Tag Archives: St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral

Bro, Li’l Sis and I took a trip to St Paul’s Cathedral at the weekend. We had booked a guided tour. Our guide, Janna, a very passionate and exuberant lady who told us that she really wanted to keep us in the Cathedral for two weeks to tell us and show us everything that there was to know and see… That wasn’t as creepy as I’ve just made it sound, she really did mean it as a joke. I think.  She also told us that we were not allowed to take photographs inside the cathedral, which is a real shame since it was so stunning.

The famous Dome
The famous Dome

St Paul’s Cathedral since 604AD
Janna told us that there has been a cathedral on this site since 604AD (earlier than the first abbey was built down the road at Westminster). The site where St Paul’s stands was chosen for a few reasons – one was that what we know as the City of London was London in those days, most of the rest of what is now London was fields and marsh land. Ludgate Hill, where St Paul’s stands, is the highest point in the City, so strategically a good position to have a building of importance. When the Romans were here (what did they do for us??) it is likely that there was a temple in the same area, so the rest, as they say, is history.

Medieval town courtesy of photo bucket
Medieval town courtesy of photo bucket

A Bit of History to put it in Context
By medieval times, London was still a walled City, and hadn’t spread much outside at that time. As 95% of the population was illiterate, streets became named after the trades carried out in there: Milk Street (milk was sold there), Bread Street (bread was made there), Love Lane (you can work that one out for yourselves). The social lives of the common folk revolved around the 87 churches in the City, and St Paul’s was at the heart of it all.

Most of the houses were timber built (there was plenty of wood in England) and when the families got bigger, people just extended their houses upwards. London wasn’t a clean city in those days, all the household waste was just chucked in the streets, and eventually made its way into the River Thames.

London Wall, courtesy of Photobucket
London Wall, courtesy of Photobucket

St Paul’s – Destroyed and Rebuilt
On 2 September 1666, soon after midnight, in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane, a young apprentice fell asleep whilst in charge of the fire under the oven. A spark flew out of the fire and set fire to the flammable materials nearby and the fire took hold. The fire lasted for four days. Despite King Charles II himself taking charge and ordering a number of buildings to be destroyed to create fire breaks, it persisted for four days because the wind kept changing direction. Amazing then, that although there were only about eight fatalities when so much of of London was destroyed, St Paul’s included.

Sir Christopher Wren (he was plain old Chris Wren when he started working on rebuilding St Paul’s) was a very clever man – an architect, mathematician, he could read Latin and Ancient Greek, to name but a few of his talents. He designed many buildings, including Christ Church College Bell Tower, Oxford, The Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge and the Royal Hospital at Chelsea.

The King engaged Wren to do a lot of the reconstruction in London, including St Paul’s. (In fact, he rebuilt 52 churches in the City after the fire. I think I am correct in saying that the the remaining 35 were never rebuilt.) Wren told the King that he wanted the new cathedral to be different from the original, he wanted people to see the light of God. He also said that he wanted the cathedral to have a dome.

The King rejected Wren’s first four designs. The King, whose father had been beheaded, and who was still concerned about Catholic:Protestant unease, felt that an Anglican Church with a dome was not right, it seemed more in the style of Catholic Churches eg St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Eventually, after some negotiation and modification, Wren’s fifth design was accepted. It took Wren 28 years to perfect the style and build of the dome – I believe he did “trial runs” on seven other churches before he was sure he’d got it right – St Stephen’s at Walbrook being one of them. The whole rebuild of St Paul’s took 35 years.

A Triumph of Structural Engineering
London is built on a clay soil, relatively weak in structural terms, which presented something of a challenge to Wren because of the weight of the cathedral he was about to build. St Paul’s has a crypt, the largest of any church in Europe. About half of the area of which is taken up by columns that support the weight of the cathedral. Additionally, the dome is supported by eight columns (rather than the usual four for similar designs) in order to distribute the weight more easily. As the foundations settled during the building of the cathedral, Wren made adjustments in the design to allow for this.

The front of St Paul's
The front of St Paul’s

During our tour, Janna took us to what is known as the Dean’s stairway, a spiral staircase in which each of the 88 steps only goes into the wall by about 150 mm. Such was Wren’s genius that he worked out that if he cantilevered each step slightly, the weight would be born down thus obviating the necessity of a large inset into the wall. The entrance here has been seen in a number of films, including the Sherlock Holmes film with Robert Downey Junior and one of the Harry Potter’s.

The strength of the design was born out during World War II, when two bombs exploded nearby and an incendiary device also went off. The steps remained in place. In fact, about four years ago, when the building was being checked, only a couple of the steps were found to have cracks, some 300 odd years after being built. I know of many newer buildings that haven’t withstood the ravages of time so well, without bombs going off nearby.

The main doors of the cathedral weigh a ton each, and yet, because of Wren’s design, they can be opened easily by one person.

St Paul's from One New Change 2015-05

The Dome
Although you wouldn’t know it to look at it, there are actually three domes. The outer one, that we all know and love is wooden, covered with lead, the inner one is brick. The one in between, a bit like an inverted ice-cream cone is made of wooden struts that hold the other domes together. Although Wren wanted mosaics in the dome area, it was, once again, thought to be too similar to a Catholic Church, so it wasn’t until many years later that the mosaics were installed.

It is 365 feet from the ground floor to the top of St Paul’s Whispering Gallery, with 257 steps to get there. From the Whispering Gallery to the next level, the Stone Gallery, is another 119 steps, and from there to the Golden Gallery is a further 152 steps – 528 in total.

There is much, much more to be said about St Paul’s, far too much for one blog post. Too many secrets for one visit too. Definitely worth another visit.

© Susan Shirley 2016

Mark Rowland’s City of London Tour



The actual name of the walk is called,

“Wren, Romans and Liverymen: A brief history of the City of London.”

A brief history it may have been, but Mark managed to pack a great deal in, making it not only a very interesting walk, but teaching me a lot in the process.

This was my first walk with Mark, and, as with all tour guides, you never really know what to expect until you meet them. I needn’t have worried though, Mark’s enthusiasm shone through, making this one of the best walks I’ve ever been on.

What amazed me most (to be fair, this doesn’t just apply to Mark, but most London tour guides) is the depth of knowledge that he had, all stored in his head. I know he studied hard to learn all of this information, but even so. He carried a binder only to show us artists’ impressions of the way the City might have looked, or photographs of the way things were.  In a few hours, there was limited time for Mark to tell us what he knew, but he had a really good go at it.

We were a fairly small group so people felt free to ask a lot of questions (sometimes I think we all feel a bit constrained in a larger group) which Mark answered without any hesitation.

The walk around the City was very comprehensive and covered the founding of the City through to the plague of 1665 to the Great Fire of London right up to the present day. If you know the City even slightly, I’m sure that there must be things that you wonder about? That’s certainly the case with me. For example, why is Lombard Street so called? I know the answer now, and I also know why we used to have Lsd (not the drug, but pounds, shillings and pence) – libri, soldi and denarii.

Our tour started just outside Tower Hill underground station, in full view of the Tower of London; from there we walked a short way to see some of the remains of the old Roman City Wall. (I now know how to tell whether a wall is Roman!)

Part of the remaining Roman London Wall
Part of the remaining Roman London Wall

We then paused outside St Olav’s Church in Hart Street, where 300 plague victims were buried, including the woman who is alleged to have brought the plague to the City. Both Samuel Pepys and his wife are buried here. The depictions above the gate to the churchyard are a bit grisly, which may have been why Charles Dickens nicknamed it “St Ghastly Grim!” This was a church that Pepys liked to use when he was alive; working in the Admiralty, so fitting that he is buried here.



Of course, we made our way along Lombard Street but you have to go on the tour to find out why it is called that.

The photo below shows a quick stop in our tour – I thought this was a beautiful building that was once someone’s great home. Turns out it was originally a vinegar warehouse…


From there onto Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire of London started. The Monument to the fire stands near to the bottom of Fish Street Hill, which was once a main thoroughfare into the City, and which was the site of fish market way back in the time of Henry III. If you were to look at a map of where we’d travelled at this point, we were still very close to the start, and yet it seemed as though we had walked miles, but in a good way.

Then onto the Jamaica Wine House in St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill. The plaque on the side of the pub says,

“Here stood the first London Coffee house at the sign of the Pasqua Rosee’s Head 1652.”


The coffee shop as it is now
The coffee shop as it is now

Pasqua worked for Daniel Edwards who was a trader in Turkish goods, including coffee, and he helped Pasqua set up the coffee house. It was sometimes known as the Turk’s Head. I wrote about coffee houses a few months ago – see my blog:


Different coffee houses grew to specialise in different discussion areas, unsurprisingly, I suppose, when you consider how you get a different type of clientele in different pubs, bars, etc.

What surprised me was to see how close together the buildings were around here, and, notwithstanding that they had been modernised, you could see how the Great Fire spread so quickly. The photographs below give a bit of indication but really don’t show the full closeness.


Keeping in the food and drink theme, we went to what is said to be the oldest restaurant in town, Simpson’s Tavern in Ball Court. The tavern was established on this site in 1757, but ladies weren’t admitted until 1916! No going out for a romantic dinner back in those days then? I had a look at the menu, and this is somewhere that I’d definitely like to go.

We visited several other stops before we found ourselves outside St Alban’s in Wood Street. This church was medieval but had been rebuilt and was then destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, completed in 1685. Unfortunately, the Blitz caused serious damage to the church, and the remains of the church, minus the tower, were demolished in 1965. All that remains is the tower, which is now a private dwelling designated a Grade II listed building.

Then onto another stop by a different part of the Roman Wall, at the edge of where the Roman Fort would have been. Part of the wall is underground and guided tours are available from time to time courtesy of the Museum of London.

Our tour ended at an extra stop at Number One, New Change, where Mark took us up to the roof terrace, with its fabulous views of St Paul’s Cathedral and across London.

Taken from the top on One New Change
Taken from the top on One New Change

If you only do a short visit to London, really try to do this walk, it was absolutely fascinating and informative and I’ve only briefly touched on it here. There was far more to it than what I’ve described.  I will be doing more walks with Mark soon, so hope to see you on one of them.

You can find out more about Mark’s walks at http://footprintsoflondon.com/ or https://markslondonrambles.wordpress.com

© Susan Shirley 2015