Are The Sights Of London Being Compromised?
St. Paul’s Cathedral is an internationally recognised landmark in the London skyline. Since 1938 the City of London Corporation has operated a unique policy known as the ‘St Paul’s Heights’ to protect views of the Cathedral from the South Bank, Thames bridges and certain other points. For more than seventy years this has worked perfectly and the corridors remained in place.
Trees in Richmond Park were specially grown and cut to allow the sightline to St Paul’s. But the growth of the City of London (Square Mile) started damaging the views. They had already spoiled the Tower of London’s views, but that is a far lower building and harder to protect.
I wanted to see how compromised the views had become, so set off to walk a zig-zag path down to St Paul’s from my flat. First, this is the new view from my study.
Lost in that mess is St Paul’s, which has stopped lighting itself at night while the Eye of Sauron (the Shard) now has a blinding, pulsing beacon on top. The sheer arrogance of this ugly building defies belief.
As you get closer to the protected sightlines, the old views return. As it was Christmas Day, the streets were empty. Here’s one from Clerkenwell.
The cathedral’s surroundings of Paternoster Square are still dead spaces of chain stores and coffee shops instead of the bookshops they once were, but the north side of the church has been opened into a piazza which gets tourists off the steps finally and gives them somewhere else to sit. City planning is now having to take the effects of mass tourism into account.
It’s as you get closer to St Paul’s that you see its grandeur return once more. The main problem is that at a distance it is overshadowed entirely by the monstrous Shard. The restoration of Temple Bar has improved the square, which could have done with some greenery. The City of London is the least green part of the city.
The view is helped by the fact that it’s at the top of a hill, and so once more the cathedral’s beauty returns. As soon as you can no longer see the surrounding high-rises, Wren’s building dominates once more. For me, though, Wren’s true masterpiece is the nearby St Stephen Walbrook. It’s the one with hardly any tourists around it!