It is where, normally, Britain's financial high-flyers strut their stuff. But on Sunday, London's otherwise spit-and-polish financial district looked more like a holiday campsite complete with portable toilets and an improvised kitchen as hundreds of anti-capitalist activists set up tents and declared that they were determined to stay put “for as long as it takes” to put across their message.

And the message, scrawled across tents and on banners, was: “End corporate greed.''

The protest, part of a global movement against rampant capitalism, began on Saturday with a big rally outside the London Stock Exchange and, barring occasional bursts of excitement remained peaceful. Many stayed overnight and slept in hastily-installed tents outside St Paul's Cathedral, a short walk from the Exchange.

On Sunday morning, police wanted to move them saying it would be “illegal and disrespectful” to camp in front of the cathedral, a major tourist attraction. But the canon chancellor of St Paul's, Reverend Giles Fraser said he was happy for people to “exercise their right to protest peacefully''.

“This morning early there was a line of police who were kindly trying to protect the cathedral but I thought that was unnecessary, so we brought them down and there's been no damage to the cathedral and it's been a very peaceful protest as far as I've seen,” said Dr Fraser.

Mass sleepover

The place swarmed with television crews while tourists took photographs of the open-air mass sleepover.

“The reason that I'm here is basically about the corporate greed. The corporations that have basically infiltrated their way into our government and the way that they make policy,” said one protester, who had slept overnight.

Organisers were expecting the numbers to swell pointing out that New York's “Occupy Wall Street'' protest began with only 70 people on the first night.

“We already have up to 500 on the first night. And by the next weekend they had 70,000 at the assembly. We're being watched. So there's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't [grow],” a spokesperson told the BBC.