THAT noble fluted column called THE MONUMENT, was erected by order of parliament to perpetuate the remembrance of the dreadful fire of London in 1666; and the rebuilding of the city in Charles II's reign, under the inspection of Sir Christopher Wren. It is built on the east side of Fish Street Hill, in a small square, open to the street. It is on the ground whereon stood the parish church of St. Margaret.
This fine piece of architecture is the design of that great genius Sir Christopher Wren. It is undoubtedly the finest modern column in the world, and in some respects may vie with the most famous of antiquity, being twenty-four feet higher than Trajan's Pillar at Rome. In the year 1671, the surveyor began the building of the great fluted column of Portland stone, and of the Doric Order, (commonly called the Monument of London, in memory of the burning and rebuilding the city) and finished it in 1677. The artificers were obliged to wait sometimes for stones of proper scantlings, which occasioned the work to be longer in execution than otherwise it would have been. It much exceeds in height* the pillars at Rome of the Emperors Trajan and Antoninus, the stately remains of Roman grandeur, or that of Theodosius at Constantinople. In the place of the brass urn on the top (which is not artfully performed, and was set up contrary to his opinion) was originally intended a colossal statue, in brass gilt, of King Charles II., as founder of the new city, in the manner of the Roman pillars, which terminated with the statues of their Caesars. The altitude, from the pavement, is two hundred andtwo feet, the diameter of the shaft or body of the column is fifteen feet, the ground bounded by the plinth or lowest part of the pedestal is twenty-eight feet square, and the pedestal in height is forty feet. Within is a large staircase of black marble, containing three hundred and forty-five steps, ten inches and a half broad, and six inches risers. Over the capital is an iron balcony encompassing a cippus or meta, thirty-two feet high, supporting a blazing urn of brass gilt.
There are in this great column of London 28,196 feet of solid Portland stone.
The north and south sides of the pedestal have each a Latin inscription, one describing the desolation of this city laid in ashes, and the other its glorious restoration. That on the north side (translated) runs thus :—
"In the year of Christ 1666, the second day of September, eastward from hence, at the distance of two hundred and two feet, (the height of this column) about midnight, a most terrible fire broke out, which driven on by a high wind, not only wasted the adjacent parts, but also places very remote, with incredible noise and fury. It consumed 89 churches, the city gates, Guildhall, many public structures, hospitals, schools, libraries, a vastnumber of stately edifices, 13,200 dwelling-houses, 400 streets; of 26 wards, it utterly destroyed 15, and left 8 others shattered and half burnt. The ruins of the city were 436 acres, from the Tower by the Thames side, to the Temple church, and from the north-east gate along the city wall to Holborn bridge. To the estates and fortunes of the citizens it was merciless, but to their lives very favourable, that it might in all things resemble the last conflagration of the world.
"The destruction was sudden; for, in a small space of time, the same city was seen most flourishing, and reduced to nothing.
"Three days after, when this fatal fire had baffled all human counsels and endeavours in the opinion of all, as it were, by the will of Heaven, it stopped, and on every side was extinguished."
The south side inscription is:—" Charles II., son of Charles the martyr, king of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, a most gracious prince, commiserating the deplorable state of things, whilst the ruins were yet smoking, provided for the comfort of his citizens and the ornament of his city: remitted their taxes, and referred the petitions of the magistrates and inhabitants to the parliament, who immediately passed an Act, That public works should be restored to greater beauty with public money, to be raised by an imposition on coal: that churches and the cathedral of St. Paul's should be rebuilt from their foundations, with all magnificence; that the bridges, gates, and prisons, should be new made; the sewers cleansed, the streets made straight and regular, such as were steep levelled, and those too narrow made wider; markets and shambles removed to separate places. They also enacted, that every house should be built with party walls, and all in front raised of equal height, and those walls all of square stone or brick, and that no man should delay beyond the space of seven years. Moreover, care was taken by law to prevent all suits about their bounds. Also anniversary prayers were enjoined; and to perpetuate the memory hereof to posterity, they caused this column to be erected, The work was carried on with diligence, and London is restored; but whether with greater speed or beauty, may be made a question.
"A three years' time saw that finished, which was supposed to be the business of an age."
The east side of the pedestal has also an inscription expressing the times in which this pillar was begun, continued, and brought to perfection.
On the front, or the west side of the die of the pedestal of this magnificent column, is finely carved a curious emblem of the tragical scene, by Mr. Cibber, father to the player and poet of that name, he who carved the inimitable figures on the gate of the late Bethlem. The eleven principal figures on this pedestal are done in alto, the rest in basso relievo.
On the east side stands king Charles II. in a Roman habit, and accompanied by figures allusive to the late and future state of the city. The remaining sides contain the inscription. This monument is undoubtedly the noblest modern column in the world. Nothing can be more bold and surprising, nothing more beautiful and harmonious; the bas-relief, at the base, is finely imagined, and executed as well; and nothing material can be cavilled at, but the inscriptions round it. It is well known, however, that Sir Christopher Wren had prepared others of a more elegant and masculine composition, but in which he was unfortunately over-ruled; and such are the inscriptions that Pope can scarcely be quarrelled with for having levelled a couplet against them, calling in question their truth.
* The greatest of the Roman Columns, viz., that of ANTONINUS, was 172 feet and a half in height, and 12 feet 3 inches in diameter, English measure.
Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand; by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819
Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819