The Old St Paul's Chapter House | Look Up London

Lost London: The Old St Paul’s Chapter House

As a tour guide, you tend to try and focus on what you can actually see around London. So this week’s blog is a little odd in that it’s all about something that no longer exists.

Happily though, there are clues which aid our imagination. You can find them in the churchyard of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The ‘lost’ London building in question is the Chapter House of the Old St Paul’s Cathedral

Old St Paul’s Cathedral

The first St Paul’s Cathedral was established in 604AD. Skip through some other early buildings (mainly destroyed by fires) and we get to the great Medieval Cathedral – referred to as the Old St Paul’s. This was started around 1240 and finished in 1314.

It was an absolute Gothic wonder, by far the largest building in the Medieval London. 

Model of the Old St Paul's Cathedral from the Museum of London
Image Credit: Steven G. Johnson / Public Domain

As well as its sheer mass, amazingly it was over 120ft (38metres) taller than the current St Paul’s. This was mainly thanks to its soaring spire, which incidentally was destroyed after a freak lightening strike in 1561.

The rest of the dilapidated St Paul’s Cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and one of the many architectural tragedies was the loss of the old Chapter House.

The Old Chapter House

Designed in 1332, the Master Mason was William de Ramsey. He is credited with introducing the style of Perpendicular Gothic (thin, stone tracery in stained glass windows and elaborate, fan vaulted ceilings).

Thankfully there’s a surviving drawing from Wenceslaus Hollar which at least gives us some idea of this wonderful structure.

Image Credit Public Domain

Hollar also gives us a peak inside the main nave of the Old St Paul’s. Known as ‘St Paul’s Walk’ you can contrast it with Christopher Wren’s Nave below.

As to what it was used for, the Chapter House is where the governing body of the Cathedral meet and the name is a reference to the daily readings that would take place there.

This brings us to the remnants we can see today.

If you head to the south side of St Paul’s Churchyard there’s a little garden that was re-landscaped in 2008.

As part of the new design they have included the outline of the former Chapter House in a raised stone levels.

Although it’s hard to get a real sense without a drone shot from above, it’s a subtle reminder of the layers of history beneath your feet.

The current St Paul’s Cathedral Chapter House isn’t quite as grand but can be hired for events so you can see inside here!

You can find it to the North of the Cathedral, it was designed by Wren in 1712 and is Grade II* listed.


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2 Comments

  • Jane Burnett

    Reply

    Even if some old buildings cannot be saved, this is an excellent example of how to honour their history. Thanks again, Katie, for sharing some of the everyday history that is abundant in London.

    February 1, 2023 at 4:00 pm
  • I’ll look for that next time I’m in the Smoke! 🙂

    February 18, 2023 at 12:40 am

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