An interior view of the Choir of Old St Pauls. The Nave, behind this view, was the site of Paul’s Walk
Old St Pauls, the cathedral destroyed by the fire in 1666, was a romanesque and gothic structure in serious need of restoration by the early seventeenth century. Although it still had its full complement of cathedral clergy and choir, it had become less important to communal worship after the Reformation, which shifted the emphasis of devotion to sermons in parish churches rather than great liturgical rites. The outdoor pulpit of Paul's Cross, adjacent to the cathedral, remained an important and prestigious site for public sermons but the cathedral itself was less frequented by worshippers. Bookshops and other retail establishments cluttered the cathedral close, an a few had invaded the side aisles of the interior. The nave became a favored gathering place known as Paul's Walk, where gentlemen assembled to exchange news and evesdrop on others doing so.
Stuart monarchs felt embarrassed by the cathedral's neglect and sponsored renovation projects in the 1620s and thirties. Charles I paid for a new corinthian portico at the west end, topped by statues of his father and himself, and encouraged donations that allowed the western two-thirds of St Pauls to be refaced and updated after designs by the royal architect, Inigo Jones. But a generation later the restored building was gutted by fire and the authorities reluctantly reached a decision that it needed to be pulled down and entirely rebuilt. Christopher Wren won the competition for to design the new St Pauls, which began to rise shortly after the fire, reaching completion a generation later in 1700. Its great dome dominated the London skyline throughout the eighteenth century.
The Reformation diminished the need for a large cathedral by shifting the focus of worship to parish churches. The outdoor pulpit of Paul's Cross remained an important site of religious activity, but the Cathedral and its grounds were also appropriated for more secular uses. The nave became a favored gathering place, known as Paul's Walk, where gentlemen exchanged news, while shops crowded into the Cathedral close and even within parts of the Cathedral itself. The yard of St Paul's contained the largest concentration of bookshops anywhere in city.