St Paul’s Cathedral has been here for over 1,400 years. It has been built and rebuilt five times, and always its main purpose has been as a
place of worship and prayer.
St Paul's, with its world-famous dome, is an iconic feature of the London skyline. Step inside and you can enjoy the Cathedral's awe-inspiring
interior, and uncover fascinating stories about its history.
Learning & Faith
Lifelong learning is a core part of the our work, delivered through a variety of events by St Paul's Institute, and the
Cathedral's Adult Learning and Schools & Family Learning departments.
History & Collections
For more than 1,400 years, a Cathedral dedicated to St Paul has stood at the highest point in the City. The present Cathedral is the
masterpiece of Britain's most famous architect Sir Christopher Wren.
Behind the scenes, the cost of caring for St Paul's and continuing to deliver our central ministry and work is enormous and the generosity of
our supporters is critical.
Widely considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful buildings and a powerful symbol of the splendour of London, St Paul’s Cathedral is a
breathtaking events venue.
It is the afternoon of Friday the 11th August 1972, and the Thames sailing barge ‘May’ – one of the last of her kind in operation – is carrying a
very special 50-ton consignment of limestone up the river on the final leg of its journey from the Isle of Portland. Having docked at Sunlight
Wharf at 3.30pm, the stone is unloaded onto a horse-drawn cart and slowly transported across Upper Thames Street and up Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s
Cathedral. Any observer of this scene might feel they were stepping back in time or onto a film set (that is, I suppose, if it weren’t for the
major thoroughfare that is Upper Thames Street that now lies between Cathedral and river). In fact, this event was deliberately intended to
recreate the journey of Christopher Wren’s chosen stone from its south-coast quarry to the top of Ludgate Hill throughout the construction of the
Cathedral between 1667 and 1708.
The transportation of the stone by river had a whiff of nostalgia about it, as well as being eminently practical. The route taken by the stone was
the same as that used by Wren, and the river has been and remains to this day the most efficient way of transporting material for city
construction. But there was another significant factor that impacted the planning of this operation. The 50-ton load was part of a greater
consignment of 800 tons destined for the Cathedral and it was – quite remarkably – the remainder of Wren’s original lot prepared in 1698. Cut and
shaped in place at the quarry and carved with Wren’s mark – an upturned wineglass – it was clearly identifiable as part of his allocation. It had
lain untouched and unused for over 250 years with the successors of the original Wiltshire firm who supplied the stone, before it made its final
journey to its intended home in 1972.
This discovery and delivery was a welcomed one at the time. In the 1970s the Cathedral was looking to undertake major essential repair and
restoration work to the exterior of Wren’s building, and plenty of Wren’s stone of choice was required to do this. This proved slightly problematic
as the stone was becoming scarcer, and demand for it was high where it was used, such as at Westminster Abbey, who were the other main buyers
competing with St Paul’s. The discovery of the stone, and the offer of it as a gift to the Cathedral, was a great help, and the transportation,
organized by the then Surveyor to the Fabric, Bernard Fielden, provided a useful PR event for the ongoing ‘Save St Paul’s Appeal’, which sought to
raise 1.4 million pounds of funds for the restoration work. The entry in the Minutes of the meeting of the Cathedral Chapter on 5 July 1972 notes
“Stone Transportation Operation: [Chapter] agreed to approve the Surveyor’s arrangements for the delivery on 11 August by Thames Barge. PR
consultants to be alerted about publicity.”
LEP Transport, the firm named after its founding partners of 1910 - Longstaff, Ehrenberg and Pollack - were tasked with the carriage and unloading
of the stone into Sunlight Wharf. This story came to our attention recently when I was contacted by a former employee of LEP Transport seeking
further information about the transport. He recalled that there was a dock strike in place at the time, and the labour force, who broke strike to
carry out the work, donated their wages to the St Paul’s Appeal. One of the workers – a gentleman aptly bearing the name of Christopher Wren - was
entrusted with handing over the cheque from LEP. Our enquirer shared an LEP news item recording the event, which was also well-reported by The
Times. Unfortunately, we’ve not yet found any photographs of the stone-laden wagon on its way up the hill!
The remarkable similarity of the 1972 delivery with Wren’s original operation could not be achieved today, due as it was to a configuration of the
waterfront that was to be rapidly consigned to history itself within 15 years. The wharf used by Wren – the aptly-named Paul’s Wharf - was reserved
by Dean Sancroft and Christopher Wren in 1671 for use during the Cathedral’s construction. Dating back to Roman times, Paul’s Wharf was one of the
oldest wharfs on the Thames (John Schofield, The Medieval Port of London). In 1972, Sunlight Wharf boasted the last remaining waterfront
crane on the Thames, and was owned and operated by LEP, who also had their head office on the waterfront at Sunlight Wharf from 1922 until 1986
when the wharf building was demolished to make way for new construction. The crane itself, the main concession to modernity for our stone delivery,
was dismantled in 1982 ahead of the construction of the City of London School. The whole area south of St Benet’s Welsh Church, where once Paul’s
Wharf (and a great many others) used to be is now the school which occupies the entire site. If you stand on the Millennium Bridge facing St Paul’s
and look down at the waterfront to your right and left, you’re looking at the area where Sunlight Wharf and Paul’s Wharf operated.
This was an event of quite some significance in the history of the Cathedral building, seeing as it did the arrival of the last of the stone
purchased by Wren after a 250-year interval. Despite this, however, the event is not one that is readily remembered, appearing to have dropped out
of the Cathedral’s recent memory - partly because staff and clergy of that period have now retired, and there has been little record of the event
retained in the Cathedral Archive. And yet looking back on it now, it seems quite a historic event which serves to link the Wren period with our
own, bringing alive a little bit more of the Cathedral’s remarkable history.
For this reason, we are very grateful to have been informed about it, and to be able to take the opportunity of London Craft Week to share the
story more widely, partly in the hope that perhaps it may elicit further memories or records from others who were there, and help us add to our
collective memory of the event.