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At St Paul’s In Old London

December 28, 2019
by the gentle author

At midnight on Christmas Eve, I found myself standing inside St Paul’s Cathedral among the the company of several thousand other souls. The vast interior space of the cathedral is a world unto itself when you are within it, as much landscape as architecture, yet when the great clock struck twelve overhead, my thoughts were transported to the rain falling upon the empty streets in the dark city beyond. Perhaps I was thinking of some of these lantern slides created a century ago by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society for lectures at the Bishopsgate Institute?

Until 1962, St Paul’s was the tallest building in London and, in my perception of the city, it will always stand head and shoulders above everything else. Even before I saw it for myself, I already knew the shape of the monstrous dome from innumerable printed images and looming skyline appearances in films. Defying all competition, the great cranium of the dome contains a spiritual force that no other building in London can match.

A true wonder of architecture, St Paul’s never fails to induce awe when you return to it because the reality of its scale always surpasses your expectation – as if the mind itself cannot fully contain the memory of a building of such ambition and scale. No-one can deny the sense of order, with every detail sublimated to Sir Christopher Wren’s grand conception, yet the building defies you.

Although every aspect has its proportion and purpose, the elaborate intricacy expresses something beyond reason or logic. You are within the skull of a sleeping giant, dreaming the history of London, with its glittering panoply and dark episodes. The success of this building is to render everything else marginal, because when you are inside it you feel you are at the centre of the world.

Glass slides courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

The Lantern Slides of Old London

The Nights of Old London

The Signs of Old London

The Markets of Old London

The Pubs of Old London

The Doors of Old London

The Staircases of Old London

The High Days & Holidays of Old London

The Dinners of Old London

The Shops of Old London

The Streets of Old London

The Fogs & Smogs of Old London

The Chambers of Old London

The Tombs of Old London

The Bridges of Old London

The Forgotten Corners of Old London

The Thames of Old London

The Statues & Effigies of Old London

The City Churches of Old London

The Docks of Old London

The Tower of Old London

The Loneliness of Old London

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Alex Knisely permalink
    December 28, 2019

    “You are within the skull of a sleeping giant, dreaming the history of London” – a particularly successful phrase.

  2. Ian Silverton permalink
    December 28, 2019

    As a child could see The St Paul’s Dome from my bedroom window in the East End, this was to become my play ground when I started my first school in the City of London because one of my fellow pupils Granfather was a Clergyman there if that’s not doing him a disservice he might have been more senior,as he aloud some of Grandchilds friends to play inside and on a few days gave us a tour with tea, must have devoid of Tourist then as it was pretty quite around the 1950s, been back many times since taking my Granchildren on the self same tour. Happy New Year GA and all your readers. Stay safe London.

  3. Paul Loften permalink
    December 28, 2019

    Thank you for showing these magnificent photos of how St Paul’s dominated the landscape of central London in the 1920s . The images of the Cathedral in its natural state covered in the grime of history evokes within me a deeper regard for its presence. I dont know if I am alone in feeling that way. It certainly is more attractive for the tourist to see it sparkling clean and white.

  4. December 28, 2019

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for sharing those great black ‘n white studies of St. Paul’s when it was the tallest building in London. I love walking across Millennial Bridge from Southbank and observing the cathedral as it looms ever larger in view. The Shard, the Gherkin, the Cheese Grater etc. fade in the distance as a modern backdrop.

    Well said – “You are within the skull of a sleeping giant, dreaming the history of London, with its glittering panoply and dark episodes. The success of this building is to render everything else marginal, because when you are inside it you feel you are at the centre of the world.”


  5. Jill Wilson permalink
    December 28, 2019

    Great images of the greatest London building…

    I also always find the iconic picture of St Paul’s standing proudly defiant in the midst of the Blitz bombing very moving.

  6. Laurent Beaulieu permalink
    December 28, 2019

    I agree St-Paul is an enormous church and whenever I visit I am always surprised at its size inside and the many monuments and memorials, decorations etc. A few years ago I took an audio-guide tour and it was all too much to listen too all at once to understand it all. An interesting detail when I was visiting St-Peter in Rome, there is an outline on the floor of the basilica in marble to show that St-Paul is smaller than St-Peter in actual size, the difference is negligible, but I thought it was funny to see.

  7. December 28, 2019

    I can’t take my eyes off of it. The photo above, with the streams of light entering from the right
    edge of the photo? — Look at it again. The light falls upon two people in the massive crowd, and seems to pick them out for special attention. I wish I knew: How did it feel to have that momentary celestial beam fall on their faces/heads/shoulders/hands-holding-hymnals? Were they two friends, attending the service together……or two strangers who happened to be selected for special solar attention? What was the occasion?

    What? Who? When? Why? A tribute to the photographer (and the cathedral!) that such questions insist on answers. Although sometimes, just having a question is enough.
    Thank you, GA.

  8. Pauline Taylor permalink
    December 28, 2019

    When my father was alive he and I went on the tour up into the cross at the top of St Paul’s, an experience that I shall never forget. We were helped to step over the drop as we neared the top and I still remember what it was like to look down to the floor so far below. Happy memories. Thanks to my Pop for making that possible.

  9. December 30, 2019

    Hands down, the loveliest building in all of London.

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