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A rare chance to get up close to the painted ceiling at the Old Royal Naval College

St Magnus The Martyr Church: The history of the old gateway to the City of London

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

St Magnus The Martyr Church stands on Lower Thames Street in the City of London

Dwarfed by the modern architecture surrounding it, St Magnus The Martyr church in the City of London is not such a prominent building as it used to be. However, for hundreds of years, this very church stood at the head of London Bridge, with its frontage as an unofficial ‘gate to London’. For visitors crossing into the City from Southwark, it was the first building that would greet them after they stepped off London Bridge. With the capital’s oldest bridge being relocated further west in 1830, the grand entrance to the church is now hidden away in a small courtyard.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The church tower was inspired by St Carolus Borromeus in Antwerp

St Magnus The Martyr is named after Magnus Erlendsson, Earl Of Orkney (1080-1116 or 1118AD), who was executed following a power struggle with his cousin. He was canonised in 1135 and was remembered for his piety and gentleness. It is believed the church was established in the early 12th century, after the previously marshland area of the riverbank was developed and one of the many London Bridges to stand on the site was rebuilt. Thames Street – the road on which the church stands – was built in the second half of the 11th century just north of the Roman river wall. One of the pilings from the Roman wall dating back to 65AD was discovered in 1931 and is now encased in the base of the church tower at the entrance.

It is believed the first St Magnus The Martyr Church was built by 1128-33. During the building’s early years, there were a series of wooden London Bridges, which never seemed to last long. Finally in 1209, the Old Medieval London Bridge was opened. Made of stone, it took 33 years to build. The new bridge was aligned with Fish Street Hill so all pedestrians walking into London from the bridge would walk directly in front of St Magnus. The bridge included a chapel dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, where pilgrims would stop on their journey to visit his tomb at Canterbury Cathedral. The chapel and two 3rds of London Bridge were part of St Magnus’s parish. Read the rest of this entry

A hidden garden in the City: The ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East

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Ruins: One of the Gothic-style windows on the north wall on the remains of St-Dunstan-in-the-East

The City Of London is a bustling, noisy place, especially on weekdays. For hundreds of years, the City’s churches have always been a place of solitude for those seeking quiet and today that is no different. However, not all churches consist of four walls and a ceiling thanks to the damage ravaged by the Nazis during World War II. Located just north of Lower Thames Street is a hidden garden in the ruins of a former church.  Although the steeple and tower and some of the walls now remain, the roof and interiors are long gone, having been replaced by a peaceful garden.

St Dunstan-in-the-East is located in the south-east corner of the City of London, a short walk from the Tower of London. The original St Dunstan church was originally built in 1100, but like many in the City, was damaged in the Great Fire Of London in 1666. Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723) was given the responsibility of repairing and renovating the church. The building was patched up between 1668 and 1671 with Wren adding a needle spire during 1696 and 1701. Inside, the church contained carvings by Dutch-born carver Grinling Gibbons (1648–1721), whose work also features in St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace.

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With the roof gone, what remains of the wall encloses a public garden

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Wren’s needle spire and clock tower managed to survive the World War II bombings

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The grand Gothic doorways remain intact, but are covered in vines

In 1817, the church was in a sorry state so it was rebuilt in a perpendicular style to a design by architect David Laing (1774-1856), who designed the New Custom House and was a former apprentice of Sir John Soane. Laing was assisted by architect William Tite (1798–1873), who went on to design the Royal Exchange, West Norwood Cemetery and various train stations, including Vauxhall, Barnes, Chiswick and Kew Bridge. The heavy weight of the roof of the nave had been pushing the walls out seven inches, so it was decided the whole structure – bar Wren’s tower – should be rebuilt. The new design was built with Portland Stone, cost £36,000 and spanned 115 feet by 65 feet. The makeover was revealed to the congregation on January 1821 and could accommodate up to 600-700 parishioners. (For a photo of the church interior, click here or exterior in 1910, click here.)

However, Laing’s redesign was not to last either, with the Nazi bombing campaign of World War II wreaking havoc on St Dunstan’s 120 years later. On 10 May 1941, the bomb destroyed the nave and roof and blew out the stained glass windows. In 1960, St Dunstan was linked with All Hallows by the Tower. The City of London Corporation decided not to rebuild and instead turn the ruins into a public garden, which opened in 1971. The tower’s eight bells were transferred to the Sterling Winery in California’s Napa Valley.

Today, the garden contain lots of plants, trees, a fountain and benches, while the tower is home to a wellbeing foundation. Occasional religious services are held in the open air in the garden, such as Palm Sunday, organised by All Hallows.

  • St Dunstan-in-the-East, St Dunstan’s Hill, off Lower Thames Street, City of London, EC3R 8DX. Nearest stations: Tower Hill or Monument.
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The eastern wall (right) of the church has been largely destroyed, while the south wall managed to stay standing


For other posts on Sir Christopher Wren’s life and buildings read…

For more of Metro Girl’s history blog posts, click here.

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Missing – One church: The lonely bell tower of St Alban

St Alban church tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Marooned: The church tower of St Alban stands in on a traffic island in the middle of Wood Street

World War II caused a lot of damage and destruction to Sir Christopher Wren‘s churches in the City of London. Some were completely destroyed by bombs, while some damage was repairable. In some cases, the main church buildings were beyond repair, while their towers were able to be saved. One such church tower now stands alone, stranded on a traffic island with cars and taxis weaving along tarmac roads in the very spot where the congregation used to sit and pray.

St Alban church tower stands on a traffic island on Wood Street, separating the north and southbound traffic. The road starts north of Cheapside and crosses London Wall. A church has stood on the site since at least 930AD, with some arguing it dates back to the 8th century, during the time of Offa, King Of Mercia (757-796AD). The Anglo-Saxon ruler was believed to have had a palace on the site which included a chapel. Offa founded a monastery and abbey dedicated to Saint Alban (the first English martyr, who died in the 3rd or 4th century) in what later became St Albans, Hertfordshire. Offa also dedicated several churches in the City to the martyr, hence the theory the church went back this far. However, later parish records date the church to 930AD. During King John’s (1166-1216) reign, the church was called St Alban Wuderstrate. Records in the 16th century show the Medieval church included five bells.

St Alban tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The tower was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in a late Perpendicular Gothic style

By 1633, the church was in a pretty bad state. Architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652), landowner/politician Sir Henry Spiller and others inspected the building and found it was beyond repair so it was demolished with a new one constructed on the site a year later. After designing the first 17th century St Alban, Jones went on to repair and remodel St Paul’s Cathedral. However, Jones’s replacement of St Alban’s Church didn’t stand long thanks to the Great Fire Of London in 1666, which destroyed great swathes of the City.

St Alban church London

A sketch of St Alban church in 1839 from the The Churches of London by George Godwin
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

St Alban became one of the many churches rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire. Construction was completed in 1685 and was fashioned in a late Perpendicular Gothic style at a cost of £3,165. The new building featured piers shaped as clustered columns separating the structure into naves and aisles. At the north end of the church was a bell tower, which stood tall at 92 foot (28 metres) and included two bells. In the 19th century, the church was restored by another acclaimed architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878). Sir George was famous for building St Pancras station and the Albert Memorial and had a fondness for a neo-Gothic style, which would have suited Wren’s original design. Scott added an apse (a semi-circular recess) to the structure during his restoration.

However, around 274 years after the Great Fire Of London destroyed the City of London, this time it was the Nazi bombing campaign. St Alban was hit by a bomb on 29 December 1940, which left the building burnt out and partially destroyed, with only the tower intact. The main church building was eventually demolished in 1955, but it was decided the tower should remain after being designated a Grade II-listed building in January 1950. Today, the bells have long since been removed and the tower was converted into a private building in the mid 1980s.

Other existing Wren church towers in London missing the main church building included Christ Church Greyfriars, St Dunstan-In-The-East, All Hallows Staining, St Augustine Watling Street, St Mary Somerset and St Olave Old Jewry.

  • St Alban church tower stands on Wood Street, EC2. Nearest stations: Moorgate, Barbican or St Paul’s.

For other posts on Sir Christopher Wren’s life and buildings read…

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Cardinal’s Wharf: A survivor of 18th century Bankside amidst two London landmarks

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Cardinal’s Wharf, aka No.49 Bankside, is a rare survivor of 18th century architecture in the area

Cardinal’s Wharf isn’t usually on a tourist’s checklist of things to see in London. However, inevitably a large proportion of visitors will pass by it while on the way to the Globe or Tate Modern and be attracted to the row of 18th century terraced houses juxtaposed by 20th century architecture. Standing out amongst the three buildings is the tallest – No. 49 Bankside – a three-storey cream building with red door. If you get close enough, you’ll find a cream, ceramic plaque linking it to a very important Englishman – Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). Renowned as the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and many of the City of London’s churches, Wren is an important name in the history of the capital. The plaque claims: ‘Here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral. Here also, in 1502, Catherine Infanta of Castile and Aragon, afterwards first queen of Henry VIII, took shelter on her first landing in London.’

Cardinal's Wharf © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

No.49 was built in 1710

If you stand with your back to the building, you have a lovely view of St Paul’s over the Thames. It’s easy to imagine Wren retiring with a glass of something to the first floor in the evening after a long day at work and gazing out of the window surveying the progress… however, sadly it’s not quite what happened. Wren was tasked with rebuilding a lot of the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666 and is believed to have based himself at Bankside… but at a building a few doors down from No.49, which has long been demolished.

Writer and historian Gillian Tindall uncovered the truth behind the myth of the building in her 2006 book The House By The Thames: And The People Who Lived There. It turns out No.49 was actually built in 1710 – the same year St Paul’s Cathedral was completed, so that already debunks the theory Wren was based there during the decades it took to build his masterpiece. Tindall believes the plaque stood on the actual house that Wren did live in, but a few houses east – situated where a modern block of flats stands today behind the Founders Arms pub. Her theory suggests Malcolm Munthe (1910-1995), who owned the property in 1945, retrieved the plaque when the original Wren building was demolished and placed it on No.49 to protect it from demolition (for a photo of No.49 in 1946, click here). While the act may have led many to confuse fact and fiction, the plaque’s incorrect placing has managed to save the house from destruction. Bankside was heavily bombed during World War II, before there was mass demolition and redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s, so the continued existence of these three houses in Cardinal’s Wharf is a remarkable thing. Situated next to the 1940s-built Tate Modern (formerly Bankside Power Station) and the modern reconstruction of The Globe theatre (opened 1997), Cardinal’s Wharf is a striking contrast to the modernity around it. The house used to stand a lot closer to the Thames, until the Greater London Council revised the waterline back in the 1970s, creating a larger pedestrianised area we see today. No.49 remains the oldest house on Bankside today.  Read the rest of this entry

Temple Bar: The only surviving gateway into the City of London

Temple Bar © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Sir Christopher Wren’s Temple Bar arch stands at the south entrance to Paternoster Square in the City of London

Temple Bar © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Always open: The 1.2 ton gates were opened to the public on 10 November 2004

Like many ancient cities, London was surrounded by a wall, with visitors and returning residents gaining entrance through a variety of gates. There have been numerous gates – or archways – into the City of London over the past two millenia, but today, only one remains. Temple Bar is currently located just north of St Paul’s Cathedral – half a mile east from where it originally stood on Fleet Street until the late 19th century. While the current structure is a 17th century design by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), it replaced a previous wooden structure and before that a chain and posts. Many of London’s gates – Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Newgate (which no longer exist) – date back to Roman times. However, Temple Bar dates back to the Middle Ages when the City of London authority erected a passageway to control traffic between the juxtaposing cities of London and Westminster. The name Temple refers to the area south of Fleet Street known for its law courts – which now features Temple underground station on the Circle and District line. The Bar at Temple was first mentioned in 1293, which historians believe was a simply a chain between two posts. However, over the years, many different structures were erected on the site. In the late Middle Ages, a timber arch stood on the spot and amazingly avoided being destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Temple Bar King Charles © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Stuart Royals: Statues of King Charles I (1600-1649) and his son Charles II (1630-1685) are on the south facing part of the arch

Temple Bar London 1878

Temple Bar on its original Fleet Street site in 1878 – the year it was dismantled and taken to Herts
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Following the Great Fire, the City was due a big makeover – building by necessity and also an attempt to build a more flowing, ordered space – 17th century town planning. The wooden Temple Bar was falling into disrepair so Wren was given the task of building a new gate, along with all the other structures he was designing and overseeing in the City. King Charles II (1630-1685) commissioned Wren to create the new Temple Bar. Made from Portland Stone, it took three years to build and was completed in 1672. The gate features a wide arch for road traffic and two smaller arches for pedestrians to pass through. In alcoves on each side of the Temple were statues of Charles I (1600-1649), Charles II, James I (1566-1625) and Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), which were carved by John Bushnell (d.1701). In the 18th century, the heads of traitors were put on spikes above the roof of the arch to serve as a warning to those thinking about breaking the City’s laws.

Despite the respect of such a historic monument, the City of London Corporation wanted to widen the road and it was decided to dismantle it carefully stone-by-stone in January 1878. After its 2,700 stones were put in storage, two years later the arch was bought by brewer Henry Meux, to be reconstructed in his Hertfordshire estate Theobalds Park.

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Horace Jones’ Temple Bar marker today outside the Royal Courts of Justice

So for 123 years, Temple Bar stood in a clearing in a wood in Hertfordshire. Despite its Grade I-listing, it deteriorated and suffered vandalism over the years. The arch was bought by the Temple Bar Trust (founded by Sir Hugh Wontner in 1976) in 1984 with the hope of restoring it and bringing it back to the Square Mile. Finally, on 10 November 2004, the bright, shiny Temple Bar was completed and open to the public, now situated at the entrance to Paternoster Square by St Paul’s Cathedral. The gates of the arch, weighing just over 1.2 tons each, were opened by the Lord Mayor at the time and the 14 stonemasons who had worked on the rebuilding Temple Bar. Meanwhile, on its previous site where Fleet Street meets The Strand (in the City of Westminster) outside the Royal Courts of Justice, there now stands a marker – a neo Renaissance pedestal by Horace Jones featuring Charles Bell Birch’s sculpture of a dragon – the symbol for the City of London. The pedestal, which was unveiled in 1880) features likenesses of Queen Victoria and Edward VIII (the then-Prince of Wales), who were the last royals to pass through Wren’s gate.

  • Temple Bar is located at Paternoster Square, just north of St Paul’s Cathedral. Nearest stations: St Paul’s or City Thameslink.

For other posts on Sir Christopher Wren’s life and buildings read…

For the history of the Temple area of London – where the bar originally stood – read about Middle Temple Hall.

For more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.

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St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street – where the tiered wedding cake began!

The name St Bride’s for a church off Fleet Street could not be more apt, because it plays an important role in today’s wedding culture.

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St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street

While the name of St Bride comes from St Bridgit or St Bride of Kildare – a druidic slave and daughter of an Irish prince, who was born in 453. She gave away so many of her father’s possessions, he eventually allowed her to follow her religious calling. She is marked by a feast day, when it is customary to donate to the poor and a cake is baked for her travels.

The current St Bride’s was built by Sir Christopher Wren (1633-1723) in 1672, one of the first he designed as the City of London was rebuilt following the Great Fire Of London. It is thought to be the seventh church to stand on the site since the 6th century, with the Great Fire potentially destroying one dating back to the 15th century. The previous church was where the famous diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was baptised in 1633 and was mentioned in his diary entries concerning the great fire. Although the main church was open for worship from 1674, the tower and steeple weren’t complete until 1703.

The steeple, consisting of four tiers, each diminishing in size the higher they are, was originally 234ft high, but lost 8ft in 1764 due to a lightning strike. After St Paul’s Cathedral, St Bride’s was Wren’s tallest church and was prominent on the London’s then-skyline.

St Brides Cake 5050 © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012 and Ashley Jane Cakes

St Bride’s steeple is said to have inspired the design for the modern wedding cake (right photo – © Ashley Jane Cakes)

At weddings, it is commonplace to expect a tiered cake as the centrepiece of the reception, with everyone grabbing their cameras or iPhones to capture the iconic cutting of the cake by the bride and groom.

The dessert at weddings were originally a stack of cakes, then a bride’s pie, before the bride and groom had their own separate cakes. Just like the traditional colour of a bride’s wedding dress, the white icing was meant to symbolise purity.

However, it was pastry chef William Rich (1755-1812), who lived on Ludgate Hill in late 18th century London, who was said to be responsible for the tiered wedding cake we know today. Living a stone’s throw from St Bride’s, he found inspiration for making a cake for his own marriage to Susannah Prichard by looking at the tiered steeple.

Amazingly, the steeple survived World War II, despite the actual church being fire bombed by the Luftwaffe on 29 December 1940 (the same night Wren’s Christ Church Greyfriars was bombed – with only the steeple surviving again). By now, the church had been embraced by the journalists and editors of Fleet Street, who financially contributed to the church’s rebuilding in the Fifties, with the building being Grade I listed in 1950. Despite the damage, the bombing did uncover the 6th century foundations of an earlier Saxon church on the site, which can be visited on tours.

  • St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, EC4Y 8AU. Nearest stations: Blackfriars or City Thameslink. St Bride’s Church is open for worship and visits. Please check their website for more information.
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Still dominating the skyline: The view of St Bride’s from Ludgate Hill on a
stunning September evening


For other posts on Sir Christopher Wren’s life and buildings read…

For more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.

Many thanks to the talented proprietor of Ashley Jane Cakes – a caterer located in Lancs – for allowing me to use a photograph of one of her wedding cake designs.

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Christ Church Greyfriars: A little bit of nature amidst the concrete jungle of the City

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Wren’s tower and steeple of Christ Church Greyfriars

The City of London was ravaged by bombs during World War II, with many iconic buildings and churches damaged or destroyed by the Germans.  Many of the churches created by Sir Christopher Wren after the City was rebuilt following the Great Fire Of London in 1666 were again smouldering on the sites of their medieval predecessors.

Today, the City is a mish-mash of old and new, with what would have been some of the tallest buildings at the turn of the 20th century, now dwarfed by the likes of the Tower 42 and the Gherkin. Ruins of ancient buildings were cleared up or built over to create the metropolis of concrete and glass which dominates the City today.

However, just a stone’s throw away from St Paul’s tube station is a rare lasting monument to the damage of World War II. The ruins of Christ Church Greyfriars, now incorporating a rose garden, lie on the junction of King Edward Street and Newgate Street.

The site was originally a Franciscan monastery in the Middle Ages, with the name Greyfriars referring to the grey habits worn by the monks. Over the centuries, several religious buildings were on site, with a Medieval church being built in the early 14th century. Amongst the notables buried in the church included King Edward I‘s second wife Marguerite of France (d.1318) and Edward II’s widow Isabella of France (d.1358).

However, like most of the City, the medieval church was destroyed in the Great Fire and Wren was put in charge of the capital’s rebirth. Over the next few decades, Wren oversaw the building of 50 churches in the area, The Monument, and of course, his pièce de résistance, St Paul’s Cathedral.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Wooden frames stand where the Corinthian columns once held up the roof

Christ Church Greyfriars

A 19th century sketch of the church before it was bombed
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Wren’s Christ Church comprised of a tower and steeple, with parishioners entering the nave from the west, which was smaller than the original medieval church. The stone walls included large windows letting in lots of light, with Corinthian columns separating the space into naves and aisles. As well as the pews on the ground, the building included two galleries for pupils (one of which being a young Samuel Taylor Coleridge) from nearby Christ’s Hospital School.

However, on 29 December 1940, a German firebomb crashed through the roof and nave. Amazingly, Wren’s tower and the four main walls remained standing. On the same night, Wren’s St Bride’s Church at Fleet Street was also bombed, again the steeple amazingly survived. However, with Britain bankrupted by the war, the decision was taken not to rebuild Greyfriars, although the ruins were designated Grade I listed. The East Wall was demolished in 1962 to allow the widening of King Edward Street, with only the North Wall standing today.

While the Tower has now been converted into private residences, the site of the actual church is now a rose garden, providing a bit of nature to city workers, although with busy Newgate alongside, not necessarily peace and quiet. Rose beds have been placed where the pews once were, while the ghosts of the Corinthian columns are represented by wooden frames.

Alternatively, if you walk further north along King Edward Street, on the right is an entrance to Postman’s Park, another little sanctuary in the City.

  • Christ Church Greyfriars Rose Garden, junction of Newgate Street and King Edward Street, City of London, EC1. Nearest station: St Paul’s.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Although all four walls survived the Blitz, the north wall is the only one which remains


For other posts on Sir Christopher Wren’s life and buildings read…

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Only 311 stairs… climbing The Monument

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Ready to climb? The spiral staircase of The Monument

Londoners are no stranger to stairs. How many times have you been forced to take the stairs when the lift in your block of flats has broken down..? Or when the queues for the Piccadilly line lifts are so crowded, you know you could be underground another five minutes unless you take the ’emergency steps’ to the surface.

Monument far © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

A long way up: The caged viewing platform has great views

Of course, walking up or down an incredibly long flight of stairs is simply a means to an end – to exit or enter a building. But how often does a heart-pounding trip up a long flight of stairs actually provide a reward at the end?

Most Londoners rely on their feet, as well as the tube, buses and overland trains, to get around, so are used to walking. However, I have to admit I’m not the fittest of people and do feel a little out of breath after a brisk climb up a flight of steps. So I was rather apprenhensive about visiting The Monument.

Like many who have grown up in the city, we were taught about the Great Fire Of London at school. I’ve known about the Monument to the Great Fire for many years, and seen it from afar, but had never climbed it, until recently.

Quick history lesson for those who don’t know – the Great Fire of London started at a bakery on Pudding Lane – near the site of the Monument – on 2 September 1666. The fire ravaged the old city, including the original St Paul’s Cathedral. During the 17th century, the buildings were mostly made of wood and built very compacted together, so the fire spread rapidly. To commemorate the fire – which completely changed the City of London – Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke designed a 202ft tall stone Roman doric column, which was completed in 1677. Although the tallest structure in the city at the time, it has since been dwarfed by the Canary Wharf skyscrapers and the Swiss Re (Gherkin) building, amongst others.

On a very windy day in November 2011, I finally decided to visit The Monument with a relative visiting from Scotland. Although I highly recommend the London Eye as a great attraction for visitors, The Monument offers a similar birds’ eye pespective of the city for a fraction of the price.  At the time of writing, it only costs £3 (I went for the Tower Bridge Exhibition combo ticket for both attractions for £9). Anyone energetic enough to tackle the 311 steps to the top is rewarded with a 360 degree view of the city. When I finally reached the top, it was worth all the breathlessness. The viewing platform has been caged in since a spat of suicides in the late 18th and early 19th century… and thank goodness. Situated not far from the windy River Thames, the top of The Monument is really exposed to the elements. The excessively windy day I had chosen to visit, I was taking photos with my camera and smartphone and was terrified they were going to get blown out of my hands. As much as I would hate being caged in, I was grateful for the caged platform for my safety.

  • The Monument is located at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Hill Street, City of London, EC3R 6DB. Nearest station: Monument. For more information, visit The Monument website.
Docklands view from Monument © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

View of the East of the Docklands and Tower Bridge


To read about The Golden Boy of Pye Corner, to commemorate the end of the Great Fire, click here.

For other posts on Sir Christopher Wren’s life and buildings read…

For Metro Girl’s contents page of other history posts, click here.