One of the most mementos events to take place in the history of London started in Thomas Farriner’s bakery in Pudding Lane on the morning of 2 September 1666. What occurred on this day and the three days following was to very literally change the face of London. The event to which I refer was, of course, the Great Fire of London.
While miraculously fewer than ten people were killed the fire destroyed 13,200 houses, 86 churches (including St Paul’s Cathedral), the Guildhall and 52 livery company halls. The heart was literally ripped out of London and four-fifths of the city (436 acres) was reduced to a blackened ruin. Street after street disappeared as the fire, fanned by a strong easterly wind, moved further and further into the city from the Thames.
For days after the fire, famous London diarist Samuel Pepys, wrote that the ground was too hot to walk on and that he had burnt his feet.
Many people including King Charles II believed that the fire was an act of God – Gods retribution on the people of London for the gluttonous ways. After all, the fire had started in Pudding Lane and had stopped around Pye Corner! Others blamed the French or the Dutch with whom England was at war at the time while others decreed that it was a Catholic plot to destroy the Protestant city of London.
The baker, Farriner, escaped blame and the scapegoat was a Frenchman with mental problems named Robert Hubert who admitted to deliberately lighting the fire. Hubert was tried and hung in October 1666. It was later discovered that Hubert had arrived on a ship some days after the fire had started. Modern scholars have concluded that Farriner most likely neglected to properly extinguish his oven the night before the fire started.
The Monument, designed by Sir Christopher Wren (who designed a significant portion of the city’s rebuild, including St Paul’s Cathedral) and Dr Robert Hooke (Surveyor to the City of London and Wren’s assistant) was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire and the subsequent rebuilding of the city.
It is a 202 feet (61 metres) tall Doric column of Portland stone topped by a flaming copper orb symbolising the fire, which, if it were to fall in the right direction, would reach the point in Pudding Lane were the fire started in 1666.
The platform just below the orb can be reached by a rather sweaty climb up a spiral staircase of some 311 steps. It wasn’t until 1842 that the platform was enclosed in the cage you will find yourself in today, should you go up. The cage was added as a consequence of six people having committed suicide by throwing themselves of the platform since 1788. Interestingly, two of the six who committed suicide in this way were bakers and a third was the daughter of a baker. Good views across the city from the top.
The reliefs on the western side of the Monument’s base depict Charles II while the other three faces tell the story of the Great Fire, in Latin (there is a translation for those who didn’t go to the right school!). I mentioned earlier that many people saw the fire as a Catholic plot to destroy the Protestant city of London. This was a view very seriously held such that in 1681, the words of the main inscription were altered to include the words “But Popish Frenzy, which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched”. These words were removed again in 1831.
An excellent account of the Great Fire can be found in Just History Posts blog, a must for those interested in Medieval history, in particular. I encourage you to have a look.
Monument Platform Opening Hours:
Summer: April – September 9:30am-6pm daily (last admission 5:30pm)
Winter: October – March 9:30am-5.30pm daily (last admission 5pm)
Admission Fee (Feb 2017):
Adults £4.5; concessions £3; children (under 16s) £2.30.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to London. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Greenwich Palace (Placentia) and the Royals – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – London…as much of life as the world can show.