A Closer Look at The Monument

I often feel like The Monument deserves a little more attention. It’s historic, beautifully built, and offers fantastic views over London. However, it usually plays second fiddle to the larger attractions close by, overlooked by tourists and Londoners alike.

The Monument

I have to admit too, that despite visiting multiple times, I’m not sure how much appreciation I’d given to the fabulous carving around its base.

But if you do take a closer look there are many rewards. first off though, what exactly is it?

The Monument

Built between 1671-6, the Monument commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666. It stands at 62m high (10m taller than Nelson’s Column in case you were wondering) and is the tallest isolated stone column in the world.

The Monument

Common consensus is it was designed by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke. Hooke was a scientist, architect and all-round polymath like Wren. In fact, people are still arguing that perhaps he had more responsibility for the planning, there’s even evidence the whole thing was one big scientific experiment.

But back to the base…

The Frieze

The large relief carving is by Caius Gabriel Cibber, the sculptor of choice for many of Wren’s buildings.

The Monument

It depicts the City personified on the left, in despair at her ruin. Meanwhile King Charles II stands majestically on the right, directing the rebuilding of London.

The Monument

The Sculptural Details

Evidently, the City of London is not in a good way, she’s being comforted by a bearded figure of Time while frantic Londoners shriek and panic behind her, smoke billowing behind them.

The Monument

Attempting to perk her up a bit, another allegorical female gestures to peace and plenty hovering on clouds above.

The Monument

What the figure is holding is surprising, a kind of rod with a winged palm containing an eye. Perhaps it’s an allusion to the Hamsa hand, seen across Abrahamic religions as a symbol of protection? In any case it seems excellent fodder for conspiracy theorists!

The Monument

On the right, thank goodness! Finally, a bit of order and management. Here is King Charles II, hand on hip, directing science and architecture to crack on a rebuild the city.

The Monument

After being criticised for his handling of the Plague in 1665, Charles and his brother James (later King James II) were hailed as heroes during the Great Fire, rolling up their sleeves and helping to pull down houses to stop the spread.

A little flattery can get you everywhere…

The Monument

Londoners can breathe a sigh of relief, progress is already underway behind him.

The Monument

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of other curious little additions.

An unhappy lion is tethered to one side,

The Monument

while the hellish figure of fire is creeping back into whatever dark place she came from, sucking back her damaging flames.

The Monument

On the other side at the bottom is a cute little dragon, symbol of the City watching everything unfold with bemusement.

The Monument

There are also fearsome dragons on each of the four corners, carved by Edward Pierce under master mason; Joshua Marshall. They encourage you to talk stroll around the circumference of the base.

The Monument

The Inscription

On the three other sides there are a Latin inscriptions describing the events of September 1666 and the rebuilding of the city. You can read the full transcripts here.

The Monument

After the original carving, a post script was added in 1681, suggesting the fire was thanks to Catholics; “the fatal fire stayed its course and everywhere died out. But Popish frenzy, which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched.”

This addition was removed in 1830.

Finally, if you’ve got the energy, you may want to brave the 311 steps to soak up the view. The wonderful spiral staircase also makes the climb worth it!

Related Post Stairs

Top of The Monument

Crowning the Monument is a great ball of fire by Robert Bird.

The Monument

After considering his options, Wren decides against an allegorical statue or sculpture of a phoenix to top the column. He wrote in a letter on 28 July 1675 stating he thinks “a large ball of metall gilt would be most agreeable”.

So that’s what glints in the distance; “A ball of copper, nine foot diameter, cast in several pieces, with flamesin gilt

I rather like Wren’s initial idea that Pevsner mentions; flames of gilt brass climbing all the way up the column as if it were still engulfed.

Maybe it would’ve been a bit OTT?

Visiting The Monument

You can also enjoy a panoramic time-lapse of the view by Chris Meigh-Andrews here.

For the latest visitor information, visit their website here.

More London Inspiration

2 Comments

  • Judith Barnett

    Reply

    The monument is wonderful. We went up at dusk. The view was stunning I felt I could just reach out and touch the “walky talky”.
    Thanks for your great photos too. I can’t wait for your book.

    May 6, 2020 at 12:15 pm
  • Vikki ONeill

    Reply

    We went up the monument on a visit to London a few years ago. It was well worth the climb to the top – the views were superb. My children still have their certificates somewhere to prove they made it to the top!

    May 7, 2020 at 2:59 pm

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