Michel van Overbeek, Old St. Paul’s from the River. London, 1663-1666. Digital image © Museum of London.

Old St Paul’s, shown here, was begun in the tenth century, and took two hundred years to complete. Early modern cityscapes were importantly shaped by medieval architecture, even as they expanded and changed. Old St Paul’s stood in the heart of London until it burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, after which it was replaced by the building designed by Christopher Wren which remains to this day. In this sketch, the tower is shown surrounded by scaffolding. On 4th June 1561, the steeple was struck by lightning, caught fire and collapsed. This sensational event was reported in a news pamphlet printed the very next day, which described how eyewitnesses saw ‘a long and spear-pointed flame of fire ... run through the top of the broach or shaft of Paul’s steeple’ (John Pilkington, The True Report of the Burnyng of the Steple and Churche of Poules in London, 1561). The incident also circulated as a ballad called ‘The Burning of Paules’, which began:

Lament eche one the blazing fire
That downe from heaven came,
And burnt S. Powles his lofty spyre
With lightnings furious flame

Click here to see an early modern ballad-seller in the Marketplace section.