Christopher Wren wanted to commemorate The Great Fire of London of 1666 so as to prevent it from happening in the future. The fire had destroyed St Paul’s Cathedral and 87 churches in the City. And so The Monument was erected 202 feet/ 62 metres from the spot in Pudding Lane where the London William Shakespeare knew was destroyed forever. This is also the height of the structure, which is the tallest isolated stone column in the world. Near the Roman London Bridge and on Fish Hill, The Monument was built at a cost of £13 450.
At first, the childhood friend of the royals, Wren, proposed that a statue of the king should be on top of the monument, as Charles II had got his hands dirty during the Fire. He personally helped co-ordinate the evacuation and rode through the streets and bravely through the fire throwing coins at the poor Londoners who had lost everything.
But the king declined, “I didn’t start the fire”.
Instead, a flaming urn of gilt bronze was agreed as “the blaze”.
The hollow centre was used to suspend a pendulum for scientific experiment, but Fish Hill was too busy with the vibrations of heavy traffic. This was the local fish market, and the wives were very vocal as they sold their fishermen husbands’ ‘catch of the day’. The local church had to wall up some windows to keep the vulgar language of the ‘fish wives’ from drifting into the church during prayers.
In 1762, the writer James Boswell attempted the 311 steps to the top, to access the highest viewpoint in London. Half way up he had a panic attack, but he persevered. Sadly, he was not enchanted with what he encountered, saying it was ‘horrid to be so monstrous a way up in the air, so far above London and all its spires’.
This may have been the case with more visitors, as The Monument became a popular place for suicide in the mid-1800s. Because so many unhappy Londoners threw themselves from the top, London became the suicide capital of Europe and the English were described as “a very sad race”.
An observer of the time, pointed out that more Londoners committed suicide in the autumn to “escape the winter”.
It really is not that bad…