The Great Fire of London didn’t start in Pudding Lane and more people died during the Great fire than as a result of the monument. These are just two of the factoids that are falsely taught in school…
So, if you’re looking for something to do on a Sunday afternoon in London on a budget, I feel you! Sometimes the Big Smoke is just so prohibitively expensive! Especially as a student.
Well, this Sunday, as I went off in search of a place to learn a little culture , I stumbled on the Great Fire of London Monument. Situated in the very heart of London, it provides both a great view over London for under a fiver and yet is a tragic reminder of London’s past.
The monument was built to both commemorate the fire and celebrate the rebuilding of London. The chief architects were Christopher Wren (also architect of St Paul’s Cathedral) and Robert Hooke (also architect of Montagu house). If you don’t know much London history, then the Great Fire of London took place in 1666.
It started a baker’s house on Pudding Lane, quickly spiralling out of control. A little known fact is that Pudding Lane isn’t named for sweet desserts but because ‘pudding’ is a medieval word for offal (the entrails of a butchered animal).
This year marks the 350th anniversary since the event… All the way back in 1666, having started on Pudding Lane, the fire quickly swept through the poorly built straw and wooden buildings of London, destroying thousands of homes, businesses and livelihoods in the process.
The destruction was such that new laws were soon passed during the rebuilding of London forbid the future use of straw and wood in new buildings. This is why, when you wander through London today, 99.9% of the structures are made of stone.
Controversy and Theories
Pudding Lane wasn’t the start point of the fire
It’s widely thought that the fire started on Pudding Lane (I even learned this in school!). However, new research suggests that this wasn’t at all the case. In fact, historians have even decided on the exact spot that they think the fire started! And guess what: it wasn’t a bakery!
More than 6 people died from the fire
When you get to the public viewing gallery (over 160 feet up), there’s a massive wire net at the top to prevent people from falling (although this wasn’t put up until at least a century after the Monument was constructed).
This means that officially, the Monument has killed more people than the Great Fire of London. Officially, 6 people died in the fire and 8 died from the monument (6 committed suicide and 2 more fell).
However, recent research has suggested that the Great Fire of London actually killed more people than previously suggested. This is because many died weeks after the event due to exposure and poor sanitary conditions. Tragically, it’s suggested that as many as thousands of people actually died in the fire.
Tips for visiting the Monument to the Great Fire of London
Built between 1671 and 1777, the monument stands at 202 feet tall. If you were to lie down the column, it would reach the exact point where the fire started. Today, you can climb the 311 steps of the tower for under a fiver (it’s open every day). From the top, you can see the majority of London; the London Eye, the Shard, Tower Bridge are all visible from the top.
Funnily enough, the nearest metro station is Monument. From the station, the walk is about 2 minutes and you see the Great Fire of London Monument as soon as you step out of the tube station!
The queue to actually visit was only about ten minutes long (on a Sunday afternoon) so it’s never really busy. The Great Fire of London monument is open every day but times vary depending on the time of year, day etc.
If you’re afraid of heights or claustrophobic, then it’s pretty narrow both going up the spiral staircase and at the top so I wouldn’t recommend a visit…
Fancy seeing more? Here’s what the visit is like (YouTube video):
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