To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
Published March 12th 2013
The Monument is Wren's Monument to the Great Fire of London
There may be criticisms regarding the school curriculum and the teaching of history, but when I was a little girl in primary school we were all taught about the Great Fire of London. If you were away on that day here are the facts. On 2 September 1666 a fire began in Thomas Farriner's bakery on Pudding Lane in the City of London and rapidly spread, aided by the tightly packed wooden framed houses. Although the inferno raged for five days, only six people died, including Farriner's maid. It is estimated that the cost of the damage was £10 million and that 100,000 Londoners lost their homes. The rebuilding of the city began the following year and was completed in 1710 with the construction of 9,000 houses and St Paul's Cathedral.
The man whose name frequently springs to mind when discussing the rebuilding of London is Sir Christopher Wren. Although many of his ambitious plans were never put into action, he is remembered for St Paul's Cathedral, 51 city churches and the Monument, the obelisk that commemorates the Great Fire of 1666. As Surveyor General to King Charles II, Wren and his friend and fellow architect Dr Robert Hooke, designed a 202 feet high classically influenced Doric column. Inside this structure would be 311 steps, leading up to a viewing platform. Above this would be a drum, topped by a copper urn, with flames sprouting from the top. The height of The Monument, completed in 1677, is the exact distance between its location and Farriner's bakery. It is situated at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill and construction costs were £13,450 11s 9d. Its original use for experiments by the Royal Society was discontinued because of vibrations caused by traffic down in the street. After a while the public gallery, 160 feet above ground, was opened so that visitors could see the views across London.
Several deaths and suicides were reported between 1750 and 1842, after which the viewing gallery was enclosed in an iron cage. The structure has been closed for cleaning approximately every hundred years, the last time being in 2007. This project lasted 18 months cost £4.5 million and resulted in a modified cage, improved lighting and a live panoramic video stream from the top of The Monument for those who are unable to climb the 311 steps. You can watch still images generated by the camera on the website.
Since the reopening The Monument has won several prestigious awards: the City Heritage Award (for the best refurbishment in the City), the RICS award and the RIBA London 2012 award.
At 202 feet (or 61 metres) The Monument is now a mere dwarf among the City of London's giants that include Canary Wharf at 140 metres, the Gherkin at 180 metres, and the Shard at almost 310 metres, but it retains a place in the affections of both Londoners and visitors alike, as well as a reminder of how catastrophic a fire can be. I wish I could supply pictures from the viewing gallery, but I'm no longer a teenager and don't think I could manage those steps the way I used to do.
For an illustrated overview of The Monument's history, here are a few images.