Famous Londoners post.
6. Since the early 15th century the Lord Mayor had travelled to Westminster via a pageant on the River Thames. This was dropped in favour of travelling on horseback. The magnificent State Coach used in tomorrow’s procession, meanwhile, was first used to convey the Lord Mayor to Westminster in 1757 (the mayors had ridden in coaches since 1712 after Sir Gilbert Heathcote fell off his horse in 1711). For more on the State Coach, see our Treasures of London article. As happened last year, before the Show starts, the Lord Mayor will once again travel upriver in the QRB Gloriana accompanied by a procession of 24 traditional Thames boats from London’s livery companies and port authorities. The flotilla will leave Vauxhall at 8.30am and travel past Tower Bridge to HMS President.
7. The modern route of the show – which takes in Cheapside, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street going out from Mansion House to the Royal Courts of Justice and then returns back along Queen Victoria Street – was fixed in 1952 (although occasionally it has been disrupted due to things like roadworks). It apparently features 3,500 manholes, all of which have to be checked before the big day.
8. The modern Lord Mayor’s Show parade, which kicks off at 11am, is three-and-a-half miles long. This year’s procession features more than 7,000 participants.
9. Among those in the parade are representatives of the livery companies including that of the “great 12” – the Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Merchant Taylors, Skinners, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners and Clothworkers – as well as other companies including some distinctly “new world”.
10. The fireworks display was canceled last year but is back for this year’s festivities. It kicks off at 5pm.
For more on the show – including a downloadable timetable and map – head to www.lordmayorsshow.org.
Running from Ludgate Hill to Newgate Street in the western part of the City, there are a couple of explanations behind the thoroughfare known as the Old Bailey.
Another, according to Antony Badsey-Ellis’ book What’s in a Street Name?, is that the name could be a corrupt form of ‘Bail Hill’ – a place where a bailiff held court.
For centuries the street’s name has also been used for that of a court based there. Now formally known as the Central Criminal Court, the first court – or sessions house – was built here in 1539 on part of the site now occupied by the court.
Built next to the Old Bailey court house – and pre-dating it was Newgate Prison – but when this was demolished in 1902, the Old Bailey (which itself had been rebuilt in the 1670s having been destroyed in the Great Fire of London and then subsequently remodelled) was again rebuilt and, opening in 1907, now covers the site.
For an archive of the court’s proceedings, check out www.oldbaileyonline.org. For more on the history of The Old Bailey, check out Theresa Murphy’s The Old Bailey: Eight Hundred Years of Crime, Cruelty and Corruption.
A relatively short-lived Norman fortification located on Ludgate Hill, this tower or ‘castle’ was probably built in the late 11th century and was one of several new fortress located in the city post 1066.
Believed to have been built by Gilbert de Monfichet – a relative of King William the Conqueror who hailed from Rouen (and is believed to have been connected with Monfichet family of Stansted Monfichet in Essex), the tower apparently comprised a stone keep on a motte surrounded by ditches. It was located on Ludgate Hill near the city wall, to the north of Carter Lane, on what was then the western edge of the walled city.
First appearing in documents in the 1130s, it was apparently strengthened during a revolt against King Henry II in 1173-1174 but was eventually demolished in the 13th century (some accounts suggest it was King John who ordered its demolition in 1213, after Gilbert’s successor Richard was banished).
The site was given to the Dominican priory of Blackfriars in 1275 (there’s a suggestion that the tower was already in ruins by 1278 meaning it must have been at least partially demolished some time prior). Apparently some of the masonry from the tower was used in the priory’s construction.
Excavations in the 1980s revealed the remains of a ‘V’ shaped defensive ditch – interpreted as one of three defensive ditches which protected the tower – and rubbish and cess pits – interpreted as standing within what was the tower’s bailey.
• Margaret Thatcher’s funeral will be held next Wednesday at St Paul’s Cathedral from 11am with Queen Elizabeth II among those attending (the first time she has attended the funeral of a British politician since Sir Winston Churchill’s in 1965). The funeral procession of the former Prime Minister, who died on Monday aged 87, will start at the Houses of Parliament and make its way down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square before moving down the Strand, Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s Cathedral. Baroness Thatcher’s coffin will carried in a hearse for the first part of the journey and will be transferred to a gun carriage drawn by six horses of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery at St Clement Danes church on the Strand for the final part of the journey. There will be a gun salute at the Tower of London. Meanwhile, a Book of Condolence has opened at St Margaret’s Church, beside Westminster Abbey, this morning and will be available for people to pay their respects until 17th April, during the church’s opening hours. St Margaret’s – which stands between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament – is commonly known as the parish church of the House of Commons.
• The story of the Jewel Tower – one of the last remaining parts of the medieval Palace of Westminster – is told in a new exhibition at the historic property. Now in the care of English Heritage, the tower – located to the south of Westminster Abbey, was built in 1365 to house King Edward III’s treasury, later used as King Henry VIII”s ‘junk room’, the record office for the House of Lords, and, from 1869, served was the “testing laboratory” for the Office of Weights and Measures. The exhibition, which opened this month, is part of the English Heritage celebrations commemorating the centenary of the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act. The Jewel Tower is open daily until November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk.
• See some of the earliest underground trains, a Lego version of Baker Street station and ride the Acton Miniature Railway. The London Transport Museum’s depot in Acton is holding it’s annual spring open weekend this Saturday and Sunday and in celebration of the Underground’s 150th anniversary, attractions will include the Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1 and the recently restored Metropolitan Carriage 353 along with model displays, rides on the miniature railway, film screenings, talks, and workshops. Wales’ Ffestiniog Railway team – celebrating their own 150th anniversary – will also be present with the narrow gauge train, Prince. Open from 11am to 5pm both days. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.
• Now On: Designs of the Year. The Design Museum has unveiled contenders for the sixth annual Designs of the Year competition and you can what they are in this exhibition. Consisting of more than 90 nominations spanning seven categories, the nominated designs include the Olympic Cauldron by Heatherwick Studio, The Shard – western Europe’s tallest building – by Renzo Piano, a non-stick ketchup bottle invented by the Varanasi Research Group at MIT, and Microsoft’s Windows phone 8. The exhibition runs until 7th July – the winners will be announced this month. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.org.
London’s railway network stands out as one of the greatest achievements of the Victorian age for it was during the 19th century that much of the railway infrastructure still in use today was first established.
The first railway line in London opened in February 1836 (six years after the UK’s first line opened) and ran between Spa Road in Bermondsey and Deptford on the south bank of the River Thames. The line was extended to London Bridge in December that same year and again to Greenwich, from cross-Channel steamers left – in April the following year.
That same year – 1837 – the station at Euston opened as the final stop for trains from Birmingham (an earlier terminus as Chalk Farm was deemed too far out). It was followed by Paddington in 1838, Fenchurch Street – the first permanent terminus in the City – in 1841, Waterloo in 1848 and King’s Cross in 1850.
Having seen a boom period during the 1840s, development of new lines took a back seat in the 1850s but resumed apace the following decade with the opening of Victoria Station, connecting the city to Brighton and Dover. Stations followed at Charing Cross, Ludgate Hill and Cannon Street and alongside the grand terminus’ around the outskirts of London where trains arriving from distant destinations arrived, numerous smaller railways began to be built, such as the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway and the Victoria Station and Pimlico Railway, which took passengers on only short journeys across the city (these smaller railway companies all disappeared by 1923 when the 1921 Railways Act resulted in the creation of what are known as the “Big Four” British railway companies).
And, of course, the London Underground, has its first journey in 1863 but we’ll look at that in more detail next week.
Interesting to note that there were three classes of rail travel and while first and second class passengers had seats, this wasn’t always the case in third class where, writes Michael Paterson in Inside Dickens’ London, passengers, such as those on the Greenwich line, were initially forced to stand in open topped carriages known by some as ‘standipedes’.
Naturally, with the building of the railways came some spectacular stations – among the most spectacular is the late Victorian building which stood at the front of St Pancras Railway Station and housed the Midland Grand Hotel (pictured above). An exemplar of the Gothic Victorian style, it was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and, following a massive recent refurbishment, is now home to the five star Renaissance London Hotel and apartments.
We can, of course, only touch on the history of the railways in such a brief article – but we will be looking in more detail at some more specific elements of the system in later posts.
• The 2012 Lord Mayor’s Show is just about upon us and while you may not have a grandstand seat, there’s still plenty of places you can stand and watch the parade of more than 6,500 people pass by. Saturday’s parade – which celebrates the election of the 685th Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Roger Gifford – leaves Mansion House at 11am and travels via Poultry and Cheapside to St Paul’s Cathedral where it pauses for the Lord Mayor and his officials to receive a blessing – before continuing on via Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street to the Royal Courts of Justice, arriving there at about 12.30pm. There the Lord Mayor gives his oath of loyalty to the Crown (while in the surrounding streets the participants and 125 horses are fed and watered) before the parade reassembles and sets off from Embankment at 1pm, heading back to Mansion House via Queen Victoria Street – the Lord Mayor arrives sometime between 2pm and 2.30pm. (The website has a terrific one page map of the route you can download and print). There’s no fireworks display after the parade – although there’s a host of other activities taking place in the City of London – but if you’re up and about early enough, you may want to watch the Lord Mayor as he boards the barge QRB Gloriana at the Westminster Boating Base in Vauxhall at 8.30am and, escorted by a flotilla, makes his way up the Thames to HMS President, just below St Katharine Docks, arriving at about 9.35am after Tower Bridge opens in salute. For more, head to www.lordmayorsshow.org.
• The annual Remembrance Sunday service – commemorating the contribution of British and Commonwealth servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts – will take place at the Cenotaph on Whitehall at 11am this Sunday. While no tickets are required to watch the event, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, who organise the service, advise arriving early if you wish to secure a good viewing space (and leave time for security checks at the entrance to either end of Whitehall). Whitehall opens at 8am. For more details, see www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/honours/3333.aspx.
• A new exhibition of the work of US photographic pioneer Ansel Adams opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow (Friday). Ansel Adams: Photography from the Mountains to the Sea, which comes from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, will feature more than 100 original prints, many of which have never been exhibited before in the UK. It is said to be the first exhibition to focus on his “lifelong fascination” with water and the display features some of Adams’ finest images based on this subject including what are some of the most famous photographs of the 20th century. Highlights include the first photograph Adams’ ever image – taken at age 14 – which features a pool located at the Panama Pacific Exhibition at the 1915 World’s Fair, the three American Trust murals produced in the 1950s on an “unprecedented scale”, Adam’s favorite work – Golden Gate before the Bridge – which hung above his desk, and iconic images such as Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite and Stream, Sea, Clouds, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Country, California. There is an admission charge. Runs until 28th April. For more details on the exhibition, see www.rmg.co.uk.
• Also opening tomorrow (Friday) is the British Library’s major autumn exhibition – Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire. The exhibition focuses on the Mughal dynasty – which once ruled over much of the Indian sub-continent – and is the first to document the period spanning the 16th to 19th centuries. Featuring more than 200 manuscripts and paintings, most of which come from the library’s own collection, highlights include Akbar ordering the slaughter to cease in 1578 – a work attributed to the artist Miskina in 1595, Abu’l Hasan’s early 17th century painting Squirrels in a plane tree, the historically important illustration Prince Aurangzeb reports to the Emperor Shah Jahan in durbar, and a portrait of Prince Dara Shikoh, favorite son and heir-apparent of 17th century Emperor Shah Jahan. Runs until 2nd April. Admission charge applies. For more on the exhibition and accompanying events, see www.bl.uk.
A late 17th and early 18th century wood carver and sculptor, the curiously named Grinling Gibbons is remembered for his magnificent carvings in numerous English buildings including such London icons as St Paul’s Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace.
Not much is known about Gibbons’ early life. The son of English parents (his father was apparently a draper), he was born in Rotterdam in The Netherlands on 4th April, 1648, and, as a young man, is believed to have undertaken an apprenticeship as a sculptor in that country.
Around the age of 19, he moved to England – first to York and to Deptford in the south. It was the quality of his work which led diarist John Evelyn, having discovered Gibbons working on a limewood relief of Tintoretto’s Crucifixion in a small cottage near Deptford in early 1671, that led him to introduce him to Christopher Wren, the architect of the age, and fellow diarist Samuel Pepys and to eventually present him (and his relief) to King Charles II at Whitehall Palace on 1st March the same year.
But Gibbons’ work apparently failed to initially impress at court and it was only following his ‘discovery’ later that year by the court artist Sir Peter Lely that he began to receive major commissions.
It’s apparently not known when Gibbons married his wife Elizabeth and moved to London they were living there by 1672 and were having the first of their at least 12 children (while at least five of their daughters survived into adulthood, none of their sons did).
In 1672, they were living in an inn, called La Belle Sauvage or The Bell Savage, located on Ludgate Hill near St Paul’s, and, while Gibbons continued to maintain a workshop here into the 1680s, the family moved to Bow Street in Covent Garden around the end of the 1670s (the house here apparently collapsed in 1702 and was subsequently rebuilt in brick).
Gibbons, who was admitted to the Draper’s Company in 1672 and held various posts within it over ensuing years, reached the pinnacle of his success when he was made master sculptor and carver in wood to King William III in 1693, and was later made master carpenter to the king, then King George I, in 1719.
Having worked mostly in limewood, Gibbons, recently called the “British Bernini”, is known for his distinct and exuberant style which features cascading foliage, fruit, animals and cherubs. While he worked on numerous important buildings outside of London – including carvings in the Chapel Royal and king’s dining room at Windsor Castle, in a chapel at Trinity College in Oxford, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and a famous ‘carved room’ at Petworth House in Sussex – and beyond (he also created two presentation panels – known as the ‘Cosimo’ and ‘Modena’ panels which were sent to Italy as royal gifts), Gibbons is also noted for his work on a number of prominent buildings in London.
Among the buildings he worked on or in around London are the churches of St James’s in Piccadilly, St Mary Abchurch, St Michael Paternoster Royal and, famously, St Paul’s Cathedral (where he carved choir stalls, the bishop’s thrones and choir screen) as well as Hampton Court and Kensington Palaces.
While he is primarily remembered for his limewood carvings, Gibbons’ workshop was also responsible for sculpting statues, memorials and decorative stonework. A couple of the workshop’s statues can still be seen in London – one of King Charles II in Roman dress at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and another of King James II outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square – while the magnificent Westminster Abbey memorial to Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell is also attributed to him.
Gibbons died at his Bow Street home on 3rd August, 1721, and was buried in St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden (his wife had been buried there several years before).
For more on Grinling Gibbons, check out David Esterly’s Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving.
UPDATED: Excitement has been building for months ahead of this weekend’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations which include a 1,000 boat flotilla which will sail down the Thames on Sunday, the Diamond Jubilee concert on Monday and National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday which will be followed by a ceremonial procession back to Buckingham Palace.
• First to the flotilla. The formal river procession will be held between 2pm and 6pm, starting upriver of Battersea Bridge and finishing downriver of Tower Bridge. The Queen and her family will be boarding the Royal barge, the Spirit of Chartwell, near Albert Bridge at 2.30pm and will travel upriver at the centre of the flotilla with the aim of pulling up alongside HMS President, near Tower Bridge, at 4.15pm.
The flotilla will be one of the largest ever assembled on the river and feature rowing, working and pleasure boats of all shapes and sizes decked out for the occasion. In addition as many as 30,000 people will be aboard passenger boats and there will also be music barges and boats spouting geysers as well as specially constructed craft like a floating belfry. It is estimated that it will take the flotilla around 75 minutes to pass any static point along the route.
Downriver of London Bridge, near the end of the pageant’s seven mile (11 kilometre) course, a gun salute will be fired and the procession will pass through an ‘Avenue of Sail’ formed by traditional sailing vessels, oyster smacks, square riggers, naval vessels and others. For more on the pageant (including the location of large viewing screens – these positions will be regulated from 8am onwards – and road closures as well as an interactive map of the route), head to www.thamesdiamondjubileepageant.org.
• Diamond Jubilee Concert and Beacons. To be held outside Buckingham Palace, close to the Victoria Memorial, on the evening of Monday, 4th June, the concert – which starts at around 7.30pm and features everyone from Elton John to Paul McCartney and Shirley Bassey – will be televised live by the BBC (unless you’re lucky enough to have one of the 10,000 balloted tickets meaning you get to have a picnic in the palace gardens and see the concert). For those who can’t go but would like to experience some of the atmosphere, Royal Parks are setting up screens along The Mall, in St James’s Park and in Hyde Park.
At 10.30pm that night, the Queen will light the National Beacon outside Buckingham Palace, the last in a network of beacons to be lit across the country. More than 4,000 beacons will be lit by communities across the UK and in Commonwealth countries around the world between 10-10.30pm that night (for more on the beacons, see www.diamondjubileebeacons.co.uk).
• National Service of Thanksgiving and Carriage Procession. On Tuesday, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will leave Buckingham Palace at 10.15am and travel by car to St Paul’s Cathedral via the Mall, through Trafalgar Square, down the Strand and Fleet Street and up Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s. There they and the 2,000 invited guests will attend the National Service of Thanksgiving, conducted by the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Rev Dr David Ison (the Archbishop of Canterbury will preach).
At 11.30am, the Queen and Duke will then head to Mansion House for a reception (via St Paul’s Churchyard and Queen Victoria Street), hosted by the Lord Mayor of London David Wootton, Court of Aldermen and Court of Common Council. Other members of the Royal family will attend a reception at Guildhall. At 12.30pm, the Queen and members of the Royal Family will then head to Westminster Hall (via Queen Victoria Street, St Paul’s Churchyard, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street, the Strand, Whitehall and Parliament Square), entering through the Sovereign’s Entrance of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) at 12.40pm. There, they will attend the Diamond Jubilee Lunch.
At 2.20pm, the Queen and Prince Philip will lead a carriage procession from the Palace of Westminster to Buckingham Palace (via New Palace Yard, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and The Mall), riding in a 1902 State Landau. They will be followed by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall in a State Landau, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate) and Prince Harry in another State Landau. If it’s raining, these will be replaced by the Australian State Coach, Queen Alexandra’s State Coach and the Glass Coach. Military personnel will line the route, a 60 gun salute will be fired and a Guard of Honor will await them in the Buckingham Palace forecourt.
At 3.30pm, the Queen and members of the Royal Family in the carriage procession will appear on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to wave to the crowds and witness an RAF flypast and a Feu de Joie – a celebratory volley of rifle fire – which will be given as a salute in the palace forecourt.
There’s plenty more happening over the weekend including many local street parties – far too much for us to record here. So for more, head to the official Diamond Jubilee site, www.thediamondjubilee.org (or The Big Lunch for local lunches – www.thebiglunch.com). You can purchase a copy of the official souvenir programme online at www.royalcollectionshop.co.uk/diamond-jubilee-1/diamond-jubilee-official-souvenir-programme.html or download it at www.itunes.co.uk.
Reckon you can take a good photo? We’re looking for great images of this weekend’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations (just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Want to read more about the Queen? Why not check out Sixty Glorious Years: Queen Elizabeth II, Diamond Jubilee, 1952-2012, Queen Elizabeth II: A Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Album, or Debrett’s: The Queen – The Diamond Jubilee. For related music, check out Diamond Jubilee: A Classical Celebration, The Diamond Jubilee Album or Gary Barlow & the Commonwealth Band’s Sing EP (featuring Prince Harry).
We’re launching a new ‘Lost London’ special looking at some of the now disappeared gates of London. First up is Ludgate which once stood on the western side of the city.
The gate is believed to have been constructed in Roman times and is known to have been rebuilt a several times – once in 1215 and another time after it was destroyed in the Great Fire – before being demolished in 1760 to allow for the road to be widened.
The origins of the name – which is today commemorated in street names like Ludgate Hill and Ludgate Circus – are sketchy but may have been named after the mythical pre-Roman King Lud, who was, so the legend goes, buried underneath this portal (this myth was popularised by the 12th century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth). Others have suggested ‘lud’ is a corruption of ‘flud’ or ‘flood’ and the gate was so named because it prevented the city being flooded by the River Fleet. Another possibility is that ‘lud’ is simply an old English word for a postern gate, a small secondary gate.
Whatever the origins of its name, it has been suggested it was through Ludgate that William the Conqueror passed when first entering the city. In 1377 it became a prison for petty criminals like debtors and trespassers – serious criminals were sent to Newgate – and this lasted until its final destruction.
There is a blue plaque on the wall of the church of St Martin-within-Ludgate in Ludgate Hill marking where Ludgate once stood (pictured above). It is believed that some badly corroded statues standing under a porch at the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street are of Lud and his sons and were taken down from the gate before its demolition. William Kerwin’s statue of Queen Elizabeth I which dates from 1586 sits in a niche on the front of the church is also believed to have been removed from Ludgate.
In a new special, we’re taking a look at some of the key sites London landmarks designed by renowned 17th century architect Sir Christopher Wren. To kick it off, we’re taking a look at the building for which he is most known, St Paul’s Cathedral.
Wren’s involvement with the current St Paul’s came after the Great Fire of London in 1666 left the old medieval cathedral in ruins (there is believed to have been four previous cathedrals built on the site with the first dating from around the early 600s). He had already been involved in repairing the old cathedral and had even submitted plans for a new domed cathedral on the site when the Great Fire swept through the city.
Wren had already been appointed Surveyor to the King’s Works when, in 1668, he was asked to submit plans for the a new cathedral. After his first few designs were rejected and abandoned, Wren’s plans, albeit substantially altered, were finally approved and the first stone laid in 1677.
The design was ambitious and the church now features what is the second biggest dome in the world after that of St Peter’s in Rome as well as a monumental west-facing facade complete with two towers (the final form of the western facade wasn’t settled until 1707 and both of the towers were originally designed to hold clocks. In the end only the right tower did.)
Building took more than 30 years and it wasn’t until 1710 that the new cathedral was officially declared completed. Interior features include the Whispering Gallery (located 30 metres above the floor below the central dome, it gets its name from the fact that a person whispering into the wall can be heard across the dome by someone who puts their ear to the wall), choir stalls which feature the work of renowned woodcarver Grinling Gibbons, and poet/preacher John Donne’s memorial from 1631, the only pre-Great Fire monument to survive intact. There are spectacular views over London from the Stone Gallery or the highest point of public access, the Golden Gallery.
Since its opening, St Paul’s has hosted the burials of numerous of Britain’s luminaries – the tombs of Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, are both in the crypt as are those of 18th century painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin along with a host of memorials. Others events hosted at the cathedral include Winston Churchill’s funeral and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981.
Wren, who died in 1723, was the first person to be interred in the crypt. His tomb bears an inscription in Latin which says: “Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.”
WHERE: Ludgate Hill. Nearest tube is St Paul’s; WHEN: Monday to Saturdays, 8.30am to 4pm. COST: £12.50 adults/£11.50 seniors/£9.50 students/£4.50 children (aged 6-16)/£29.50 family; WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk