The Monument

Near London Bridge, writes W.A. Speck, the Doric column to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666 was designed by Wren and made of Portland Stone.

Where London’s column, pointing at the skies
Like a tall bully, lifts the head, and lies.

- Pope.

The monument to the Great Fire of 1666 is a superb vantage point from which to view almost the whole of London. As Pope’s lines suggest, it also affords a partial prospect of the political, religious, social and cultural history of the capital. If one could have climbed to the balcony at intervals since the Monument’s completion in 1677, one would have witnessed the physical growth of London over the ages.

When it was erected it was the tallest structure in the City, and is still the highest isolated stone column in the world, being 202 feet in height. The balcony itself is 164 feet from the ground and, as John Strype observed in 1720, ‘gives a gallant prospect for many miles around’.

When Celia Fiennes visited the City in the reign of William III, she noted that the top of the Monument ‘gives the view of the whole town’. She probably saw not only the City but all the contiguous parts stretching from Westminster in the west to just beyond Wapping in the east, and from Clerkenwell in the north to Kennington in the south. In 1763 James Boswell was another famous visitor to the Monument.

Characteristically, his account of his ascent tells us about himself rather than about the view; for he was scared half-way up and, when he reached the balcony, found it so ‘horrid’ to be ‘so monstrous away up in the air, so far above London and all its spires’ that he dared not look about him. Had he done so, he would have seen a much larger built-up area than that observed by Celia Fiennes.

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