The mounting crisis at St Paul’s, with the resignation of the Dean, Graeme Knowles, is becoming almost Shakespearian, but it highlights something about London; the enormous power and significance of The Square Mile. The City of course was once exactly that, and the powers now enshrined by the Corporation of London were historically guarded furiously. It is why that area, bounded by its Dragon statues, has a separate branch of the police force. Now they don’t want tents and the masses on their patch, but they never did. They always wanted commerce. Stand on the hill and look straight down Fleet Street and you will see it runs past Temple Bar, down the Strand, to Westminster and then Buckingham Palace beyond. “What the City loves to earn, Westminster loves to spend” was the old adage, but they too always looked warily at one another and created complex checks and balances to protect their powers.
Around that mile, in Shakespeare’s day, grew up the so-called Liberties of London, like Southwark, South of the river. In Shoreditch was once the biggest collection of slums and brothels in Europe. So too lay the playhouses, the bear pits, and the beer and Pleasure Gardens. Of course, in a different age, it was the Bishop of Winchelsea in Southwark who both purchased his position from the Queen, at £400 a year, and licensed many of those brothels. How times have changed, in this rather haunting crisis of the headless Anglican Church, except that the City’s attitude has always remained the same and always will. It was they who established edicts to drive out rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars, whether wearing T-shirts calling for the abolishment of money or not, though in 1572 actors at least, the players, became exempt from those if protected by a Lord or patron, and so the Burbage family could establish London’s first permanent playhouse for purely theatrical performances – called simply, The Theatre. Yet still only on the fringes of that powerful Square Mile, as were The Red Lion, London’s first permanent building, The Curtain, Rose, Swan and Globe.
This may all be high drama, even farce, which is better than real violence, though a more violent farce may ensue, and now the Dale Farm Protestors against Capitalism have joined the merriments too. But it was foolish of St Paul’s to close its doors at all, and this succession of resignations may lead to a mounting tragedy that exposes the confusion in the Church and the powerlessness of people in the face of laws that are practical, even involved with Health and Safety, but also fundamentally designed to support the functioning of a City, and a now world financial system. Money and trade are what matters to London, as to New York. We all know we somehow need that system, which incited the Mail Online to produce a headline like ‘A Rabble Without A Cause’, yet it is the concentration of wealth within that Mile, like some vast piggy bank only those in the know understand, or can really raid, that makes this rather a telling moment, and the physical position of the protestors very interesting too, poised between the House of God and the House of Mammon. It seems to have got far more coverage than protestors traditionally camping outside the supposed seat of Government and legislative power, Parliament. In a world where wool and bushels of corn have become International bank transfers, complex derivatives and deals made far beyond the skirts of the Old Lady of Threadneadle Street, it is purely symbolic, but symbolism is what catches the media eye too and translates so many human aspirations and paradoxes around the globe. All the world’s a stage!