St Paul’s Cathedral ‘rotting’ and could close, as COVID-19 devastates finances

14 May 2021, 15:47 | Updated: 14 May 2021, 20:06

St Paul’s Cathedral Choir sings in the historic London landmark
St Paul’s Cathedral Choir sings in the historic London landmark. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Those running London’s landmark sacred venue say this could be the end for St Paul’s, which is experiencing its worst financial crisis in three centuries.

London’s St Paul’s Cathedral is at risk of closure, after tourist income from ticket sales plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those who run the architectural masterpiece say the building is rotting, and the centuries-old roof is leaking into buckets on the floor.

St Paul’s, which has dominated London’s skyline for over 300 years, is experiencing its worst-ever financial crisis since it was forced to close during coronavirus lockdowns. Its income, which is heavily reliant on tourism, dropped by 80 per cent in 2020.

The cathedral’s annual running costs are £8m a year, of which a £3m-sized gap was plugged by the government’s £1.57bn cultural recovery fund.

The Dean of St Paul’s, Very Rev Dr David Ison, described the pandemic year as “a year unlike any other” and said that if the building cannot raise enough money to employ people to look after the building, and to pay for heating and lighting, St Paul’s will have to close.

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Those who run St Paul’s warn it is “rotting”
Those who run St Paul’s warn it is “rotting”. Picture: Getty

The Cathedral of the capital city, St Paul’s has a long tradition of holding events of national importance, including the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.

During the pandemic some staff at St Paul’s were furloughed, and a restructure made nearly a quarter of workers redundant.

A renovation project to fix a centuries-old lead roof has been put on hold, and St Paul’s surveyor of fabric Oliver Caroe warns the building is “rotting”. He has said that his team are patching bits up, but “there’s only so long you can do that for”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged support for a covid memorial in St Paul’s. He promised the government would establish a commission to commemorate those lost in the pandemic. A campaign was launched to raise £2.3 million to build the memorial.

He told MPs: “Like many across this Chamber I was deeply moved when I visited the COVID memorial wall opposite Parliament and I wholeheartedly support the plan for a memorial in St Paul’s cathedral which will provide a fitting place of reflection in the heart of our capital.”

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Jerusalem, from St Paul's Cathedral in London

St Paul’s great tradition of music-making is also at risk due to the lack of funding. The Cathedral choir, also known as Vicar Choral, has existed since the 13th century but could struggle to support its 30 choirboys and 12 professional singers.

Andrew Carwood, St Paul’s director of music, told Classic FM St Paul’s is facing “difficult decisions”.

“Vicars Choral are an integral part of the world-class music tradition at the Cathedral,” he emphasised. “We have survived many challenges, but the past 14 months have been unlike any other. We are working hard to make sure that the cathedral can stay open for worship and visits, and crucially, that the excellent standard of choral music can continue.”

But to ensure the choir can survive for years to come, Carwood adds, “we need help from music lovers”. The director has encouraged those who want to support the landmark to visit St Paul’s for sightseeing from 17 May, when coronavirus restrictions ease again, and to stay and experience Choral Evensong or Eucharist with the Cathedral Choir.

You can also make a donation and become a Music Patron of St Paul’s here.