Inscriptions

On 4th October 1677, the Court of Aldermen requested Dr. Gale, master of St. Paul’s School and later Dean of York, to devise a fitting inscription for the new pillar, in consultation with Sir Christopher Wren and the City Surveyor, Mr. Hooke. Dr. Gale’s inscription, having been approved by the King, was presented to the Court on the 22nd of the same month and ordered to be inscribed.

The Monument - inscriptions

Altogether three Latin inscriptions were devised covering three panels of the pedestal. That on the north side records the City’s destruction, that on the south its restoration, and that on the east the years and mayoralties in which the erection of the Monument was commenced, continued and finished. On the west panel is a sculptured design by Cibber.

North Panel inscription on the Monument to the Great Fire of London
North Panel

The language of those days is still easy to understand even if the rules for spelling and punctuation are less so.

The following is a translation of the inscription:

North Panel
In the year of Christ 1666, on the 2nd September, at a distance eastward from this place of 202 feet, which is the height of this column, a fire broke out in the dead of night, which, the wind blowing devoured even distant buildings, and rushed devastating through every quarter with astonishing swiftness and noise. It consumed 89 churches, gates, the Guildhall, ‘public edifices, hospitals, schools, libraries, a great number of blocks of buildings, 13,200 houses, 400 streets. Of the 26 wards, it utterly destroyed 15, and left 8 mutilated and half-burnt. The ashes of the City, covering as many as 436 acres, extended on one side from the Tower along the bank of the Thames to the church of the Templars, on the other side from the north-east along the walls to the head of Fleet-ditch. Merciless to the wealth and estates of the citizens, it was harmless to their lives, so as throughout to remind us of the final destruction of the world by fire. The havoc was swift. A little space of time saw the same city most prosperous and no longer in being. On the third day, when it had now altogether vanquished all human counsel and resource, at the bidding, as we may well believe of heaven, the fatal fire stayed its course and everywhere died out. *[But Popish frenzy, which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched.]

* These last words were added in 1681 and finally deleted in 1830.

South Panel Monument London
South Panel

The following is a translation of the inscription:

South Panel
Charles the Second, 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 of London 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 coals; 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 raised of an equal height in front, and that all house walls should be strengthened with stone or brick; and that no man should delay building beyond the space of seven years. Furthermore, he procured an Act to settle beforehand the suits which should arise respecting boundaries, he also established an annual service of intercession, and caused this column to be erected as a perpetual memorial to posterity. Haste is seen everywhere, London rises again, whether with greater speed or greater magnificence is doubtful, three short years complete that which was considered the work of an age.

East Panel - above the door
East Panel – above the door

The following is a translation of the inscription:

East Panel
This pillar was begun, Sir Richard Ford, knt., being Lord Mayor of London, in the year 1671; carried higher in the Mayoralties of Sir George Waterman, knt., Sir Robert Hanson, knt., Sir William Hooker, knt., Sir Robert Viner, knt., and Sir Joseph Sheldon, knt.; and finished in the Mayoralty of Sir Thomas Davies, in the year of the Lord 1677.

For the historian, entries in the City records three years after the completion of the Monument and its inscriptions clearly show that the column was originally erected simply to perpetuate the memory of the Fire of London, and that the idea of publicly ascribing the calamity to intentional designs of Papists was not formed until after the so-called discovery of the Popish plot, by Titus Oates, in 1678.

In 1680 the Court of Common Council ordered that an inscription, in Latin and English, be fixed on the Monument, signifying that “the City of London was burnt and consumed with fire by the treachery and malice of the Papists in September in the year of Our Lord 1666”.

In 1681 two resolutions were passed by the Court of Aldermen as follows:

23rd June 1681, “The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor is desired by this Court to direct the setting up the inscriptions lately agreed to in Common Councell touching the fireing of this City by the Papists A0 1666 upon the Pillar on Fish streete hill and the house where the fire began in such manner as his Lordship shall thinke convenient.”

12th July 1681. “It is now agreed by this Court that the Right Honourable the Lord Maior (who was desired by his Court to cause the additional inscription lately agreed to in Common Councell to be set up on the Pillar at Fish street hill) doe in order therunto cause the inscription allready made on the said Pillar, or such part thereof as his Lordshipp shall thinke convenient to be taken out and anew ingraved the better to make way for the said additionall Inscription.”

Soon after the accession of James II the additional inscriptions were obliterated and removed. But the order was reversed on the accession of William ill, in accordance with the following minute:

Court of Common Council, 16th September 1689. “It is unanimously agreede and ordered by this Court that the two severall Inscriptions formerly sett upp by order of this Court in ye Mayoralty of Sr Patience Ward on ye monument, and ye house where ye dredfull fire in 1666 began (which have been since taken downe), be againe sett upp in their former places and that Mr. Chamberlaine and Mr. Comptroller doe se the same done accordingly.”

The questionable addition was finally removed from the Monument under an order of the Court of Common Council dated 6th December 1830. At this time, probably, the stone was also removed from the house in Pudding Lane.

This wise decision, besides according with historical facts, removes from the Monument the obloquy expressed in Pope’s well-known lines:

“Where London’s column pointing at the skies,
Like a tall bully, lifts the head, and lies.”

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