‘Does an angel contemplate my fate, and do they know, the places where we go, when we're grey and old’: the young archaeologists of Paternoster Square

Ian Blair

During the summer of 1978 when the majority of the DUA archaeologists were engaged on the excavation of the GPO Newgate Street site (GPO75), we would frequently utilise the wide-open windswept spaces of Paternoster Square across the road, for a variety of outdoor recreational pursuits. One lunchtime session captured by a passing photographer of the City Recorder shows the: ‘Young archaeologists of the Museum of London’s Department of Urban Archaeology’ playing ‘Bocce’ the Italian version of Boule.

 ‘Young Archaeologists’ at play in Paternoster Square in 1978. Left to right: Ian Blair, Mike Lee, Annie Upson, Clare Midgely, Friederike Hammer, Marietta Ryan, and Monique. Cutting from the City Recorder ‘Young Archaeologists’ at play in Paternoster Square in 1978. Left to right: Ian Blair, Mike Lee, Annie Upson, Clare Midgely, Friederike Hammer, Marietta Ryan, and Monique. Cutting from the City Recorder


The construction of the former Paternoster Square between St Paul’s churchyard and Newgate Street was carried out between 1961–7 and ultimately consisted of several unremarkable Lego-style blocks of varying heights, set in an expansive sea of concrete. The development soon proved to be unpopular, and its grim presence immediately north of St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the foremost tourist attractions in the City of London, was seen as an embarrassment. By the late 1980s, many existing tenants had moved to other London sites leading to progressively more vacant premises. My recollections of Paternoster Square were one of a soulless grey space with no real cohesion or harmony, where in the evenings when the City emptied, the only thing missing were tumbleweeds, blowing and spiralling through wide-open spaces, past empty buildings.

As an archaeologist’s playground however, Paternoster Square did retain a certain magnetism, as a decade after the City Recorder photographer captured us on celluloid, me (now not quite so young) and the archaeologists from the Gutter Lane excavation (ABC87), could be found in the evening playing ‘Hacky Sack’ in the same spot. Although Hacky Sack proved to be a relatively short-lived sporting diversion in the DUA, when soon after I visited Turkey with conservators Mary Davis and Dana Goodburn-Brown, Mary and I still found time for a quick kick about outside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul.

 Mary Davis and Ian Blair having an impromptu ‘Hacky Sack’ session outside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey in 1988. Mary Davis and Ian Blair having an impromptu ‘Hacky Sack’ session outside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey in 1988. Photos taken by Dana Goodburn-Brown

 Mary Davis and Ian Blair having an impromptu ‘Hacky Sack’ session outside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey in 1988.


Interestingly, we weren’t in fact the only people to utilise Paternoster Square for ad-hoc sporting pursuits, as move forward another ten years to 1997 and now in the closing days of its existence, Robbie Williams is to be found kicking a football around, as well as doing a spot of canoodling, in his video for ‘Angels’: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=luwAMFcc2f8, so he was continuing the long-standing tradition set by the ‘young archaeologists’ whose footsteps he unconsciously followed in, and whose spirits clearly imbued the place.

Robbie Williams in Paternoster Square in 1997 following in the sporting footsteps of countless ‘young archaeologists’ who came before him. Screen-grabs taken from the video to ‘Angels’Robbie Williams in Paternoster Square in 1997 following in the sporting footsteps of countless ‘young archaeologists’ who came before him. Screen-grabs taken from the video to ‘Angels’

Robbie Williams in Paternoster Square in 1997 following in the sporting footsteps of countless ‘young archaeologists’ who came before him. Screen-grabs taken from the video to ‘Angels’

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