Day Two: Which is far too full of stairs

I’m not going to type up all of my St. Paul’s notes, or any of my Geffrye notes; they’re just not that interesting. But here’s the narrative bits.

Ghostly voices whisper through the cathedral as we’re let in at 8:30 a.m. The choir, obviously — but where they are, I don’t know. It’s a reverential atmosphere still, at this hour of the morning, before the hordes descend.


The memorials largely, or perhaps entirely, post-date my period, and conform to fairly strict aesthetic lines: brass, black, or grey stone. […] Johnson’s monument is at the edge of the north transept. I swear he’s glaring at me. RIGHT AT ME.


The Monument, now the St. Paul’s galleries; it’s my year for stairs, apparently. About 250 of them, shallow but narrowing as they go; then a couple of cramped passages, followed by a brief stone stair, barely wider than me. No wonder they warn you at the start that there’s no turning back — you couldn’t possibly pass another person here. Then pop, I’m free, standing inside the dome itself, in the Whispering Gallery. People testing its famed acoustical effect sound like spirits out of a horror movie, or Galadriel’s elvish lines at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring.


Eight doors lead out from the Whispering Gallery. One, three places clockwise from the entrance, gives onto another, steeper spiral, 119 steps to the (external) Stone Gallery. Mom wouldn’t like it up here, for all the stone railing is seven feet high, with metal bars between the pillars to make extra-sure you can’t fall out.

Back down, and down again, into the crypt, and the church of St. Faith. Things down here seem older — less maintained — and some of them are older; I suspect there was a ban on monuments in the cathedral proper until the late eighteenth century or so, and before then they all went into the crypt. Some of the grave slabs are too worn to read, at least without the kinds of tricks the cathedral staff would not approve of. There’s too many of them to read anyway, all over the walls and floor, in much more varied style than above. I find Hooke, and more nods to Wren than you can shake a stick at, and a memorial to the masons who actually built the cathedral, which is nice. They’re all in St. Faith’s. Further down the crypt, there’s a fresh-looking tablet for Sir Philip Sidney, and waht looks like the broken monument for Nicholas Bacon, salvaged from the Great Fire. Walsingham should be here somewhere, yes? I don’t see him, though. I do see another good model of old St. Paul’s; also Nelson’s tomb, Lawrence of Arabia, and (of all people) George Washington. (Monument only, one presumes.) Also a nice model of new St. Paul’s. I wish I could take photos. A sign on the other side of the crypt confirms the broken monuments scattered around are survivors, but no sign of Walsingham, who was snuggled right up with his son-in-law before the Fire. Why does Sidney get a new plaque, but not Walsingham?

I’m done by 11 a.m. (including a break to eat one of my apples in the cathedral churchyard), and my afternoon appointment isn’t until 3:30, so I take a side trip, setting foot on Tower Bridge for the first time ever. The notion is that inquiring in person will bring faster results than last night’s e-mail, but the manager who could let me into the Monument isn’t in today. I do, however, score her card, with direct e-mail and a phone number; I’ll try again Thursday, when she gets back in.

Then it’s time to head back through Bishopsgate, this time for the Geffrye Museum, up in Shoreditch. I stop twice along the way — once to almost fall asleep in a park just north of the Tower, once to eat lunch in Leadenhall Market, which I’ve managed to miss every trip before now — and it’s a good thing I do, because it turns out I’ve seriously underestimated how long this walk is. I should have stopped to consider, when I was traipsing around last weekend’s wedding in high heels, that soon I was going to need those feet.

The Geffrye, when I reach it at last, looks startlingly like a misplaced migrant from Harvard’s campus. (Yes, I know the connection technically goes the other way around. Not in my head, it doesn’t.) I don’t know when the building dates to, but in his statue, Sir Robert Geffrye looks like an early Georgian gentleman. [post facto answer: 1714.] The inscription below tells me this was once a hospital, in the almshouse sense. Now it’s a museum dedicated to the middle class: it recreates the interiors of ordinary homes from various periods, though not in the manner of Dennis Severs’ House.

The two make a good complement. The Geffrye models the main living room, jumping about fifty years from room to room, with helpful notes talking about how items are made and used. I’d dearly love to see them cover bedrooms as well, but this will do — especially since my 3:30 appointment is with a helpful staff member who answers pretty much every question I can think to put to her. They also have gardens, which is particularly key because they’re townshouse gardens — the sort of thing people would have grown in London — rather than the country-house gardens I’ve seen before.

It’s about 4:30 when I finish, and I’m facing a long walk back to the City. What else should I do? Not much, I figure; most things close down at 5 anyway. So instead I snag some Tesco’s on the way back, and it’s a sunset dinner on the steps of St. Paul’s, another tradition — well, a late afternoon dinner, since it’s 6 p.m. on June 2nd and the sun isn’t looking to set any time soon. A two-toed pigeon wanders by, followed by a one-toed pigeon, and I wonder if this is pollution at work, creating mutant pigeons, or if some cat or hawk has been having near misses with its own intended dinner.

And that’s it for today, I think. It’s been days since I got a good night’s sleep, so packing it in early isn’t a bad idea. By the time I type this up and post it, check e-mail, dump photos, and do a bit of writing-related work, it’ll be something like a feasible bedtime, I hope.

Tomorrow, I go west. Unless my plans change. (Which they may.)

0 Responses to “Day Two: Which is far too full of stairs”

  1. sartorias

    Lovely! (My guess is, Sidney had better birth. Could be wrong, tho.)

  2. shui_long

    St Paul’s was declared to be completed in 1711, but with only the minimum of furnishings – choir stalls, screen with the organ above, largely blocking the view into the choir. The nave was left empty; perhaps they didn’t want to spoil the effect of Wren’s magnificent black-and-white marble floor? The NW chapel was used for morning prayer, and the SW chapel set up for the Consistory Court (it is now the chapel of the Order of St Michael & St George). Monuments were restricted to the crypt until after 1790, when it started to become the national Pantheon, a process accelerated by the Napoleonic Wars, and the large numbers of naval and military heroes to be commemorated (Parliament voted £40,000 for this purpose between 1802 and 1812). The designs were controlled by a committee. (John Donne’s monument in the S choir aisle was moved there in 1818, corresponding to its position in the old St Paul’s.)
    Wren had the interior painted to resemble white marble, with blue and gold used sparingly at the E end. The monochrome scenes of the life of St Paul in the dome are by Sir James Thornhill (executed 1716-20), as is the painted underside of the outer dome visible through the oculus; he also painted scenes around the Whispering Gallery, which are no longer there. All the rest of the decoration is C19 (so you aren’t allowed to notice it until next year…!)

  3. kendokamel

    I loved climbing up the dome when I was there!

  4. diatryma

    You know, I say it each time and I bet I’ll keep saying it, but your research posts are better than some novels. I am so glad you’re keeping them up.

  5. Anonymous

    The problem with the pigeons is they loose any sense of self preservation at the prospect of food. It’s a problem in most cities especially ones where people actually feed the pigeons. They will damage the other birds feet trying to get to the grain or breadcrumbs on the ground.

    I’ve actually seen it happen, but because they are being fed the birds survive, even the ones that end up with no toes on either foot.


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