Monday, 7 December 2009

'Another death last night, I hear,’ mumbles Mrs Malik, pointing at The Monument.
'Jumped right off the top she did. Suitor ran away with another. Always the same old story.'

The Monument to the Great Fire of London was built between 1671 and 1677, to commemorate the fire that broke out in a bakery in Pudding Lane just after midnight on 2nd September 1666. The flames spread throughout London over four days, finally ending on the fifth. By then many houses, streets, and even churches had been destroyed.

As the capital was rebuilt, it was important to commemorate the memory of those who lost their lives. Sir Christopher Wren (talented architect, astronomer, and mathematician) and colleague Robert Hooke (another architect and all-round intellectual whose revolutionary work had a big impact in mathematics, chemistry and physics) provided a design for a column to be built in the middle of London. Thus The Monument was placed at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill, towering over London at 202 feet.

Overall, six people committed suicide by jumping off the top of The Monument. If you look at the official website for The Monument you will see they included two bakers, a diamond merchant and a servant girl.

It was not until the sixth death that the tower was closed to visitors while a gate was built around the top so that no more of these incidents took place. As Picky quite rightly noted, "The whole thing is closed in now, so there is no way you can leap off in my London."

The Monument was not all doom and gloom however.

During the 17th Century, the world was enjoying a scientific revolution, which had begun hundreds of years previously. Religion and faith were being replaced by the reason and proof of science. Great strides in maths, physics, chemistry, medicine, astronomy were being made. It was a very exciting time in history.

Because The Monument was built by Hooke and Wren, it was only natural that it would be used for scientific purposes as well, or more specifically, astronomy. Hooke and Wren were both members of the Royal Society so needed somewhere to perform experiments for which a great height was required, and 202 feet worked perfectly. Scientists had discovered that we were not the centre of the universe, so astronomers wanted to see what else was out there. The Monument worked as a giant telescope so astronomers could use it to observe the skies directly above them – this type of telescope is known as a 'Zenith Telescope'. A laboratory was also set up at the bottom of the tower where experiments took place.

So all in all, The Monument is a much more interesting site than even Picky could have imagined, suicides and all.

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