London “Hot Spots”—Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument to The Great Fire of London

In And By Fire Detectives Nigella Parker and Colm O’Leary race through London tracking a murderous arsonist who makes sculptures using burnt flesh along with burnt wood. You may not be able to hop a plane or train to follow in my DI’s footsteps, but in a string of posts I am calling “London Hots Spots,” I’ll take you on mini-tours of some of the novel’s locations.

Let’s begin at the beginningat the first crime scene in the book: Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument to The Great Fire of London.

Plans for a monument to the Great Fire began almost as soon as the last embers went out. The first “Rebuilding Act”—drafted by the Committee charged with raising a new London from the ashes—“stipulated that ‘the better to preserve the memory of this dreadful visitation’, a pillar of brass or stone should be put up on or near the site of Farriner’s bakery” where the fire started. [i]

Just the Fact’s Ma’am

    • Commemorates the 1666 Great Fire which devastated the city (and when I say devastated I mean it . . . over 80%—or 373 acres— of the area within London’s city walls burned and between 70,000-80,000 people were left homeless).
    • Commonly attributed to Sir Christopher Wren, the final design as it stands in London involved collaboration between Wren and his fellow Royal Society member Robert Hook.
    • A Doric column sitting atop a square pedestal. Primary material: Portland Stone.
    • The column is hollow and contains 311 steps (see aren’t you glad you are visiting virtually—that’s a lot of steps).
    • These stairs lead to a square viewing platform, topped by a drum, a little dome and (finally) a flaming urn made of bronze.
    • The height of the entire monument is 202 feet—a distance said to be precisely how far it sits from the spot in Pudding Lane where, for generations, the Great Fire was thought to have started (more about how that turned out NOT to be the spot in a future post).
    • Each side of the Monument’s base features a panel. Three of them contain inscriptions in Latin (yawn) composed by Dr. Thomas Gale, a High Master of St. Paul’s School and yet another member of the Royal Society. These inscriptions (for the non-Latin literate . . . *raises hand*): recount the city’s destruction by the fire (North panel); discuss (in surprising detail) the objectives of the Rebuilding Acts (South Panel); and list the Lord Mayors.
    • The final (West) panel is ART—a stunning bas-relief stone carving by the Dane Caius Gabriel Cibber. More on this exquisite carving in a later post.

Want to stand in Monument Square yourself and give the Monument a once over? Click here and drop into Google Map’s “Street View,” then have a walk around. Crane your neck—virtually—glancing upward along the column’s vertical face to admire Hooke’s flaming urn at the top (definitely a better topper than Wren’s suggested fifteen-foot statue of Charles II, but possibly not as exciting as Wren’s proposal to put a sword-wielding Lady London triumphant up there).

[i] Adrian Tinniswood, By Permission of Heaven:  The True Story of the Great Fire of London (Riverhead Books, 2003) p. 271

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