Home Tourist – Paternoster Square

It’s hard to resist a good bit of legal drafting…..

When I first came to live in London the buildings to the west of St Paul’s  Cathedral in Paternoster Square were ugly angular things which acted to create a wind tunnel, as unpleasant to experience as the buildings were to look at.

In truth I’m not sure when they were demolished and replaced by the much more accessible current arrangement, but I don’t often have cause to visit the area.  It’s endured some probably unwelcome publicity lately, when it was under siege by protesters attempting to target the Stock Exchange building, but now that (nearly) free access has been restored, I took the opportunity of being a little early to meet a friend there to have a stroll around.

There’s currently a debate brewing about the extent to which our open city spaces are in fact not public land, but instead owned privately, usually by the company which has funded the development of the buildings around the space; the main consequence of this being their right to exclude the public if they so choose.  I’m not sure where I sit in that argument: there are now many more places  in central London to sit and watch the world go by, areas that used to be untidy, windswept, full of traffic, grubby or litter-filled.

It’s because a commercial enterprise has spent some money tidying them up that these squares, concourses and piazzas have become places we want to go.  Civil libertarians argue, however, that the ownership and control of the land means that gives undue power to the few who can then control the way it is used, and stifle the right to protest and the expression of opposing opinions.

As a consequence of the stand-off at Paternoster Square, which resulted in people camping instead on the piece of ground in front of St Paul’s cathedral, signs have appeared in all sorts of open spaces in London, informing us of the limitation on the rights of the public to use those areas, open spaces I suppose I had never previously thought about the ownership of; like, say, College Green in front of the Palace of Westminster, which surprisingly (to me anyway) isn’t public land either.

So, behaving appropriately, I hope, I stood for a moment in Paternoster Square, and from the same spot to take a photograph of what I could see in each direction……

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  1. The hot dog and burger joint looks a bit out of place!

    • I think that was a one off ‘charidee’ event being run by the wine bar, but they weren’t having much luck attracting punters!

  2. What I really meant to say was something profound about the issue of land ownership and appropriation. It seems strange to imagine these issues being contested in a country like the UK, compared to South Africa (and Zimbabwe) where people literally lose their lives over them.

    • It’s a really interesting issue, isn’t it? Where a person can go, and where access is denied them is fundamental to how we occupy our world, and yet in this country now I think we tend not to think about it except in very specific sets of circumstances – and in the cities at the moment it’s surfaced in the desire to protest about the terrible deceitfulness and greed of the investment bankers that precipitated the financial crisis, and where those protests can take place. We’ve learnt that just because we’ve been allowed to use certain spaces, it’s because the owner of the land has granted us permission, not because we have a right to be there.


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