The Story Behind The Paternoster Square Column
Have you ever wandered through the smart square slap bang next to St Paul’s Cathedral?
The name comes from the medieval street on this site; Paternoster Row. After the Great Fire of London wiped out the multitude of shops here, the Stationers returned, making it the heart of London’s publishing trade before Fleet Street took the title.
It survived until the Second Great Fire of London; The Blitz. The evening of 29th December 1940 was one of the most destructive air raids for London, there were serious concerns St Paul’s wouldn’t survive so most of the surrounding area was sacrificed in order to save Wren’s masterpiece. Paternoster Square was one of the casualties.
A Mix of Old and New
The modern development, owned by Mitsubishi Estate Co., was designed by Whitfield Partners in 1995. They chose to restore the medieval street plan of the area and commissioned Elizabeth Frink to create the sculpture Paternoster.
It’s a reference to Newgate Meat Market that was on this site from the late 17th until Smithfield took it’s place in 1868. The use of sheep is also a religious nod to the proximity of St Paul’s Cathedral.
But some of the square is original (albeit repurposed from a different location). Next time you’re there take a moment to appreciate the entranceway from St Paul’s Churchyard.
Completed in 1672 by Christopher Wren, Temple Bar stood as a gateway to The City where Fleet Street meets Strand, outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Of the eight original city gateways this is the only one that survives because it was carefully demolished and sold to Sir Henry Meux who resurrected it in his mansion at Theobalds Park.
The Corporation of London bought it back in 2001 and it made a return to The City in 2004, thankfully without the decapitated heads of criminals that used to serve as warning to approaching Londoners.
The Monument 2.0
The centrepiece of the square is a huge column. It looks suspiciously similar to The Monument, Christopher Wren’s 62m high memorial to the Great Fire of London.
However, this one stands at a shorter 23.3m and is based on Inigo Jones’ corinthian columns for St Paul’s West Portico, destroyed in favour of Wren’s design we see today.
Look to the top and you’ll see an urn of golden flames, similar to The Monument, this is because the column commemorates both fires that destroyed this area, in 1666 and 1940.
But that’s not all! Look closely and you’ll spot grates underneath the steps, a ventilation system for the car park underneath your feet. I sort of think Wren’s would approve of this hidden scientific use.