Last week I showed a young guy from Singapore around London. We spent the whole day together and in the afternoon, found ourselves by The Monument, just north of London Bridge. It'd been years since I'd traipsed up the 311 steps to the viewing platform, 160 feet (48.7 metres) above ground. Yong Hao, who I was with was incredibly keen to go up, so we paid our £3 (he very kindly paid for me) and began our ascent. It dawned on me, that I'd never written specifically about The Monument, so am rectifying that now.
Monuments in general are usually erected to commemorate specific events, so they naturally form part of a much larger picture than just the stone that was used to make it, or the architects whose vision it was. The Monument I suppose is reasonably intriguing in this respect as its very being manages to encapsulate the essence of modern London, and is completely entwined with so many facets of the City's history and the people responsible for both its destruction and its rebuilding. For starters, it's simply called 'The Monument' ... which would indicate that any other monument anywhere must surely pale in to insignificance. As people who have been on my walks can testify, I can talk about the Great Fire of London for hours. I don't though, because that would be incredibly tedious, but suffice to say it is a fascinating, remarkable and catastrophic period of London's history. As ever, to do it justice here would be entirely inadequate (which is why there are entire books on the subject) so I shall give you a light dusting, a sprinkling of information about The Monument, which if you didn't already know, commemorates, the Great Fire of London, which in the 17th century, burned and destroyed the vast majority of the medieval (and largely wooden) City of London.
The Great Fire of London began in a baker's house on Pudding Lane belonging to a guy called Thomas Farriner (or Farynor). It began in the early hours of the 2nd September 1666 and as you can imagine, got pretty out of hand. So much, so than in about four days it had burned down approximately 14,000 homes, 87 churches and about 100,000 people were forced to flee the City. That is an incredibly abridged version of events that makes no mention of the political climate, the wind, the preceding hot summer, the plague year of 1665, the inept Mayor Thomas Bludworth or the fact that instead of trying to put out the fire, many Londoner's ran around in mobs murdering foreigners. The wooden City was turned to ash, and from those ashes a new City was built, this time out of stone and brick (a good idea) largely by Christopher Wren (Surveyor General to King Charles II) and his right hand man, Robert Hooke. If you haven't heard of Hooke, then the name Wren might be familiar, as he rebuilt 51 of the City churches, including St Paul's cathedral ... which had also succumbed to the fire.
One of the churches that was not rebuilt was called St Margaret on Fish Street Hill, but on the site where it had stood, it was decided to build a monument to commemorate the fire and celebrate the rebuilding of the City. It was finished by Wren and Hooke in 1677, and is the same one, myself and Yong Hao climbed just last week. At a total of 202ft (61 metres) tall, The Monument is the largest free standing stone column in the world, and the idea apparently is that if it were to fall to the east (which hopefully it won't) the top would reach the spot where the fire began. If you're not claustrophobic, scared of heights or unable to climb all those steps, then the viewing platform (for a very small fee) gives you really great 360 degree views across London.
The pictures above from left to right show the Thames and Tower Bridge (unfortunately the Tower itself has recently disappeared behind a new building development), the Shard just south of the river, the view to the west, which includes the dome of St Paul's cathedral, and in the distance, the BT Tower (originally Post Office Tower), the first building in London to be taller than St Paul's. Finally, the view north is dominated by a cluster of the City's newer additions, which continue to develop.
As you're either going up or coming down the staircase, keep an eye out for bits of graffiti, which are still carved in the walls. The one on the photo below was evidently etched in to the wall in 1770, just 20 years after the picture you can see at the top of the page was made. I should mention that when you reach the bottom, you are handed a certificate to verify that you have indeed just ascended and descended all 311 steps, and the drawing forms the front and is reproduced courtesy of Guildhall Library.
On final point I will mention is that when you exit, turn to your left, have a look at the inscription on the north facing part of the base. There is a latin inscription, which details the rebuilding of the City after the fire. If like me you can't read latin, then don't worry because all of the inscriptions have an English translation. At the bottom you'll discover that in 1830 a line was deleted. It said "But Popish frenzy which wrought such horrors is not yet quenched" which in my own layman's terms can be read as "The Catholic's did this and we still haven't sorted them out".
On this note, I'll end my very brief post about The Monument and the Fire of London by mentioning that today we are generally told that the Great Fire of 1666 was an accident, but at the time (and for a long time after) it was anything but ... it was considered to be a terrorist attack. Very often, history has a habit of teaching us that in the grand scheme of things ... very little has changed.
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Bowl Of Chalk
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