The Great Fire of London’s OTHER monument: The Golden Boy of Pye Corner
Most Londoners have heard of The Monument in the City – after all there’s a tube station named after it and it’s pretty visible on the skyline (despite the increasing amounts of skyscrapers). The Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and erected in the 17th century to commemorate the beginning of the Great Fire Of London in 1666. However, did you know there’s also a monument to mark the end of the Great Fire? While The Monument is a 202ft tall Grade I-listed structure, the sculpture commemorating the end is rather more low-key.
The Golden Boy Of Pye Corner is located on the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane in the Smithfield area of the City. The name Pye (or Pie) Corner is believed to have come from a nearby inn, named the Maypie or the Magpie, which has long since gone. At the time of the Great Fire in September 1666, a pub named The Fortune Of War stood on Pye Corner. Five days after starting at a bakery on Pudding Lane, the Great Fire finally came to an end at the pub (although this has been disputed by critics who believed it’s too convenient to have a Pudding Lane and a Pye Corner at either end of the inferno). Cock Lane stems back to at least 1200, taking its name from where fighting cocks were sold. However, the lane had a rather more smutty association by the late Middle Ages, when it was the only place in the City you could find legal brothels (most of brothels of the time being south of the river in Southwark/Borough). Meanwhile, Giltspur Street is believed to have been named for the gilt spurs worn by knights at jousting tournaments at Smithfield. While the name is first recorded in the 16th century, it was previously known as Knightsriders Street during the Medieval heyday of the jousting tournaments in the area.
While The Monument was completed in 1677 – 11 years after the Great Fire – the sculpture of the Golden Boy did not appear until the early 18th century, erected on The Fortune Of War public house. The wooden carving of a chubby little boy, around 2ft tall, was made to represent the gluttony of Londoners. One of the many causes suggested for the fire was it had been a punishment from God for the city’s residents being so gluttonous. He originally had the words ‘This boy is in memory put up for the late Fire of London, occasion’d by the sin of gluttony, 1666’ inscribed upon his torso, but it eventually became impossible to read. When he was first carved, he was a natural wood colour and was given many nicknames, including ‘The Glutton’, ‘Fat Boy’ or ‘Naked Boy’. It was only when he was gilded in the late 19th century, he became known as ‘The Golden Boy’.
A few decades after being gilded, The Fortune Of War was torn down in 1910 and on its site now stands the Grade II-listed headquarters of City & Guilds (an image of the pub just before demolition, can be found here.). Fortunately, The Golden Boy was remounted on the Edwardian building with his original chest inscription carved underneath him in stone. Below that, reads a rather lengthy sentence (which in my opinion is crying out for some punctuation): ‘The boy at Pye Corner was erected to commemorate the staying of the great fire which beginning at Pudding Lane was ascribed to the Sin of Gluttony when not attributed to the papists as on the Monument and the Boy was made prodigiously fat to enforce the moral he was originally built into the front of a public-house called The Fortune of War which used to occupy this site and was pulled down in 1910. The Fortune of War was the chief house of call North of the River for Resurrectionists in body snatching days years ago. The landlord used to show the room where on benches round the walls the bodies were placed labelled with the snatchers’ names waiting till the surgeons at Saint Bartholomew’s could run round and appraise them.’ This rather gruesome fact refers to The Fortune Of War being renowned as a popular hotspot for body snatchers in the 19th century. Located across the road from St Bartholomew’s Hospital, surgeons and anatomists would visit the pub to buy bodies for research.
- The Golden Boy Of Pye Corner can be found on the junction of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street, Smithfield, EC1A. Nearest stations: Farringdon, St Paul’s or City Thameslink.
To read about The Monument, click here.
Or to read more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.