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:
YOU USED TO BE ABLE TO SEE ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL.
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.