The Great Fire of London, which took place 350 years ago, was one of London’s worst disasters.
It engulfed much of the city in flames, destroying tens of thousands of homes and hundreds of streets and buildings.
Less than 5 years later, a tower was built to remember what happened on that eventful week, and to celebrate the rebuilding of London.
And it’s still possible to visit this tower today, and capture the city’s ever-changing skyline from the viewing platform 160 ft up above the British capital.
The Great Fire
On the night of September 2nd 1666, a fire, believed to have started in Thomas Farriner’s bakery on Pudding Lane in the City of London, raged for 3 days and nights, destroying everything in its path including medieval buildings, churches, homes and streets.
Thankfully the death toll was low, but the Great Fire will go down in history as the most ferocious blaze in memory of the city.
Strong winds and a hot summer, coupled with a poorly-designed city meant it only took 3 days for over 350 acres to be destroyed – more than 75% of the city.
Monument was co-designed by Sir Christopher Wren, one of the world’s most famous architects. He also helped with the rebuilding of over 50 churches and St Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire.
Building work started in 1771 and took six years. The idea behind this incredible structure was to remember what happened on that eventful day on 2nd September 1666, and to embrace the rebuilding of the great city.
It stands at the junction of Monument St and Fish Street Hill in the City of London. It’s 202ft high, which is the exact distance it stands from Pudding Lane, where the fire began.
What makes it so special?
Monument is the tallest, and finest isolated stone column in the world. It was constructed out of Portland Stone and the viewing gallery near the top allowed people from across London to visit and view the rebuilding of the city as it continued to take place.
350 years on, and I climbed the 311 steps to the top to take in London’s continued changing skyline – something that has evolved over the past 3 centuries.
100,000 people visit Monument annually, and climb to the top.
It’s not for the faint-hearted, be prepared for a long climb up but an incredible 360 degree view of the great city.
I arrived early one cloudy April morning. The entrance is easy to find – it’s at the bottom of the column. It’s a small doorway with an even smaller booth inside the front entrance.
Make sure you’ve got cash – as they don’t take card payments.
The very friendly cashier told me that I was one of the first visitors of the day, and said they were gearing up for a very busy summer ahead with the anniversary of the Great Fire.
“It’s not a race!” he shouted as I started making my way up the incredible spiral staircase.
As I got half way I could feel my legs aching and screaming at me to stop. There are little spaces to pause and cute windows to peer out of and look down on the streets below.
Once at the top you really do want to either a) pass out in a heap or b) throw your hands up in the air in celebration of conquering the 311 steps.
But that is all rather short lived as you progress out onto the viewing platform and gawp at the spectacular view.
The platform is surrounded by a special viewing ‘cage’ which was put in place after six suicides took place in the 1800’s.
I was the only one up there for a glorious five minutes before I was joined by a few others – but it almost felt like it was a secret – like no one knew that this incredible vantage point was here.
From the platform you can take in the Shard, the Thames, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, the City of London and many more incredible sights. I could even see the Wembley arch in the distance on this cloudy day.
The view over London is phenomenal and what amazed me the most was how much the skyline is constantly changing. I counted no less than 10 cranes over the West side, and many more over the city.
Sir Christopher’s vision of allowing Londoners see their city evolve has carried on over centuries.
There’s no time limit and you can spend as much or as little time up on the platform as you like. Be aware if you go in the winter or spring like I did, you will appreciate taking a scarf, hat and jacket as it gets very cold!
Be prepared to bump into people on the stairs and step over to the side to allow people to pass.
What you need to know
October – March open 9.30am – 5.30pm
April – September open 9.30 – 6.00pm
Adults £4, children £2
Why not take a visit to Leadenhall market for lunch? it’s just a short walk away and there are lots of awesome little eateries to choose from.