St Paul’s Cathedral, London: built by court architect Sir Christopher Wren between 1675 and 1710 after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Hardly what you’d imagine to be a graffiti mecca. But, if you’re brave enough to climb the 500 or so steps to the Golden Gallery (the highest viewing point at the top of the dome) then a wealth of subversive scrawls and monogrammed tagging awaits you. And the best ones – by a country mile – are over 200 years old.
All over the maze of staircases in the cathedral that give the public access to the top of the famous dome (and a great view out over London) visitors and tourists alike have left their mark on the stone and plaster walls. While recent visitors overwhelmingly opt for the Biro or coloured pen to leave their name, their initials, their country of origin (“Salim, Brazil, 31.01.2005”) the work of the men and women – who gazed out onto a vastly different cityscape some decades before – is much more interesting.
Often highly calligraphic, the textual history here offers a strage – and disarmingly immediate – link with the city’s past: with the hand of someone who deemed it a worthwhile gesture to leave their signature for those to see in years to come. Much of the lettering is chilselled deep into the hard walls but the command of each serif, each bar is amazingly steady and detailed.
Compared to the typographic skills of today’s visitors, who tag the walls of St Paul’s in their thousands each year, the old stuff is simply years ahead.