St. Paul’s Cathedral with London Guide Jill Finch, and the famous Blitz photo

Today Jill Finch takes us around one of her favourite London Heritage Hotspots, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Born out of the Great Fire of 1666, the Cathedral famously, and against all odds, survived later fires and bombing in the Blitz.

Jill Finch at St. Paul’s Cathedral

Here’s what Jill has to say

As a guide in the City of London there are so many hot spots to choose from, but since I also guide in St Paul’s Cathedral I think I have to choose it as a favourite.

It’s the fifth church on the top of Ludgate Hill to be dedicated to St Paul, its predecessors destroyed by fire or invading forces. It was hailed as a beacon of hope during World War II and, standing 365 feet above the streets of the Square Mile, it is one of the most instantly recognisable buildings in London.

Sitting in the heart of the financial district, St Paul’s, in any one of its five incarnations, has often been at the centre of major events and a walk round its outside offers tantalising glimpses of its history, of the talents of Wren’s workmen and the personalities who have left their mark.

High up on the south face of the cathedral is the Phoenix sculpted by Caius Gabriel Cibber with the word RESURGAM below – Wren wanted the world to know that St Paul’s (and London) had risen from the ashes of the Great Fire of London. (Cibber also carved the bas relief on the Monument down near London Bridge – another memorial to London rebuilding itself after the disaster).

St Paul's in the Blitz by Herbert Mason, December 29-30, 1940 (Wikipedia)

“St Paul’s Survives” – A photo of St Paul’s in the Blitz by Herbert Mason, December 29-30, 1940 (Wikipedia). This dramatic picture is still a powerful symbol. Thanks to the Imperial War Museum and Wikipedia for making it available. Link on Wikipedia:

Outside the railings is the bust of John Donne, who had a short walk, geographically, from his birthplace in Bread Street but a long spiritual journey, converting from Catholic to Anglican to become Dean of the pre-Fire Cathedral.

In the south churchyard is a sculpture of Thomas Beckett, born a few streets from Donne on the corner of Ironmonger Lane and Cheapside; he was a canon of St Paul’s before going on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Both men were born within the sound of Bow Bells which officially makes them Cockneys.

Keep walking and you’ll come to the plaque saying ‘Here Stood Paul’s Cross’, a medieval outdoor preaching stage where thousands of Londoners heard both sermons and state declarations.

The imposing statues on the roof of St Paul’s were done by Francis Bird and the beautiful carvings that decorate the walls are by Grinling Gibbons and William Kempster.

I love St Paul’s for its history, for its architecture and for its place in the City’s story; I also love it because it’s a magnet for visitors and Londoners alike.

Tourists come to gaze in awe at the outside, the beautiful Portland stone, the towers and the dome. Inside they are once again awed by the feeling of space and light that Wren gave us – a place that is both inspiring and welcoming.

Londoners relax in benches around the churchyard, eat their lunch and catch up with friends, treating St Paul’s itself as an old friend and companion, often using its gardens as a short cut through the City. On a rare hot summer’s day you can hardly see the grass for office workers relaxing at full stretch (after all we have to take our sun when we get it!)

It costs £18 to visit St Paul’s and I know a lot of people feel this is wrong BUT UK taxpayers who Gift Aid their admission fee get a ticket entitling them to free entry to the Cathedral for a year.

If you simply want to go in for some peace and quiet there is a chapel reserved for just this which is accessible without any charge and you will never be charged if you come to any of the services, see link for more details

About Jill Finch

Jill is a qualified City of London Guide & Lecturer, guiding in the City, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Guildhall Art Gallery and the church of All Hallows’ by the Tower.

She is also a Footprints of London Guide, a member of The Friends of the City Churches, and London Historians. Her website is currently a work in progress but she tweets @CityGuideJill.

Walks include:

  • The Medieval Precinct of St Paul’s Cathedral
  • The Great Fire of London
  • Shardlake’s London (based on the novels of C J Sansom)
  • The City by the Book (literary connections in the City of London)
  • The Market & the Monastery : A stroll round Smithfield
  • God and Mammon : The City’s two main obsessions.

The next Shardlake’s London walk is on May 23rd, 2017 and Jill guides in St Paul’s Cathedral every Friday.

Upcoming talks include:

  • ‘The Medieval Precinct of St Paul’s’ at the Barbican Library on May 31st
  • ‘The Great Fire of London’ – Winston Churchill Theatre, Hillingdon on Friday 25th August.

You can ask Jill about bespoke walks or address general enquiries via this address

Jill belongs to Footprints of London.

“Footprints of London is a London guided walks company with a difference; we’re owned by our guides, all our guides are qualified and accredited and all our walks are researched and written by the guides leading them.

“Walks by and for those who love London delivered with care, professionalism, insight and enthusiasm, that’s the Footprints of London difference.”

Website for Footprints of London:

The statue of Queen Anne at St. Paul’s

Jill’s mention of the statues on the roof being done by Francis Bird sent me scurrying back to the Internet to check something. And yes, Francis Bird was the sculptor of the original statue of Queen Anne that stood in front of St. Paul’s. That statue was weathered and missing a few parts, so a new one was installed in 1886. I wrote about this in “Richard Belt, the jailbird sculptor“, and a good yarn it is.

Famous people buried at St. Paul’s include Nelson and Wellington

Two great British heroes, Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, are entombed close to each other in St. Paul’s Cathedral. I recently discovered that Nelson’s widow and Wellington’s wife died less than two weeks apart, both disappointed in love.

Nelson’s widow, Fanny, didn’t go to his funeral (even though she loved the Admiral very much) because there was a risk of embarrassment for the nation if Emma Hamilton, Nelson’s mistress, also attended. Fanny apparently didn’t know that Emma wasn’t invited.

Wellington’s wife died before he did, so obviously she wasn’t at his funeral, at least, not in body.

Now I am doing some research on two other admirals buried in that same crypt, Admirals Jellicoe and Beatty.

Thanks to Jill Finch for her story about St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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