Are The Sights Of London Being Compromised?


St Paul's

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!



11 comments on “Are The Sights Of London Being Compromised?”

  1. jan says:

    funnily enough my sister was on about this same topic the protected view from Richmond Park from Henry the 8 mound has been lost due to development …..the mound is very interesting spot with the “ley” marked on it and a map of the sightline. Awful loss that view of St Pauls

  2. SteveB says:

    The other side of the coin is, you wouldn’t want the city to stand still.
    It may be that London will lose half a million jobs or so from Brexit but it’s still miles ahead of anywhere else in Europe and it needs to keep moving commercially and socially.
    It reminds me a bit of that book This is London you mentioned a while ago. London has a lot going for it and 400+ years ago Elizabethan London kicked off the processes that created the modern world, this could be done again.

  3. George Mealor says:

    They could have told them to build further from Saint Paul’s.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Sightlines can be maintained if the community desires. There are maximum heights, maximum widths or whatever within those map lines. You want to build another gigantic whatever you build it outside the lines. Come on people, you can do this. Progress does not necessarily mean more huge buildings. What are people doing in them?

  5. SteveB says:

    @ Helen
    The Shard is quite far away from St Pauls. Admin’s picture is from the North, from that angle the Shard is actually I guess a mile or so behind St Paul’s, to the south on the other side of the river. It’s the height that makes it stand out in the pictures.
    As to what people are doing in these buildings, creating wealth and networking. You need to create density for economic success and in a city of 10 million you have to build up. Berlin is also a big city for example but very sprawling. It lacks concentration and despite what you read in UK papers pretty unsuccessful and likely to stay that way.
    I think the balance in London is about right.

  6. Terenzio says:

    The Shard isn’t an ugly building. In fact it’s pretty cool looking, but more importantly it is what one may call a successful design. It’s tall and rather slim, tempers off as the height increases….in other words rather elegant. Renzo Piano, the architect, compares it to church steeples that dominated London of yesteryear. He’s right. And the London of today is nothing like the London of the 17th century. Between the Victorians and the Germans I doubt there’s very much left. Besides I would rather have them build vertically rather than horizontally. Great Britain is an island with limited space. I’m a big supporter of the green countryside. There’s enough urban sprawl as it is without increasing the imprint of te city of London. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in preserving buildings of historical or architectural merit. What they did to Penn Station in NYC and even the beautiful first Imperial Hotel on Russell Square in London is a crime, but the building that was demolished to make way for the Shard was a banal building from the 1970s so not a great loss. However, this being said London, like NYC is in dire need of affordable housing. Unfortunately, between the greed of developers and tge ineptitude and corrupted city government’s I don’t see this happening anytime soon. I should add I’ve no problem with protecting the immediate area around St Pauls from really tall buildings. It’s a lovely building and the area around it should be protected.

    À Bientôt…..the one in th gorgeous purple dressing gown and cutesy wolfie slippers.

  7. admin says:

    Beg to disagree, Terenzio. St Paul’s (and the Gherkin, for that matter) get more elegant the closer to stand to them. The Shard becomes another blank one-way glass stump of an office block as you approach it.

  8. Terenzio says:

    As you approach it you have a tendency to look up to take in the entire building, as you do when walking towards St Pauls… look up to take in the dome and bell towers along with all the other architectural elements. Glass can be as elegant as stone, especially the way glass reflects light.

  9. Terenzio says:

    I like the Gherkin. I Remember the first time I noticed it was in the Woody Allen film Matchpoint way back in 2005. Sadly, today it gets somewhat lost with all the other new buildings in the area. Foster also did the lovely Hearst Tower here in NYC which reminds me of the Gherkin in some ways.

  10. Jan says:

    Looking at all the new buildings from the train leaving Waterloo yesterday was gob smacking. There’s one big glass box that looks as if it’s being covered in bubble wrap. I thought it was a scaffolding to shelter the builders from high winds but no it’s some sort of dreadful design feature.
    Something very much like an aluminum space ship seems to have landed in Victoria.
    And the city seems to be disentangling itself from its past at a great rate of knots. That walkie talkie isn’t pleasant is it?
    Chris thought your remark about The Shard being Sauron’s tower was v funny but it’s only too true……

  11. Jan says:

    Apparently they have conveniently sidestepped the obligation to preserve sightlines by only registering the intentions to build locally i.e. within the City of London or Southwark or any relevant Borough and no one further down the lines of sight have realised the views will disappear until the foundations are in and the scaffolding is up. Of course planning restrictions were simplified and lifted by this government.

Comments are closed.