holy *shit*.

It’s boggling enough that for the first time since I started writing the Onyx Court series, there are photographs from (nearly) the period in which I’m writing.

Every so often, one of them hits me like a punch to the gut:


I knew this, of course. There are all kinds of references, and even paintings, to how the churches of the City used to soar over everything around them, rather than being lost in the cracks. But holy shit. Not just the dome, not just the western towers, but the body of the church. Visible. In more than glimpses caught between the buildings that crowd around it.

Obviously this photo was taken from the roof of a nearby building (or else something in the vicinity of Blackfriars was decidedly taller than everything else around it). You can get semi-decent shots of the cathedral even now, if you could persuade one of the places at the top of Ludgate Hill to let you onto their roof. But nothing with this kind of sight-line and openness, because these days, too many buildings rise higher than the top of the cathedral steps.

It really is a window into the past. The late Victorian period — this photo was published circa 1891 or 1892 — but also more than a hundred years before then, ever since Wren built the new cathedral, because the buildings would have been mostly about that height. Paste in an image of old St. Paul’s, with or without spire, and you’ve got a good idea of what the area looked like centuries ago.

For a London-history geek like me, this just blows the top of my head off.

0 Responses to “holy *shit*.”

  1. dsmoen

    Here it is in 2008. I had to look from the London Eye to see it.

    • Marie Brennan

      Would you believe I still haven’t ridden the Eye? In all of my research trips, I’ve focused myself on stuff relevant to the period I’m writing about, and the Eye is (of course) too modern. I imagine it’s the best view, though, as it’s probably higher than Tower Bridge, and certainly higher than the Monument. (Plus, it shows the cathedral from a better angle.)

      • dsmoen

        The London Eye is about twice as tall as Tower Bridge. It’s more than twice as tall as the Monument.

        My mom and I went. Rick wouldn’t go. I think it’s awesome fun. It’s also the source of my favorite photo from the entire two-week trip:

        • Marie Brennan

          That’s fabulous.

          I will probably ride it when my husband and I make a vacation trip to London someday. (He’s never been.) Or when I write a hypothetical modern-day Onyx Court book — whichever comes first . . . .

  2. hooton

    I was told by a KCL architecture lecturer that when Wren and his junior architects were working on the cathedral and surrounding area after the Great Fire, the intention was that as you were walking down the approach roads towards the Cathedral, whichever direction you came from the spires of each of the surrounding churches would form a frame to allow you to better admire the dome.

  3. matociquala

    Wow. That’s gorgeous. I wish I’d seen it in 2003…

    • Marie Brennan

      I hope you’ll get another chance. (I have become veryfond of St. Paul’s. Four trips’ worth of eating your dinner on its western steps will do that.)

      • matociquala

        Oh, no, I’ve been to the church. I wish I’d seen the photo.

        (I admit, I liked Canterbury and King’s College Chapel more, in terms of churches. And Southwark Cathedral. I missed seeing Westminster via a series of unfortunate incidents I will tell you about over beer sometime.)

        • Marie Brennan

          Ah, that makes more sense. (I confess to being surprised that you had somehow managed to miss St. Paul’s. Just misread the antecedent of “it,” is all.)

          I didn’t like the cathedral at first; in fact, I kind of bore it a grudge for not being the St. Paul’s I wanted, which was the one around in Elizabeth’s day. Especially since I am very much a fan of Gothic architecture, and less so of Wren. But it’s where the cathedral ought to be, and something in the rightness of the place, and the setting sun on its steps, won me over during that first trip. By the time I got to the part of the series where it was the correct cathedral, it had become an old friend.

          It is not my favorite church in the world, but its front steps are My Spot in London.

  4. tltrent

    I second that wow, and raise it with a sigh of longing. My time in London was far too short…

  5. sartorias

    I love these–and also old drawings by people in their sketchbooks.

  6. shui_long

    If you don’t already know of it, ViewFinder is a very good source; by going to ‘advanced search’ you can find photographs of a specified place dating from a specified period (e.g. 1880s).

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