St Paul’s Triforium Tour

IMG_9921

Did you know that you can take a special behind the scenes tour of St Paul’s Cathedral, in which you visit its triforium area? After being whisked like a VIP through a locked door in the staircase that ascends the main dome, you will enter the triforium – an arched gallery that stands above the nave. This area includes a number of interesting sights not normally accessible to the public, including St Paul’s Library, the Geometric Staircase and Wren’s Great Model.

IMG_9878

But first the triforium leads down past some fascinating stone remains of the old St Paul’s – destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. These were excavated in the nineteenth century; their shelves boast unique labels, declaring ‘Norman’, ‘Gothic’ and so on. Next stop is St Paul’s Library, a wonderfully evocative old room, with its wooden bookcases full of beautiful old books. The library dates from 1709, although it was largely empty in its earliest days as most of the collection was lost in the Great Fire. Its holdings focus on theology, church history, classics and medical books (used to help the priests treat illnesses). You can contact the librarian if you wish to arrange to conduct research in these topics in this wonderful environment.

IMG_9936_2

The tour then takes in the Geometric Staircase, which will be familiar to film fans having featured in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the 2009 version of Sherlock Holmes. Next is the superb view down the nave from the west balcony – the very same as used by BBC camera operators on special occasions. The final stop is the Trophy Room, where you can see Wren’s Great Model of his favoured plan for the cathedral. This massive model was made in 1673-4 from oak and plaster at a cost of around £600 – which would have bought you a good house in London at the time. If you take the Friday tour you might also catch a glimpse of the cathedral’s seamstresses toiling away in their room next door.

IMG_9991

Tours also include entry to the rest of the cathedral, including the crypt and galleries. They are held on Mondays and Tuesdays at 11:30am and 2pm, and Fridays at 2pm, and cost £20. Given that full price tickets bought on-site cost £15, this seems a good deal. Tours must be booked in advanced and are for groups of five or more only, so round up a few friends. To book contact 020 7246 8357 or email admissions@stpaulscathedral.org.uk

IMG_9896

St Bride Foundation

IMG_9661

In the shadow of St Bride’s Church lies a gem of London’s printing history – the St Bride Foundation. The Foundation started life as an educational, social and cultural centre for local printers and students – and it would be hard to imagine a more fitting location given its proximity to Fleet Street. The 1894 red-brick Victorian building tucked away down St Bride Lane – no stranger to transformations while still retaining its print-based heritage, as we shall see – now contains a print workshop, library and theatre.

IMG_9730

As the door to today’s print workshop opens, you are swiftly transported back to the days of the dominance of the printing presses via the strong smell of ink that permeates the space. This is a most atmospheric place – once the Foundation’s gymnasium – with its old presses lining the room. The oldest is a Common Press machine, whose frame possibly dates back as far as the 16th century. A compositor’s case from Oxford University Press in the corner dates from 1668, the extensions attached to its legs a testament to the ever-growing height of the human race.

IMG_9695

Classes in traditional printing techniques are held regularly in this room, including in letterpress (Monday nights), wood engraving (Thursday nights) and the Adana platen press. The Saint Bride Foundation Institute Printing School later evolved into the London College of Printing, now the London College of Communication – today its students return to St Bride to learn the traditional forms.

IMG_9724

Upstairs, the St Bride Library’s storage area is a treasure trove of printing goodness. Surprisingly beautiful wood blocks and the Caslon Collection of type punches share shelf space with broadsheets, books and journals. The Library holds over 50,000 books, and specialises in printing, graphic arts and related fields. They also have a strong events programme. The Library’s small reading room, once the lithographic printing room, is open to the public each Wednesday, and individual appointments can be arranged on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

IMG_9775

A number of other rooms – including the lovely old Printing Library – are now available for events and conferences. Bridewell Theatre was built over the swimming pool – believed to be the first public pool in the area – which remains in situ today underneath the wooden flooring. Its towel laundry was converted into the bar. Other such transformations continue apace today, with a new book binding workshop and exhibition space currently being created near the print workshop.

IMG_9763

Guided tours of the Print Workshop and other parts of the Foundation are run on request on weekdays from 9am-5pm and cost £5; please book in advance for groups. Contact 020 7353 3331 or info@stbridefoundation.org

http://www.sbf.org.uk/

IMG_9766

IMG_9640