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Looking NW across St Helen’s to the ever growing forest of skyscrapers. The first of these was Tower 42 at left.
St Helen’s Bishopsgate is located in Great St Helens right next to The Undershaft, the City’s premier spot for skyscrapers – with more new builds rising by the minute. The church is acknowleged as the Westminster Abbey of the City due to its historical situation and was that which William Shakespeare regularly attended during the 1590s.
St Helen’s is crowded – The Gherkin, Cheesegrater, the St Helen’s Tower (due to be replaced by the Trellis/Shard II), the new 22 Bishopsgate (aka the partially built Pinnacle Tower of 2012) and 100 Bishopsgate, with the church is right in the middle.
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St Helen’s, The Gherkin, St Helen’s Tower, Cheesegrater, and a bit of the Hiscox building at far right.
I think my pics say it all. St Helen’s has to be in what must be one of the most compromised locations of any of the City’s churches and spends a lot of its time in what can only be enforced shade.
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St Helen’s chuch tower with the new 100 Bishopsgate and the Heron Tower (110 Bishopsgate) behind.
We are now seeing the situation where each new build is higher, bigger than those beforehand. One in particular is the Gherkin. This was once the only other skyscraper besides Tower 42, now its barely seen due to the others around it!
Let’s not forget that the City’s churches play second fiddle in all this. They are, by their very nature, supposed to be the ones with what one could say are grandfather rights to the sky. The problem is this air space is not a physical property in the way valuable ground space is and so its not protected in the way it should be. Because of this many of the City’s churches are losing, what should be their right, a clear and unobstructed pathway upwards.
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View of the sky, clearly limited by the many towers. Taken from the benches outside St Helen’s.
These wide angle shots show the situation as it really is. Its not easy to stand, look up, and try to appreciate the scale of domination in terms of air space, but its better demonstrated with the photographs I took.
On one of my visits to St Helen’s (20 April 2017) it had been hired for a lecture delivering the latest on the progress of 22 Bishopsgate. Talk about irony! Its one way of the church to survive – by serving the needs of these gigantic newcomers.
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Ongoing new builds by St Andrew. This is the Scapel.
The other church in question this week is St Andrew Undershaft which is a short walk away. Its actually located in St Mary Axe. This used to be a church of its own standing but it now comes under St Helen’s jurisdiction. The air space around St Andrew is not quite as delicate as at St Helens but I think the day will come when it finds itself very crowded in.
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St Andrew (at extreme right) with the Cheesegrater (left) St Helen’s Tower (middle) and the Gherkin above it.
As I write, the scene at both St Helens and St Andrew is ever changing. The buildings are getting higher, floors are being installed, and their external walls are being fitted. This will cut out more light – and my pictures will be soon out of date.
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One may think the Chhesegrater piazza gives extra space but its not much more than at St Helen’s. Lloyds at top right.
Even Lloyd’s, one of the City’s most iconic buildings, is struggling for some of that air space. Basically it’s just dog eats dog….
**The name Undershaft originates from the fact a huge maypole once stood here. According to Mike Paterson of London Historians the pole, or shaft, was possibly taller than St Andrew’s itself. In essence, a pole cannot be considered suitable competition against a church tower or spire – unlike a skyscraper. On the other hand ‘Undershaft’ does have modern connotations because the two churches are definitely the victims these days.

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