8. THE MONUMENT
— Phoenix Rises —


Open: Mon-Fri: 9:30AM-5PM
Admission: 4/adult, 2.70/seniors, 2 children

The Monument. Photo  Home at First.        Lay this 202-foot-long column on its side pointing east and its Roman Doric scroll-top with flaming urn would mark the spot on Pudding Lane where the Great Fire of 1666 broke out. The bakery fire quickly spread through the thatched wooden houses and shops of the densely populated City of London. Over the next four days (from September 2-5, 1666) the fire consumed the medieval old city, including St. Paul’s Cathedral and about 90 other churches, the Royal Exchange, much of Leadenhall Market, four bridges across the Thames, and more than 13,000 houses. Although over 100,000 residents were made homeless by the fire, fewer than 20 persons were killed.

        The loss of life seems especially trivial when compared with the death toll of up to 100,000 by London’s Great Plague of 1665—but one year before the fire. Conditions in the medieval city that had served to exacerbate the plague epidemic in 1665 were eliminated by fire in 1666. Of the two great calamities to befall London on successive years, the latter may really have been a blessing.

        When the first Great Fire (in 1212) destroyed the old Saxon and Norman City of London during the reign of King John, a new city sprang up quickly in its place. It was this medieval city—still walled and with its seeming random street plan crowded with wooden structures—that was eradicated 454 years later, just as the birth of modern science and the foundations of democratic political ideas were putting to bed any remnants of the Middle Ages. The Monument itself contributed to the scientific investigations of the times. Its central shaft was to be used as a telescope as well as for gravity and pendulum experiments. Each step in the Monument’s shaft is exactly 6 inches high to permit a large-scale measuring stick for the study of barometric pressure. An underground scientific laboratory may still be accessed from the current ticket booth.

        Twenty years following the Great Fire, the City of London was largely rebuilt. Gone were the horrible open sewers of the medieval city. Gone, too, were most wooden structures, much of the London Wall, and many of the narrow lanes that had limited building size and slowed traffic. Stone and masonry buildings, closed sewers, new water systems, and paved streets characterized the new London, as they did the new cities of England’s North American colonies—like Philadelphia—being built at the same time. Sir Christopher Wren was the visionary architect responsible for the rebuilding of London, and his hand was—and is—seen on many of the most important buildings that appeared in those remarkable years. Today, many of Wren’s churches—he built 51 churches over 46 years—remain scattered throughout The City. Together they compose a style that became much copied throughout Britain and the Colonies: Wren neoclassicism. Of all Wren’s creations the replacement St. Paul’s Cathedral is greatest, great enough to be faithfully rebuilt to Wren’s design after heavy bombing by the Nazis during the World War II London Blitz.

        The Monument was also designed by Christopher Wren, and built between 1671 and 1677. It is specifically a monument to the Great Fire of London, but may be viewed as a monument to the end of the Great Plague, the beginning of modern London, or to Wren himself. There are 311 steps to the viewing platform on the top, which—thanks to the post-WWII building boom—no longer provides an all-round view of the spires of Wren’s late-17th century City of London. There is a reward of another kind to those who successfully climb and descend the Monument: a souvenir certificate of achievement.

* * * * *

WALKING BETWEEN THE MONUMENT AND ALL HALLOWS BY THE TOWER
— Though Pudding Lane and on to London's Oldest Church —

        From the Monument, walk east a few yards on Monument Street, then turn left and walk up Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire of London began September 2, 1666. Turn right on East Cheap, and follow for the next mile as it becomes Great Tower Street and ends at Byward Street. Across Byward Street is the face of the oldest continuously used church in London, All Hallows by the Tower.

GO TO NEXT PART OF WALK

HOME AT FIRST