The Monument: everything you need to know

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Located at the northern end of London Bridge, The Monument is a striking landmark in the city that commemorates the Great Fire of 1666. When sorting your itinerary, it is definitely worth make a quick stop at this iconic site – here is everything you need to know about it.

What is it?

Known fully as The Monument to the Great Fire of London, this fluted Doric column is located at the intersection between Monument Street and Fish Street Hill, the spot in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire had started on September 2nd 1666 (interestingly there is also another monument near Smithfield that marks where the fire stopped: the Golden Boy of Pye Corner). Standing at 202 feet tall, it is actually the tallest isolated stone column in the world.

The monument itself is a Doric column made from Portland stone. At the top, you will notice a gilded urn of fire, as the column’s height is the distance from the site of Thomas Farynor’s shop where the fire ignited. Farynor was the King’s baker and was unfortunately responsible for this great tragedy.

A brief history

When the First Rebuilding Act of 1669 was passed, the bill stated that the memory of the event had to be preserved, and so it was decided that a column would be built at the site. Christopher Wren, who was a surveyor of the King’s works, was asked to submit a design, and working with Robert Hooke, they came up with a vision that was finally approved by the city in 1671.

Building went on for the next six years and the column was finally unveiled to the public in 1677. In 1679, the inscriptions still seen today were added but it was what would be at the top of the landmark that caused major contention among officials. Wren originally wanted a phoenix rising from the ashes, but others wanted a statue of Charles II on top, even though the King actually disliked the idea. It was Robert Hooke’s vision of having the urn that was finally approved.

While the monument was recently refurbished in 2009, with a 360-degree camera installed on top to run 24 hours a day and provide updates on weather, ground activity and building. The monument was closed for a short period of time too after the Second World War, after the city had once again gone under fire – the monument was restored then to remove bullet holes and any scars left from the Blitz.

Style and Design

Walking around it, you will soon notice that three sides of the base actually carry Latin inscriptions. The one on the side looks at the actions carried out by King Charles II after the fire, the eastern side describes how the Monument was built, and the northern looks at how the fire began and how much damage it caused. In a controversial move, the text on the east side blamed Roman Catholics for the fire, but when Alexander Pope got involved, the words were chiseled out in 1830.

On the western side, there is a sculpture of the destruction of the city, designed by Caius Gabriel Cibber, with Charles II giving restoration directions with the help of liberty, science and architecture.

Interestingly, the monument was built by Wren and Hooke to double as a scientific instrument. Its central shaft can be used as a zenith telescope so it can be used in pendulum and gravity experiments. It is even linked to an underground laboratory, but recently the heavy traffic on Fish Hill has meant that it use for science is unsuitable.

Cultural mentions

The monument has often been described in various TV shows and novels. These include:

  • Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle
  • Robert J Lloyd’s The Bloodless Boy

What to do there

With the monument being a Grade I listed site, it is definitely worth visiting, only if it is to further learn about the Great Fire.

You can actually reach the top of the Monument by going up a narrow winding staircase inside it. There are 311 steps, making it a bit of a climb but trust us when we say the views up there are worth it. Interestingly, famous writer James Boswell visited the monument in 1763, and when he tried to climb the steps to what was then the highest viewpoint in the city, he suffered a panic attack halfway up. Don’t let that scare you however – when you get up there, you will understand why it’s such a popular tourist attraction. And when you get back down, you will receive a certificate as proof of your athletic ability!

Do note that Monument Street is now a pedestrianised zone, so you will be able to have a nice stroll here, enjoying all the independent boutiques, quirky cafes and nice bars.

How to get there

From The Montcalm, walk to Marble Arch tube station and jump on the Central line to Bank. Get off here and walk southwards on Lombard Street for 200m, and you will see the Monument right ahead of you – the whole journey should take around 20 minutes.

If you are staying in the comfortable Montcalm, you will undoubtedly be making a proper trip of it. The Monument is right next to London Bridge and HMS Belfast, so you have plenty of attraction options near you, and if you want to learn more about the Great Fire, albeit a grisly retelling of it, take the little ones to the always-fun London Dungeons.