The Monument and its neighbourhood

Old and New London: Volume 1. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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'The Monument and its neighbourhood', in Old and New London: Volume 1, (London, 1878) pp. 565-574. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

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The Monument— How shall it be fashioned?—Commemorative Inscriptions—The Monument's Place in History— Suicides and the Monument— he Great Fire of London— On the Top of the Monument by Night—The Source of the Fire—A Terrible Description—Miles Coverdale—St. Magnus, London Bridge.

MILES COVERDALE (see page 574).

The Monument, a fluted Doric column, raised to commemorate the Great Fire of London, was designed by Wren, who, as usual, was thwarted in his original intentions. It stands 202 feet from the site of the baker's house in Pudding Lane where the fire first broke out. Wren's son, in his "Parentalia," thus describes the difficulties which his father met with in carrying out his design. Says Wren, Junior: "In the place of the brass urn on the top (which is not artfully performed, and was set up contrary to his opinion) was originally intended a colossal statue in brass gilt of King Charles II., as founder of the new City, in the manner of the Roman pillars, which terminated with the statues of their Cæsars; or else a figure erect of a woman crown'd with turrets, holding a sword and cap of maintenance, with other ensigns of the City's grandeur and re-erection. The altitude from the pavement is 202 feet; the diameter of the shaft (or body) of the column is 15 feet; the ground bounded by the plinth or lowest part of the pedestal is 28 feet square, and the pedestal in height is 40 feet. Within is a large staircase of black marble, containing 345 steps 10½ inches broad and 6 inches risers. Over the capital is an iron balcony encompassing a cippus, or meta, 32 feet high, supporting a blazing urn of brass gilt. Prior to this the surveyor (às it appears by an original drawing) had made a design of a pillar of somewhat less proportion—viz., 14 feet in diameter, and after a peculiar device; for as the Romans expressed by relievo on the pedestals and round the shafts of their columns the history of such actions and incidents as were intended to be thereby commemorated, so this monument of the conflagration and resurrection of the City of London was represented by a pillar in flames. The flames, blazing from the loopholes of the shaft (which were to give light to the stairs within), were figured in brass-work gilt; and on the top was a phœnix rising from her ashes, of brass gilt likewise."

The following are, or rather were, the inscriptions on the four sides of the Monument:—


"Charles the Second, son of Charles the Martyr, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, a most generous 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 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 Saint Paul, should be rebuilt from their foundations, with all magnificence; that 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 in front raised of equal height, and those walls all of square stone or brick, and that no man should delay building beyond the space of seven years. Moreover, care was taken by law to prevent all suits about their bounds. Also anniversary prayers were enjoined; and to perpetuate the memory hereof to posterity, they caused this column to be erected. The work was carried on with diligence, and London is restored, but whether with greater speed or beauty may be made a question. At three years' time the world saw that finished which was supposed to be the business of an age."


"In the year of Christ 1666, the second day of September, eastward from hence, at the distance of two hundred and two feet (the height of this column), about midnight, a most terrible fire broke out, which, driven on by a high wind, not only wasted the adjacent parts, but also places very remote, with incredible noise and fury. It consumed eighty-nine churches, the City gates, Guildhall, many public structures, hospitals, schools, libraries, a vast number of stately edifices, thirteen thousand two hundred dwelling-houses, four hundred streets. Of the six-and-twenty wards it utterly destroyed fifteen, and left eight others shattered and half burnt. The ruins of the City were four hundred and thirty-six acres, from the Tower by the Thames side to the Temple Church, and from the north-east along the City wall to Holborn Bridge. To the estates and fortunes of the citizens it was merciless, but to their lives very favourable, that it might in all things resemble the last conflagration of the world. The destruction was sudden, for in a small space of time the City was seen most flourishing, and reduced to nothing. Three days after, when this fatal fire had baffled all human counsels and endeavours in the opinion of all, it stopped as it were by a command from Heaven, and was on every side extinguished."

EAST Side.

"This pillar was begun,
Sir Richard Ford, Knight, being Lord Mayor of London,
In the year 1671,
Carried on
In the Mayoralties of
Sir George Waterman, Kt.       Lord Mayors,
Sir Robert Hanson, Kt.
Sir William Hooker, Kt.
Sir Robert Viner, Kt.
Sir Joseph Sheldon, Kt.
And finished,
Sir Thomas Davies being Lord Mayor, in the year 1677."


"This pillar was set up in perpetual remembrance of the most dreadful burning of this Protestant city, begun and carried on by the treachery and malice of the Popish faction, in the beginning of September, in the year of our Lord MDCLXVI., in order to the effecting their horrid plot for the extirpating the Protestant religion and English liberties, and to introduce Popery and slavery."

"The basis of the monument," says Strype, "on that side toward the street, hath a representation of the destruction of the City by the Fire, and the restitution of it, by several curiously engraven figures in full proportion. First is the figure of a woman representing London, sitting on ruins, in a most disconsolate posture, her head hanging down, and her hair all loose about her; the sword lying by her, and her left hand carefully laid upon it. A second figure is Time, with his wings and bald head, coming behind her and gently lifting her up. Another female figure on the side of her, laying her hand upon her, and with a sceptre winged in her other hand, directing her to look upwards, for it points up to two beautiful goddesses sitting in the clouds, one leaning upon a cornucopia, denoting Plenty, the other having a palm-branch in her left hand, signifying Victory, or Triumph. Underneath this figure of London in the midst of the ruins is a dragon with his paw upon the shield of a red cross, London's arms. Over her head is the description of houses burning, and flames breaking out through the windows. Behind her are citizens looking on, and some lifting up their hands.

"Opposite against these figures is a pavement of stone raised, with three or four steps, on which appears King Charles II., in Roman habit, with a truncheon in his right hand and a laurel about his head, coming towards the woman in the foresaid despairing posture, and giving orders to three others to descend the steps towards her. The first hath wings on her head, and in her hand something resembling a harp. Then another figure of one going down the steps following her. resembling Architecture, showing a scheme or model for building of the City, held in the right hand, and the left holding a square and compasses. Behind these two stands another figure, more obscure, holding up an hat, denoting Liberty. Next behind the king is the Duke of York, holding a garland, ready to crown the rising City, and a sword lifted up in the other hand to defend her. Behind this a third figure, with an earl's coronet on his head. A fourth figure behind all, holding a lion with a bridle in his mouth. Over these figures is represented an house in building, and a labourer going up a ladder with an hodd upon his back. Lastly, underneath the stone pavement whereon the king stands is a good figure of Envy peeping forth, gnawing a heart."

The bas-relief on the pediment of the Monument was carved by a Danish sculptor, Caius Gabriel Cibber, the father of the celebrated comedian and comedy writer Colley Cibber; the four dragons at the four angles are by Edward Pierce. The Latin inscriptions were written by Dr. Gale, Dean of York, and the whole structure was erected in six years, for the sum of £13,700. The paragraphs denouncing Popish incendiaries were not written by Gale, but were added in 1681, during the madness of the Popish plot. They were obliterated by James II., but cut again deeper than before in the reign of William III., and finally erased in 1831, to the great credit of the Common Council.

Wren at first intended to have had flames of gilt brass coming out of every loop-hole of the Monument, and on the top a phœnix rising from the flames, also in brass gilt. He eventually abandoned this idea, partly on account of the expense, and also because the spread wings of the phœnix would present too much resistance to the wind. Moreover, the fabulous bird at that height would not have been understood. Charles II. preferred a gilt ball, and the present vase of flames was then decided on. Defoe compares the Monument to a lighted candle.

The Monument is loftier than the pillars of Trajan and Antoninus, at Rome, or that of Theodosius at Constantinople; and it is not only the loftiest, but also the finest isolated column in the world.

It was at first used by the members of the Royal Society for astronomical purposes, but was abandoned on account of its vibration being too great for the nicety required in their observations. Hence the report that the Monument is unsafe, which has been revived in our time; "but," says Elwes, "its scientific construction may bid defiance to the attacks of all but earthquakes for centuries to come."

A large print of the Monument represents the statue of Charles placed, for comparative effect, beside a sectional view of the apex, as constructed. Wren's autograph report on the designs for the summit were added to the MSS. in the British Museum in 1852. A model, scale one-eighth of an inch to the foot, of the scaffolding used in building the Monument is preserved. It formerly belonged to Sir William Chambers, and was presented by Heathcote Russell, C. E., to the late Sir Isambard Brunel, who left it to his son, Mr. I. K. Brunel. The ladders were of the rude construction of Wren's time—two uprights, with treads or rounds nailed on the face.

On June 15, 1825, the Monument was illuminated with portable gas, in commemoration of laying the first stone of New London Bridge. A lamp was placed at each of the loop-holes of the column, to give the idea of its being wreathed with flame; whilst two other series were placed on the edges of the gallery, to which the public were admitted during the evening.

Certain spots in London have become popular with suicides, yet apparently without any special reason, except that even suicides are vain and like to die with éclat. Waterloo Bridge is chosen for its privacy; the Monument used to be chosen, we presume, for its height and quietude. Five persons have destroyed themselves by leaps from the Monument. The first of these unhappy creatures was William Green, a weaver, in 1750. On June 25 this man, wearing a green apron, the sign of his craft, came to the Monument door, and left his watch with the doorkeeper. A few minutes after he was heard to fall. Eighteen guineas were found in his pocket. The next man who fell from the Monument was Thomas Craddock, a baker. He was not a suicide; but, in reaching over to see an eagle which was hung in a cage from the bars, he overbalanced himself, and was killed. The next victim was Lyon Levi, a Jew diamond merchant in embarrassed circumstances, who destroyed himself on the 18th of January, 1810. The third suicide (September II, 1839) was a young woman named Margaret Meyer. This poor girl was the daughter of a baker in Hemming's Row, St. Martin's-inthe-Fields. Her mother was dead, her father bed-ridden, and there being a large family, it had become necessary for her to go out to service, which preyed upon her mind. The October following, a boy named Hawes, who had been that morning discharged by his master, a surgeon, threw himself from the same place. He was of unsound mind, and his father had killed himself. The last suicide was in August, 1842, when a servant-girl from Hoxton, named Jane Cooper, while the watchman had his head turned, nimbly climbed over the iron railing, tucked her clothes tight between her knees, and dived head-foremost downwards. In her fall she struck the griffin on the right side of the base of the Monument, and, rebounding into the road, cleared a cart in the fall. The cause of this act was not discovered. Suicides being now fashionable here, the City of London (not a moment too soon) caged in the top of the Monument in the present ugly way.

The Rev. Samuel Rolle, writing of the Great Fire in 1667, says—" If London its self be not the doleful monument of its own destruction, by always lying in ashes (which God forbid it should), it is provided for by Act of Parliament, that after its restauration, a pillar, either of brass or stone, should be erected, in perpetual memory of its late most dismall conflagration."

"Where the fire began, there, or as near as may be to that place, must the pillar be erected (if ever there be any such). If we commemorate the places where our miseries began, surely the causes whence they sprang (the meritorious causes, or sins, are those I now intend) should be thought of much more. If such a Lane burnt London, sin first burnt that Lane; causa, causa est causa causatio; affliction springs not out of the dust; not but that it may spring thence immediately (as if the dust of the earth should be turned into lice), but primarily and originally it springs up elsewhere.

"As for the inscription that ought to be upon that pillar (whether of brass or stone), I must leave it to their piety and prudence, to whom the wisdom of the Parliament hath left it; only three things I both wish and hope concerning it. The first is, that it may be very humble, giving God the glory of his righteous judgments, and taking to ourselves the shame of our great demerits. Secondly, that the confession which shall be there engraven may be as impartial as the judgement itself was; not charging the guilt for which that fire came upon a few only, but acknowledging that all have sinned, as all have been punished. Far be it from any man to say that his sins did not help to burn London, that cannot say also (and who that is I know not) that neither he nor any of his either is, or are ever like to be, anything the worse for that dreadful fire. Lastly, whereas some of the same religion with those that did hatch the Powder-Plot are, and have been, vehemently suspected to have been the incendiaries, by whose means London was burned, I earnestly desire that if time and further discovery be able to acquit them from any such guilt, that pillar may record their innocency, and may make themselves as an iron pillar or brazen wall (as I may allude to Jer. i. 18) against all the accusations of those that suspect them; but if, in deed and in truth, that fire either came or was carried on and continued by their treachery, that the inscription of the pillar may consigne over their names to perpetual hatred and infamy."

"Then was God to his people as a shadow from the heat of the rage of their enemies, as a wall of fire for their protection; but this pillar calls that time to remembrance, in which God covered himself, as with a cloud, that the prayers of Londoners should not passe unto him, and came forth, not as a conserving, but as a consuming fire, not for, but against, poor London."

Roger North, in his Life of Sir Dudley, mentions the Monument when still in its first bloom. "He (Sir Dudley North)," he says, "took pleasure in surveying the Monument, and comparing it with mosque-towers, and what of that kind he had seen abroad. We mounted up to the top, and one after another crept up the hollow iron frame that carries the copper head and flames above. We went out at a rising plate of iron that hinged, and there found convenient irons to hold by. We made use of them, and raised our bodies entirely above the flames, having only our legs to the knees within; and there we stood till we were satisfied with the prospect from thence. I cannot describe how hard it was to persuade ourselves we stood safe, so likely did our weight seem to throw down the whole fabric."

Addison takes care to show his Tory foxhunter the famed Monument. "We repaired," says the amiable essayist, "to the Monument, where my fellow-traveller (the Tory fox-hunter), being a well-breathed man, mounted the ascent with much speed and activity. I was forced to halt so often in this particular march, that, upon my joining him on the top of the pillar, I found he had counted all the steeples and towers which were discernible from this advantageous situation, and was endeavouring to compute the number of acres they stood on. We were both of us very well pleased with this part of the prospect; but I found he cast an evil eye upon several warehouses and other buildings, which looked like barns, and seemed capable of receiving great multitudes of people. His heart misgave him that these were so many meeting-houses; but, upon communicating his suspicions to me, I soon made him easy in that particular. We then turned our eyes upon the river, which gave me an occasion to inspire him with some favourable thoughts of trade and merchandise, that had filled the Thames with such crowds of ships, and covered the shore with such swarms of people. We descended very leisurely, my friend being careful to count the steps, which he registered in a blank leaf of his new almanack. Upon our coming to the bottom, observing an English inscription upon the basis, he read it over several times, and told me he could scarce believe his own eyes, for he had often heard from an old attorney who lived near him in the country that it was the Presbyterians who burnt down the City, 'whereas,' says he, 'the pillar positively affirms, in so many words, that the burning of this antient city was begun and carried on by the treachery and malice of the Popish faction, in order to the carrying on their horrid plot for extirpating the Protestant religion and old English liberty, and introducing Popery and slavery.' This account, which he looked upon to be more authentic than if it had been in print, I found, made a very great impression upon him."

Ned Ward is very severe on the Monument. "As you say, this edifice," he says, "as well as some others, was projected as a memorandum of the Fire, or an ornament to the City, but gave those corrupted magistrates that had the power in their hands the opportunity of putting two thousand pounds into their own pockets, whilst they paid one towards the building. I must confess, all I think can be spoke in praise of it is, 'tis a monument to the City's shame, the orphan's grief, the Protestant's pride, and the Papist's scandal; and only serves as a high-crowned hat, to cover the head of the old fellow that shows it."

Pope, as a Catholic, looked with horror on the Monument, and wrote bitterly of it—
"Where London's Column, pointing at the skies,
Like a tall bully, lifts the head and lies,
There dwelt a citizen of sober fame,
A plain good man, and Balaam was his name."

"At the end of Littleton's Dictionary," says Southey, "is an inscription for the Monument, wherein this very learned scholar proposes a name for it worthy, for its length, of a Sanscrit legend. It is a word which extends through seven degrees of longitude, being designed to commemorate the names of the seven Lord Mayors of London under whose respective mayoralties the Monument was begun, continued, and completed:—
"'Quam non una aliqua ac simplici voce, uti istam quondam Duilianam;
Sed, ut vero eam nomine indigites, vocabulo constructiliter Heptastico,
Fordo—Watermanno—Hansono—Hookero— Vinero—Sheldono—Davisianam Appellare opportebit.'

"Well might Adam Littleton call this an heptastic vocable, rather than a word." (Southey, "Omniana.")

Mr. John Hollingshead, an admirable modern essayist, in a chapter in "Under Bow Bells," entitled "A Night on the Monument,"has given a most powerful sketch of night, moonlight, and daybreak from the top of the Monument. "The puppet men," he says, "now hurry to and fro, lighting up the puppet shops, which cast a warm, rich glow upon the pavement. A cross of dotted lamps springs into light, the four arms of which are the four great thoroughfares from the City. Red lines of fire come out behind black, solid, sullen masses of building; and spires of churches stand out in strong, dark relief at the side of busy streets. Up in the housetops, under green-shaded lamps, you may see the puppet clerks turning quickly over the clean, white, fluttering pages of puppet day-books and ledgers; and from east to west you see the long, silent river, glistening here and there with patches of reddish light, even through the looped steeple of the Church of St. Magnus the Martyr. Then, in a white circle of light round the City, dart out little nebulous clusters of houses, some of them high up in the air, mingling, in appearance, with the stars of heaven; some with one lamp, some with two or more; some yellow, and some red; and some looking like bunches of fiery grapes in the congress of twinkling suburbs. Then the bridges throw up their arched lines of lamps, like the illuminated garden-walks at Cremorne. . . .

"The moon has now increased in power, and, acting on the mist, brings out the surrounding churches one by one. There they stand in the soft light, a noble army of temples thickly sprinkled amongst the money-changers. Any taste may be suited in structural design. There are high churches, low churches; flat churches; broad churches, narrow churches; square, round, and pointed churches; churches with towers like cubical slabs sunk deeply in between the roofs of houses; towers like toothpicks, like three-pronged forks, like pepper-casters, like factory chimneys, like limekilns, like a sailor's trousers hung up to dry, like bottles of fish-sauce, and like St. Paul's— a balloon turned topsy-turvy. There they stand, like giant spectral watchmen guarding the silent city, whose beating heart still murmurs in its sleep. At the hour of midnight they proclaim, with iron tongue, the advent of a New Year, mingling a song of joy with a wail for the departed. . . .

"The dark grey churches and houses spring into existence one by one. The streets come up out of the land, and the bridges come up out of the water. The bustle of commerce, and the roar of the great human ocean—which has never been altogether silent—revive. The distant turrets of the Tower, and the long line of shipping on the river, become visible. Clear smoke still flows over the housetops, softening their outlines, and turning them into a forest of frosted trees.


"Above all this is a long black mountain-ridge of cloud, tipped with glittering gold; beyond float deep orange and light yellow ridges, bathed in a faint purple sea. Through the black ridge struggles a full, rich, purple sun, the lower half of his disc tinted with grey. Gradually, like blood-red wine running into a round bottle, the purple overcomes the grey; and at the same time the black cloud divides the face of the sun into two sections, like the visor of a harlequin."


In 1732 a sailor is recorded to have slid down a rope from the gallery to the "Three Tuns" tavern, Gracechurch Street; as did also, next day, a waterman's boy. In the Timesnewspaper of August 22, 1827, there appeared the following hoaxing advertisement: "Incredible as it may appear, a person will attend at the Monument, and will, for the sum of £2,500, undertake to jump clear off the said Monument; and in coming down will drink some beer and eat a cake, act some trades, shorten and make sail, and bring ship safe to anchor. As soon as the sum stated is collected, the performance will take place; and if not performed, the money subscribed to be returned to the subscribers."

The Great Fire of 1666 broke out at the shop of one Farryner, the king's baker, 25, Pudding Lane. The following inscription was placed by some zealous Protestants over the house, when rebuilt:—"Here, by the permission of Heaven, Hell broke loose upon this Protestant city, from the malicious hearts of barbarous priests, by the hand of their agent, Hubert, who confessed and on the ruins of this place declared the fact for which he was hanged—viz., that here begun that dreadful fire which is described on and perpetuated by the neighbouring pillar, erected anno 1681, in the mayoralty of Sir Patience Ward, Kt."

This celebrated inscription (says Cunningham), set up pursuant to an order of the Court of Common Council, June 17th, 1681, was removed in the reign of James II., replaced in the reign of William III., and finally taken down, "on account of the stoppage of passengers to read it."Entick, who made additions to Maitland in 1756, speaks of it as "lately taken away."

The Fire was for a long time attributed to Hubert, a crazed French Papist of five or six and twenty years of age, the son of a watchmaker at Rouen, in Normandy. He was seized in Essex, confessed he had begun the fire, and persisting in his confession to his death, was hanged, upon no other evidence than that of his own confession. He stated in his examination that he had been "suborned at Paris to this action," and that there were three more combined to do the same thing. They asked him if he knew the place where he had first put fire. He answered that he "knew it very well, and would show it to anybody."He was then ordered to be blindfolded and carried to several places of the City, that he might point out the house. They first led him to a place at some distance from it, opened his eyes, and asked him if that was it, to which he answered, "No, it was lower, nearer to the Thames." "The house and all which were near it," says Clarendon, "were so covered and buried in ruins, that the owners themselves, without some infallible mark, could very hardly have said where their own houses had stood; but this man led them directly to the place, described how it stood, the shape of the little yard, the fashion of the doors and windows, and where he first put the fire, and all this with such exactness, that they who had dwelt long near it could not so perfectly have described all particulars." Tillotson told Burnet that Howell, the then recorder of London, accompanied Hubert on this occasion, "was with him, and had much discourse with him; and that he concluded it was impossible it could be a melancholy dream."This, however, was not the opinion of the judges who tried him. "Neither the judges," says Clarendon, "nor any present at the trial, did believe him guilty, but that he was a poor distracted wretch, weary of his life, and chose to part with it this way."

A few notes about the Great Fire will here be interesting. Pepys gives a graphic account of its horrors. In one place he writes—"Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river, or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the waterside to another. And, among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys till they burned their wings and fell down. Having staid, and in an hour's time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods and leave all to the fire."

But by far the most vivid conception of the Fire is to be found in a religious book written by the Rev. Samuel Vincent, who expresses the feelings of the moment with a singular force. Says the writer: "It was the 2nd of September, 1666, that the anger of the Lord was kindled against London, and the fire began. It began in a baker's house in Pudding Lane, by Fish Street Hill; and now the Lord is making London like a fiery oven in the time of his anger (Psalm xxi. 9), and in his wrath doth devour and swallow up our habitations. It was in the depth and dead of the night, when most doors and senses were lockt up in the City, that the fire doth break forth and appear abroad, and like a mighty giant refresht with wine doth awake and arm itself, quickly gathers strength, when it had made havoc of some houses, rusheth down the hill towards the bridge, crosseth Thames Street, invadeth Magnus Church at the bridge foot, and, though that church were so great, yet it was not a sufficient barricade against this conqueror; but having scaled and taken this fort, it shooteth flames with so much the greater advantage into all places round about, and a great building of houses upon the bridge is quickly thrown to the ground. Then the conqueror, being stayed in his course at the bridge, marcheth back towards the City again, and runs along with great noise and violence through Thames Street westward, where, having such combustible matter in its teeth, and such a fierce wind upon its back, it prevails with little resistance, unto the astonishment of the beholders.

"My business is not to speak of the hand of man, which was made use of in the beginning and carrying on of this fire. The beginning of the tfire at such a time, when there had been so much hot weather, which had dried the houses and made them more fit for fuel; the beginning of it in such a place, where there were so many timber houses, and the shops filled with so much combustible matter; and the beginning of it just when the wind did blow so fiercely upon that corner towards the rest of the City, which then was like tinder to the spark; this doth smell of a Popish design, hatcht in the same place where the Gunpowder Plot was contrived, only that this was more successful.

"Then, then the City did shake indeed, and the inhabitants flew away in great amazement from their houses, lest the flame should devour them. Rattle, rattle, rattle, was the noise which the fire struck upon the ear round about, as if there had been a thousand iron chariots beating upon the stones; and if you opened your eye to the opening of the streets where the fire was come, you might see in some places whole streets at once in flames, that issued forth as if they had been so many great forges from the opposite windows, which, folding together, were united into one great flame throughout the whole street; and then you might see the houses tumble, tumble, tumble, from one end of the street to the other, with a great crash, leaving the foundations open to the view of the heavens."

The original Church of St. Magnus, London Bridge, was of great antiquity; for we learn that in 1302 Hugh Pourt, sheriff of London, and his wife Margaret, founded a charity here; and the first rector mentioned by Newcourt is Robert de St. Albano, who resigned his living in 1323. It stood almost at the foot of Old London Bridge; and the incumbent of the chapel on the bridge paid an annual sum to the rector of St. Magnus for the diminution of the fees which the chapel might draw away. Three Lord Mayors are known to have been buried in St. Magnus'; and here, in the chapel of St. Mary, was interred Henry Yevele, a freemason to Edward III., Richard II., and Henry IV. This Yevele had assisted to erect the bust of Richard II. at Westminster Abbey between the years 1395-97, and also assisted in restoring Westminster Hall. He founded a charity in this church, and died in 1401. In old times the patronage of St. Magnus' was exercised alternately by the Abbots of Westminster and Bermondsey; but after the dissolution it fell to the Crown, and Queen Mary, in 1553, bestowed it on the Bishop of London. In Arnold's "Chronicles" (end of the fifteenth century) the church is noted as much neglected, and the services insufficiently performed. The ordinary remarks that divers of the priests and clerks spent the time of Divine service in taverns and ale-houses, and in fishing and "other trifles."

The church was destroyed at an early period of the Great Fire. It was rebuilt by Wren in 1676. The parish was then united with that of St. Margaret, New Fish Street Hill; and at a later period St. Michael's, Crooked Lane, has also been annexed. On the top of the square tower, which is terminated with an open parapet, Wren has introduced an octagon lantern of very simple and pleasing design, crowned by a cupola and short spire. We must here, once for all, remark on the fertility of invention displayed by Wren in varying constantly the form of his steeples.

The interior of the church is divided into a nave and side aisles by Doric columns, that support an entablature from which rises the camerated ceiling. "The general proportions of the church," says Mr. Godwin, "are pleasing; but the columns are too slight, the space between them too wide, and the result is a disagreeable feeling of insecurity." The altar-piece, adorned with the figure of a pelican feeding her young, is richly carved and gilded. The large organ, built by Jordan in 1712, was presented by Sir Charles Duncomb, who gave the clock in remembrance of having himself, when a boy, been detained on this spot, ignorant of the time.

Stow gives a curious account of a religious service attached to this church. The following deed is still extant:—

"That Rauf Capelyn du Bailiff, Will. Double, fishmonger, Roger Lowher, chancellor, Henry Boseworth, vintner, Steven Lucas, stock fishmonger, and other of the better of the parish of St. Magnus', near the Bridge of London, of their great devotion, and to the honour of God and the glorious Mother our Lady Mary the Virgin, began and caused to be made a chauntry, to sing an anthem of our Lady, called Salve Regina, every evening; and thereupon ordained five burning wax lights at the time of the said anthem, in the honour and reverence of the five principal joys of our Lady aforesaid, and for exciting the people to devotion at such an hour, the more to merit to their souls. And thereupon many other good people of the same parish, seeing the great honesty of the said service and devotion, proffered to be aiders and partners to support the said lights and the said anthem to be continually sung, paying to every person every week an halfpenny; and so that hereafter, with the gift that the people shall give to the sustentation of the said light and anthem, there shall be to find a chaplain singing in the said church for all the benefactors of the said light and anthem."

Miles Coverdale, the great reformer, was a rector of St. Magnus'. Coverdale was in early life an Augustinian monk, but being converted to Protestantism, he exerted his best faculties and influence in defending the cause. In August, 1551, he was advanced to the see of Exeter, and availed himself of that station to preach frequently in the cathedral and in other churches of Exeter. Thomas Lord Cromwell patronised him; and Queen Catherine Parr appointed him her almoner. At the funeral of that ill-fated lady he preached a sermon at Sudeley Castle. When Mary came to the throne, she soon exerted her authority in tyrannically ejecting and persecuting this amiable and learned prelate. By an Act of Council (1554–55) he was allowed to "passe towards Denmarche with two servants, his bagges and baggage,"where he remained till the death of the queen. On returning home, he declined to be reinstated in his see, but repeatedly preached at Paul's Cross, and, from conscientious scruples, continued to live in obscurity and indigence till 1563, when he was presented to the rectory of St. Magnus', London Bridge, which he resigned in two years. Dying in the year 1568, at the age of eighty-one, he was interred in this church.

Coverdale's labours in Bible translation are worth notice. In 1532 Coverdale appears to have been abroad assisting Tyndale in his translation of the Bible; and in 1535 his own folio translation of the Bible (printed, it is supposed, at Zurich), with a dedication to Henry VIII., was published. This was the first English Bible allowed by royal authority, and the first translation of the whole Bible printed in our language. The Psalms in it are those we now use in the Book of Common Prayer. About 1538 Coverdale went to Paris to superintend a new edition of the Bible printing in Paris by permission of Francis I. The Inquisition, however, seized nearly all the 2,500 copies (only a few books escaping), and committed them to the flames. The rescued copies enabled Grafton and Whitchurch, in 1539, to print what is called Cranmer's, or the Great Bible, which Coverdale collated with the Hebrew. This great Bible scholar was thrown into prison by Queen Mary, and on his release went to Geneva, where he assisted in producing the Geneva translation of the Bible, which was completed in 1560. Coverdale, like Wickliffe, was a Yorkshireman.

Against the east wall, on the south side of the communion-table, is a handsome Gothic panel of statuary marble, on a black slab, with a representation of an open Bible above it, and thus inscribed:—

"To the memory of Miles Coverdale, who, convinced that the pure Word of God ought to be the sole rule of our faith and guide of our practice, laboured earnestly for its diffusion; and with the view of affording the means of reading and hearing in their own tongue the wonderful works of God not only to his own country, but to the nations that sit in darkness, and to every creature wheresoever the English language might be spoken, he spent many years of his life in preparing a translation of the Scriptures. On the 4th of October, 1535, the first complete printed English version of The Bible was published under his direction. The parishioners of St. Magnus the Martyr, desirous of acknowledging the mercy of God, and calling to mind that Miles Coverdale was once rector of their parish, erected this monument to his memory, A.D. 1837.

"'How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.'— Isaiah lii. 7."

In the vestry-room, which is now at the southwest corner of the church, there is a curious drawing of the interior of Old Fishmongers' Hall on the occasion of the presentation of a pair of colours to the Military Association of Bridge Ward by Mrs. Hibbert. Many of the figures are portraits. There is also a painting of Old London Bridge, and a clever portrait of the late Mr. R. Hazard, who was attached to the church as sexton, clerk, and ward beadle for nearly fifty years.

The church was much injured in 1760 by a fire which broke out in an adjoining oil-shop. The roof was destroyed, and the vestry-room entirely consumed. The repairs cost £1,200. The vestryroom was scarcely completed before it had to be taken down, with part of the church, in order to make a passage-way under the steeple to the old bridge, the road having been found dangerously narrow. It was proposed to cut an archway out of the two side walls of the tower to form a thoroughfare; and when the buildings were removed, it was discovered that Wren, foreseeing the probability of such a want arising, had arranged everything to their hands, and that the alteration was effected with the utmost ease.