I wrote a letter to the Editor of The Times in 1991 about the proposed £2 entrance charge for St Paul's Cathedral. This new charge was being justified on the grounds of needing to pay for major cleaning, repair and renovation works. My letter was published (see excerpts below).Twenty two years have passed since. During that time, all the renovation works on St Paul's have been completed and yet the entrance fee to St Paul's is now, unbelievably, £16!
In 1991 the price of a pint of milk was 32p. A pint of milk is now 46p. See:
£2 in 1991 would have bought 6 pints of milk. Six pints of milk would now cost just £2.76, not £16.
The entrance fee to St Paul is over five times what it was in 1991.
Looking back to 2010, the St Paul's entrance fee was £12.50. In the last three years, the inflation rate for milk has been around 4%. But in that same time, the inflation rate for St Paul's entrance has been over 25%. How can this be either justified or explained? At the same rate of 25% inflation, the charge in 2016 will be £20 which is 1000% of the same charge in 1991. Haven't St Paul's been partly championing the fight against bankers' greed? Yet there is this huge beam in their own eye!
Westminster Abbey charges £18, a huge price, to deter too many visitors, but it has much more to offer, in terms of objects to view. Both churches are prohibitively overpriced, a fact clearly recognised by National Trust, which has been offering members "2 for 1" at Westminster Abbey.
No doubt, St Paul's will argue that they want tourists to attend their Sunday services, without footing the maintenance bills. St Paul's charged an entrance fee until the Great Exhibition when the Victorians wanted visitors to visit this uplifting building free so the charge was waived until 1991, the height of the ethic of privatisation. The repairs are now complete. However, in that time this cathedral of London and our nation has become a prize cash "cow".
St Paul's clergy must be called to account and explain why the rate of increase is so much above inflation levels. What is now "creaming off" the excess? Might St Paul's consider going into partnership with The National Trust, which runs many huge buildings, to allow at least NT members to get in free? Can't they offer a slot when those on low incomes can get in free, without making out that they are confident Christians. Otherwise, the British will never see this iconic building and receive, as I did before 1991, its genuine spiritual uplift.
Jesus threw the moneychangers charging rates higher than any inflation out of the Temple as "thieves". St Paul's is charging these inflated fees, in the face of God, whose law forbids theft.
Two divine buildings in London, Westminster Abbey and St Paul's are being used as "cash cows". At least, in Westminster Abbey, the consumer feels they get value from a museum of ancient treasures whereas St Paul's has just one stupendous nave. What it also offers is beyond any monetary value : spiritual uplift. St Paul's is a building through which God operates. St Paul's was designed to serve and bring glory to God not Mammon and greed.
I was chronically ill during the 1980s. One of my key supports was going to sit quietly in St Paul's to enjoy this great building, during the week. It lifted my heart to God. It did me positive spiritual good, because St Paul's has perfect proportions, order and balance, qualities which are healing in illness. I want others, now, on equally low incomes and in low times, to enjoy it too.
My letter to the Times (18 May 1991) read:
"The proposed £2 entrance fee will be like an amputation of the life of St Paul's. It will deprive many worshippers and those on a low income of the genuine spiritual uplift that Wren's majestic great dome and nave offer.....
Bishop Pilkington (in the 16th century) wrote of the corrupt practices in the previous cathedral: "The south side for usury, the north side for simony" Lawyers touted for business in the aisles. Preaching went on outside.
£2 is a prohibitive charge for all except wealthy sightseers....".