windowthroughtime

A wry view of life for the world-weary

The Streets Of London – Part Twenty Seven

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Paternoster Square – EC4M

Directly north of St Paul’s Cathedral and just south of Newgate Street is to be found a modern square which is the home of the London Stock Exchange. Paternoster Square, for that is the name of the piazza surrounded by modern office buildings, has had a rather chequered history, as we shall see.

Before the square was developed there was Paternoster Row. The name, Latin for our father, is thought to have been derived from the practice of monks and clergy processing from the Cathedral along the street chanting, amongst other things, the Lord’s Prayer. Some credence may be given to this theory by the presence of Ave Maria Lane and Amen Corner nearby. Others think that the origin of the street’s name came from the fact that traders sold a type of prayer bead known as a pater noster there.

Whatever may have been the origins of its name, by the early 19th century the street had become the centre of the London book trade. John Murray, writing in the World of London, published in 1841 in Blackwood’s Magazine, records, “The Row…is the nucleus of the literary neighbourhood. ..How the literary man delights to haunt this place. He pauses, before the immense emporium of the Longmans, with its fourteen windows in front, its little Ionic pilasters, and its iron crane, emblematic of the very heavy commodities in which the proprietors are sometimes compelled to deal…” He goes on to describe some of the other publishing houses there, including the large premises of Whittaker and Co which extended half the length of Ave Maria Lane, the impressive headquarters of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Messrs Simpkin and Marshall who sell, in his quaint phrase, “the lighter artillery of literature”.

Max Schlesinger in his Saunterings in and around London of 1853 reports that “about 15,000 persons are employed in the printing, binding and in the sale of books. The mechanical aids and machinery have been brought to an astounding height of perfection, and an edition of a thousand copies in octavo requires but ten or twelve hours for the binding”. I would have spent a lot of time and a small fortune, I dare say, there.

The street was changed for ever on 29th December 1940 when the area was subjected to one of the heaviest night raids of the Blitz. Paternoster Row took the brunt and the publishing houses which Murray extolled were all destroyed.

The first incarnation of Paternoster Square was a hideous example of 1960s architecture – grim and austere. It was never popular, described as full of “ghastly monolithic constructions without definition or character”, and the presence of this monstrous carbuncle so close to a prime tourist attraction was seen as a source of embarrassment. The lack of popularity translated into a reduction in footfall and premises were difficult to rent. In the 1980s it was a bit of a ghost town. Not unsurprisingly, the square was redeveloped again, the present square being open again for business by October 2003. At least now it has an airy piazza and the materials in which the buildings are constructed blend in with the surroundings.

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There are three monuments to note if you venture there. The 75 foot tall Corinthian column made of Portland Stone with a gold leaf covered flaming copper urn atop is known locally as the pineapple. As well as enhancing the look of the piazza it serves as a ventilation shaft for a service road running underneath. At the north end of the square is a bronze sculpture of a Shepherd and Sheep and at the entrance to the square from the cathedral is to be found a stone archway that once formed part of Temple Bar on Fleet Street. But more of this anon.

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