Prior to doing any painting I generally do onsite drawings first. In this case I chose to do a quick drawing tour of the St Pauls area of London. I decided to do all my drawings just within a few hundred yards of each other as it was a decent challenge and it was a great opportunity to get down the back streets of this ancient city.
Although St Paul’s is at the heart of the City of London it can be a struggle to find old and ancient buildings. London has never been still, it has always been in flux. You will have to look very hard to find a building pre 1666 as that was the year of the Great Fire of London.
London at that time was a medieval wooden tinder box. The fire began in Pudding Lane and over a few days the flames consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral and most of the buildings of the city authorities. The death toll however was slight. Only six deaths were verified. This miracle of a death toll may not be totally accurate as in those days, the deaths of the poor and even the middle-classes did not count. Manipulating figures is clearly not just a modern pursuit.
Once the ash had settled, there were great plans to create a new modern city with wide European inspired boulevards. The locals had other ideas. Londoners simply ignored any new-fangled ideas. They simply set up shop and home exactly where they were before the fire and refused to move. This typical stubborn, pugnacious Londoner approach means that even today the basic layout of the City is unchanged, even the street names would be something Samuel Pepys would recognise.
A drawing of St Paul’s Cathedral
The fire destroyed the medieval St Paul’s Cathedral and Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to build another on the same site. The original design submitted by Wren had a sort of spire as opposed to a dome as it is today. Wren it seems always intended a dome though decided to lie to the king and everyone else about the dome as he knew they would never agree to such a thing. It would look far too much the St Peter’s in Rome and therefor ‘POPISH!”
Why over the 30 years it took to build, some bureaucrat did not look up and say ‘Hey he’s not building a spire at all. That’s a bloody DOME!’ I cannot imagine.
In the Blitz years, Churchill ordered that St Paul’s must not burn whatever the cost. So during the raids teams of fire officers were sent running all over the cathedral spotting incendiary bombs and parachute mines as they fell. Each one dealt with on the spot with buckets of sand and hoses. Somehow they managed it although much of the surrounding areas were devastated.
It is open to the public and is certainly worth a look round. Inside you will find Lord Nelson in a wonderful marble sarcophagus. The previous proposed occupant of this sarcophagus was Cardinal Wolsey though he was evicted for messing up one of Henry VIII’s marriages and was buried in Leicester instead without ceremony or headstone, so dear old Nelson reaps the reward.
A drawing of the Old St Paul’s Cathedral Choir School
Just across the road from St Paul’s and down the wee side street of Dean’s Court you will find Carter Lane and here you will discover the old St Paul’s Cathedral Choir School.
Although this structure was built in 1874 it is very much in keeping with the style of the Cathedral and has a distinct Italian Baroque feel about it. It is in a narrow street although I have drawn it standing back a bit so you can take more of it in. I love it, you could easily imagine this building tucked away down a back street in Florence or Sienna.
The school remained here until 1967 when it was moved to a new building, presumably so the choristers didn’t get run over by the ever increasing traffic storming up and down Ludgate Hill.
It now serves its time as a Youth Hostel and must be the loveliest Youth Hostel in all England.
A drawing of The Cockpit Tavern
Great areas of the City of London were laid waste over the Second World War and in the post war period the rubble had to be swept away and London had to build again. Sadly, post war ‘planners’ not only took the opportunity to rebuild what had been destroyed but also to destroy further some of the architecturally delightful and ancient buildings of London which were untouched by the Blitz. ‘Old was bad, new was good’.
A happy survivor is the Cockpit Tavern, probably because it is built on the site of Shakespeare’s house. As the name suggests, it was an arena for cockfighting and the gallery for spectators is still in place. Cock fighting was banned in 1849 and the pub has made a less bloodthirsty trade since by selling ales and such.
Old and new have been mixed here by more enlightened planners. They have built the surrounding office block in sympathy with the pub and make a rather elegant sweep down St Andrew’s Hill which I was keen to capture in my drawing.
After all the drawing I was freezing cold and pretty tired too so I popped into The Cockpit to thaw out over a tea. Its a pleasant, cosy pub to visit and feels rather special knowing Shakespeare drank and slept on the same spot.
The Cockpit Tavern
7 St Andrew’s Hill,
020 7248 7315