13 August 2019

Does anyone want to
drive sheep through
Paternoster Square?

Paternoster Square Paternoster Square Column, beside Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

As I strolled around Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, I noticed once again how the streets, squares and alleyways have an interesting collection of names that have survived from the Middle Ages and that point to a tradition that predates the Great Fire of London: Paternoster, Ave Maria, Creed, Canon, Amen …

How I would have rejoiced in photographs of Paternoster Row or Paternoster Row to illustrate resources I posted a few weeks ago on the version of the Lord’s Prayer in Saint Luke’s Gospel.

The names of Paternoster Square and Paternoster Row are reminders of a street in Saint Paul’s Churchyard that was once a centre of the publishing trade in London, with a narrow street that was once lined with the shops and stalls of booksellers operating from the street.

This is the highest ground in the City of London, at the top of Ludgate Hill, on the north bank of the Thames, and I had always thought it was open, public space.

Saint Paul’s Cathedral … seen from Paternoster Row through Canon Alley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The name of Paternoster Row dates back to the 16th-century at least. It is said to have its origins in the monks and clergy of Saint Paul’s Cathedral going in procession chanting the great litany and reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Latin along this part of the route: Pater Noster

The prayers in these processions may have also given the names to nearby Ave Maria Lane and Amen Corner.

However, an alternative etymology claims the early booksellers and stationers in this street sold a type of paper that was known as a ‘pater noster.’

The Great Fire of London burned down the old Saint Paul’s Cathedral in 1666, and damaged many houses in Saint Paul’s Churchyard. When Sir Christopher Wren built the new Saint Paul’s Cathedral, booksellers returned to Paternoster Row once again.

The Bible publisher Samuel Bagster placed a bust of the writer and publisher Aldus Manutius above the fascia of No 13 in 1820. Charlotte Brontë and Ann Brontë are said to have stayed at the Chapter Coffeehouse on the street when visiting London in 1847 to meet their publisher regarding Jane Eyre.

A fire broke out at No 20 Paternoster Row, the premises of the music publisher Fredrick Pitman, on 6 February 1890. The blaze was followed months later on 5 October by ‘an alarming fire’ after midnight at No 24 and 25, the premises of W Hawtin and Sons, wholesale stationers.

The street was devastated by aerial bombardment during the Blitz in World War II, and suffered heavy damage during the night raid of 29-30 December 1940, later described as the Second Great Fire of London.

On that night, it is said, 5 million books were lost in the fires caused by tens of thousands of incendiary bombs. Buildings on Paternoster Row housing the publishing houses of Simpkins and Marshall, Hutchinsons, Blackwoods, and Longmans and Collins were destroyed. But Saint Paul’s Cathedral remained intact.

After the raid a letter published in the Times described a stone inscription in Latin that was found in the fire-charred ruins of Paternoster Row after that night: Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum (‘The word of God remains forever’).

Paternoster Row has been replaced, but its name has not been forgotten (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Paternoster Row was replaced in 2003 with Paternoster Square, the modern home of the London Stock Exchange, although a street sign in the square is a reminder of the place where Paternoster Row once stood.

The London Stock Exchange relocated there from Threadneedle Street in 2004. It is also the location of investment banks such as Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Nomura Securities Co, and of fund manager Fidelity Investments. The plaza itself is privately-owned public space.

Rebuilding work began in the area the 1960s and 1970s, but this involved only the area of Paternoster Square between Saint Paul’s churchyard and Newgate Street.

However, the new Paternoster Square soon proved to be very unpopular, and by the late 1980s many tenants had moved to other parts of London, leaving many vacant premises.

Sir William Whitfield had a vision that involved anew plan for Paternoster Square. The redeveloped square was complete by October 2003, and the first new tenants included the London Stock Exchange.

The London Stock Exchange was the initial target for the Occupy London protests on 15 October 2011. Their attempts to occupy Paternoster Square were thwarted by police, who sealed off the entrance to Paternoster Square, and a High Court ruling defined the square as private property.

The ruling surprised many, because the square was repeatedly described as ‘public space’ in the plans for Paternoster Square. But, while the public is granted access, the square is not designated as a right of way under English law, meaning the owner can limit access at any time.

The main monument in the redeveloped square is the 23-metre tall Paternoster Square Column, designed by Sir William Whitfield. This Corinthian column of Portland stone is topped by a gold leaf covered flaming copper urn that is illuminated by fibreoptic lighting at night.

At the north end of Paternoster Square is ‘Paternoster,’ also known as ‘Shepherd and Sheep,’ is a bronze sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993). The statue was commissioned for the previous Paternoster Square complex in 1975.

It was first unveiled by Yehudi Menuhin in 1975, and was reinstated by Mitsubishi Estate, the private owners of Paternoster Square, in 2003. But, obviously, it does not signify that protesters are free to drive their sheep through Paternoster Square.

‘Paternoster’ or ‘Shepherd and Sheep’ … a bronze sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink in Paternoster Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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