St paul’s cathedral

A view of St Paul’s is the least of London’s housing problems

Richmond Park has been in the news a bit lately. It is portrayed as a bastion of wealth and privilege, whose residents stand accused of trying to lord it over ordinary voters. But never mind blocking Brexit, do the people who live there deserve the right to an uninterrupted view of St Paul’s? Outrage has greeted the construction of a 42-storey tower in Stratford, East London, which is accused of compromising the view of Wren’s great cathedral from a mound in Richmond Park. Planning permission for Manhattan Loft Gardens, which will incorporate 250 flats as well as a 145-bed hotel, was granted back in 2011. Yet no-one seemed to notice

In life divided

The ten pallbearers at Thomas Hardy’s funeral in Westminster Abbey on 16 January 1928 included Kipling, Barrie, Housman, Gosse, Galsworthy, Shaw and both the prime minister and leader of the oppposition. This distinguished gathering was not strictly necessary for the job at hand, because Hardy’s coffin merely contained his ashes — all that there was room for in Poets’ Corner. At exactly the same time in Dorset, at a smaller funeral, a casket containing Hardy’s unincinerated heart was being borne to its final resting place alongside his parents and his first wife in the churchyard at Stinsford. As Mark Ford observes, this macabre compromise between the nation’s and the author’s

London’s burning

Spectator readers know Andrew Taylor from his reviews of crime fiction. Many will also know him as an admirable writer of the stuff. In a recent issue, however, he remarked that there are fewer murders now, and added that this made things difficult for crime novelists. Detection has been taken over by the scientists, DNA providing the solution more reliably than Hercule Poirot’s little grey cells. Find a suspect and DNA will tell you if he dunnit. This is boring. So it’s not surprising that for crime writers the future looks to be the past, where science is primitive and the police have no computer database — where indeed there

The rite stuff

Religion remains a surprisingly popular subject for plays. It’s partly because there’s already a core of theatricality there, in the rituals, the dressing-up and the little shibboleths of piety. In one way or another, religion involves performing. And religion plays the role of Hogwarts in Harry Potter — an enclosed world, a game with rules. We know how a priest is meant to behave, so we can more quickly engage with a story about his or her struggles. Also, of course, big issues of moral principle and human frailty are close to the surface. But does theatre treat this subject with respect? Or does it tend to sneer at religion,

Organic chemistry

My old Oxford college, Mansfield, isn’t a famous establishment, though its current principal, ‘Baroness Helena Kennedy’, as she incorrectly styles herself, has raised its profile by lefty networking. (Owen Jones, no less, has lectured there.) The building is pretty, however, and its nonconformist chapel splendid, so long as you avert your eyes from the gruesome stained-glass Reformed divines. The organ was played by Albert Schweitzer and makes a mighty racket. This I know because in the 1980s the chapel was unlocked, which allowed me to creep in after a night on the sauce. I’d pull out all the stops, cackling like Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr Phibes. No pedals,

Rescuing old Nick

In the conclusion to his very substantial study of England’s least known and most misunderstood Baroque architect, Owen Hopkins discusses some of the modern folklore that has developed around Nicholas Hawksmoor over the past 40 years, showing how swiftly a myth can capture the public imagination. The bulk of this unevenly written, fact-packed book is devoted to discussing Hawksmoor’s life and work. The last chapter considers the myths which recently gained him a large public and, ironically, brought him the critical recognition he failed to receive either in his own lifetime or for almost two centuries afterwards. A yeoman farmer’s son, born in Nottinghamshire in 1661, Hawksmoor joined Wren’s office

Do your own thing

Since its launch in September 2008, the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) has proved enormously -popular across the country. While all types of school have entered candidates, independent schools have been particularly enthusiastic. In its first year, just 27 independent schools offered this course of study — which is a sort of mini-thesis on a subject of the pupil’s choice — and they entered only 125 candidates. By last summer, 242 independent schools were offering it, with 2,423 of their pupils submitting work. It was therefore no surprise to read Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council and former headmaster of Harrow, extolling its virtues in a recent Daily Telegraph

Long life | 3 September 2015

While the Germans were raining bombs on London during the second world war, the architects’ department of London County Council was busy colouring in Ordnance Survey maps of the city to record which buildings had been destroyed and which had not. These maps have now been published as a book by Thames and Hudson, The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939-45. Those buildings that had been totally destroyed were coloured black on the maps; those that had been damaged beyond repair, purple. And a review of this book in last Saturday’s edition of the Times was accompanied by a reproduction of one map covering the area around St Paul’s

Close encounters | 4 June 2015

In October 2011 anti-capitalist vagrants built an open-air squat outside St Paul’s within shrieking distance of London’s financial heart. The City thrummed all night with the dob-dob-dob of bongo recitals while the rebels held angry debates beneath their plastic canopies and declared the Square Mile knee-deep in ordure. To press the point they used nearby alleys for their ablutions. This half-forgotten protest has become a play in which the central figure, the dean, has to choose between evicting and accommodating his crusty tenants. Conscience informs him that the noisy campers are Christ’s spiritual heirs. But temporal responsibility obliges him to heed his Square Mile parishioners and sweep the ragamuffins from

It took 11 years to bring Bill Viola to St Paul’s Cathedral – but it was worth it

Deans are a strange breed. Growing up in the Church of England, I met a wide range, their cultural tastes embracing everything from Chagall to In Bed with Madonna. In 2003, I didn’t know what appealed to the then Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, John Moses, but in April of that year it suddenly became crucial. I was proposing that St Paul’s commission the artist Bill Viola — dubbed by some the Rembrandt of the video age — to create a work for the cathedral. Since Moses had never heard of Viola and I didn’t work in the visual-arts world, it seemed a far-fetched proposition. Yet I was in no

God save the Queen

It was beautiful and a bit strange this morning, sitting in St Paul’s Cathedral with the rest of the congregation, waiting for the Queen to make her entrance for the national thanksgiving service. We were hushed and awed — I was up in the press gallery — under the great dome of the stupendous cathedral. This was a religious occasion, yet there was no escaping the fact that it was also a high society event, everyone in their finest feathers. A reporter next to me whispered to her colleague the details of the outfit Her Majesty would be wearing (something ‘mint green, Swarovski-studded’) and the designer brands of the Duchess

Cameron dines with Obama… and Clooney

The Camerons weren’t the Obamas’ only big-name guests at the State Dinner last night. They were joined by a host of stars including Warren Buffett, Richard Branson and George Clooney, who’s just returned from war-torn Sudan. In their speeches (above), the two leaders had very warm words for each other. Of Cameron, Obama said: ‘In good times and in bad, he’s just the kind of partner that you want at your side. I trust him. He says what he does and he does what he says.’ And the PM returned the compliments: ‘There are three things about Barack that really stand out for me: strength, moral authority and wisdom.’ Obama

PMQs or St Paul’s protest?

The Hair Shirt walked abroad at PMQs today. Those attending the Square Mile sleepover finally forced their agenda into the political mainstream. The question is, what is their agenda? A protest that doesn’t define its programme allows others to define it for them. And today both party leaders tried to harness the anti-capitalist spirit for their own political ends. Ed Miliband claimed to be scandalised by a recent, and arguable, surge of 49 per cent in directors’ pay. He demanded that the PM take action. Cameron seemed equally appalled at the news that fat cats have been getting fatter during the recession. But he wasn’t taking any sermons from Labour.

The paucity of the “99 per cent”

A week may be a long time in politics, but it is no time at all in protest. As the inhabitants of Parliament Square have demonstrated, even a decade is as nothing so long as you have a constantly morphing cause, a council with no balls, and a small but steady stream of acolytes. Last weekend I watched a bridal party sneak in through the side entrance of St Paul’s Cathedral. This weekend I went back, curious to see whether the protest that had kept them from entering through the main door had located a point yet. Walking up from Fleet Street the first sight that greets the visitor is

Vertically challenged

St Paul’s Cathedral is quite rightly something of a national obsession. No other building has protected ‘view corridors’ as a result of legislation in 1935, when new building regulations allowed the surrounding buildings — notoriously a telephone exchange to the south — to overtop the cathedral’s cornice line. These corridors, extending like an unseen net as far afield as Richmond Hill, make architects unaccountably cross, as if they were an unfair curb on the alliance of art and Mammon. Thank God they are there, and that the tallest buildings, springing up once again like genetically modified beanstalks, are at least corralled east of Bank. St Paul’s Cathedral is quite rightly