Sir Christopher Wren prepared several designs for the Monument and the selection and approval of his final design was made after careful consideration of the several alternative plans which he submitted.
Wren at first proposed a pillar with sculptured flames of gilt bronze issuing from loopholes in the shaft, and a phoenix on the summit rising from her ashes, also of gilt bronze. This, on further consideration, he found unsuitable, and then designed a statue of Charles II, 15 feet high. The statue was, however, found to be impracticable on the ground of expense, and the present vase or urn of flames was therefore subsituted.
The following letter, printed by Elmes in his biography of the great architect, fully describes Wren’s views as to the most suitable ornament for the summit of the Monument:
“In pursuance of an order of the Committe for City Lands, I doe herewith offer the several designes which some monthes since I shewed his Majestie, for his approbation; who was then pleased to thinke a large ball of metall gilt would be most agreeable, in regard it would give an ornament to the town, at a very great distance; not that his Majestie disliked a statue; and if any proposal of this sort be more acceptable to the City, I shall most readily represent the same to his Majestie. I cannot but commend a large statue, as carrying much dignitie with it; and that which would be more vallueable in the eyes of forreiners and strangers. It hath been proposed to cast such a one in brasse, of twelve foot high, for £1,000. I hope (if it be allowed) wee may find those who will cast a figure for that money, of fifteen foot high, which will suit the greatnesse of the pillar, and is (as I take it) the largest at this day extant; and this would undoubtedly bee the noblest finishing that can be found answerable to soe goodly a worke, in all men’s judgements. A ball of copper, nine foot diameter, cast in several pieces, with flamesin gilt, may well done, with the iron worke and fixing, for £350; and this will be most acceptable of any thing inferior to a statue, by reason of good appearance at a distance and because one may goe up into it, and upon occasion use it for fireworks. A phoenix was at first thought of and is the ornament in the wooden modell of the pillar, which I caused to be made before it was begun; but upon second thoghtes, I rejected it, because it will be costly, not easily understood at that highth, and worse understood at adistance; and lastly, dangerous by reason of the sayle the spread winges will carry in the winde. The balcony must be made of substantiall well forged worke, there being noe need, at that distance, of filed work; and I suppose (for I cannot exactly guesse the weight), it may be well performed and fixed, according to good designe, for fourscore and ten poundes including painting. All which is humbly submitted to your consideration.
(signed) Christopher Wren.
July 28, 1675.”