The Story Behind The Paternoster Square Column

Have you ever wandered through the smart square slap bang next to St Paul’s Cathedral?

Paternoster Square Column

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.

Paternoster Square Column

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.

Paternoster Square Column

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.

Paternoster Square Column

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.

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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.

Paternoster Square Column

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.

Paternoster Square Column

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.

Paternoster Square Column

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.

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Paternoster Square Column

11 Comments

  • Well I didn’t know that! Fascinating stuff

    October 8, 2017 at 8:26 am
  • Great write-up of this popular space, I wonder how many thousands of people walk through it every day without appreciating these stories? The Square has taken on another role recently as the location for Channel 4’s “First Dates”; how will historians 200 years from today view this development?!

    February 6, 2018 at 8:51 pm
  • Mr Lee Ernest Saunders

    Reply

    Very interesting, i was the mason who built the column. When i’ve visited london i have sat at the bottom of the column. enjoying the surroundings.

    April 24, 2020 at 12:28 pm
  • Wendy Johnson

    Reply

    I believe an ancestor of mine, Robert Crane, had an office in Paternoster Row. This is interesting seeing the column that is in that vicinity now.

    September 12, 2020 at 6:40 pm
  • Robert Alfred Clery

    Reply

    Was a stone fixer on this with Darren Phillips Roy Angell Jimmy
    Grogan and Lee Saunders

    January 3, 2021 at 8:22 pm
  • deniz

    Reply

    Thank you for everything. Hi from in Turkey.

    January 4, 2021 at 9:36 pm

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