Before they merged into a Metropolis, the City of London was physically distinct from the City of Westminster with fields separating the two rival powers in the land.

More by coincidence than design, the two cities both ended up two observation towers for the public to ascend – one just over 300 years old and the other somewhat younger at a mere 100 years old.

The Monument

The MonumentThe grand-daddy of London tourist attractions, built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London and to celebrate the rebuilding of the City – it was also always designed to be an attraction for the general public.

The Monument is 61 metres high (202 feet) – the exact distance between it and the site in Pudding Lane where the fire began.

Although the fire began in a bakery on Pudding Lane, interestingly the name of the lane is not related to baking, puddings or otherwise. It is actually named after the “puddings” — the medieval word for entrails and organs — that fell from the carts coming down the Lane from the butchers in Eastcheap as they headed for the waste barges on the Thames.

Recently refurbished, the Monument is this weekend also for the first time having live music played inside the stone column to entertain people as they slowly climb the 311 steps within. The stair case is very narrow – and gets more so towards the top, but there are large niches at regular intervals that a person could stand in.

Frustratingly, when I arrived, I was there too early for the music, so missed out on that aural experience as I climbed the stone stairs, but was accompanied by a couple of people who spent the entire journey exclaiming how marvellous it all is. All the way to the top.

Stairwell in the Monument

Slightly alarmingly towards the top is a sign warning people not to lean on the balustrade as it was loose.

When I last visited, the top was protected by iron bars to stop people leaping/falling to their death, but had gaps large enough to poke a camera through. Sadly, this has been replaced with a wire mesh, which ruins photos. Ugh!

The protective mesh

The musicians will be back tomorrow (Sun 2nd Oct), but wait until lunchtime if you want to listen to their composition as you head to the top of the tower.

The tower when built was not just a monument to the fire, and a tourist attraction – it was also a scientific instrument and the very bottom of the tower underneath the column is a small room which would have once housed a telescope. The tiny door into that subterranean chamber can be seen just behind the cashiers desk as you go inside.

Entry is £3, and you get a certificate on the way down to congratulate you for climbing to the top.

More photos here.

Westminster Cathedral

Less famous, and considerably younger than its Abbey counterpart, Westminster Cathedral is a Catholic Cathedral built between 1895 and 1903 — and the interior is still not finished.

In addition to the Byzantine architecture style within with vast domes and mosaic decoration, it too includes an observation tower that the public are able to ascend.

Westminster Cathedral

Unlike its City of London counterpart, this is a tower with a lift. In fact, you aren’t allowed to use the stairs, so a modern lift is the only way to the top. More comfortable, but somehow lacking in achievement.

A quick ride to the 7th floor, which at 64 metres above the street is 1 metre higher than the Monument. However, unlike Monument which has a narrow walkway around the outside of the tower, here there is a interior room with four smallish observation balconies on each wall.

Battersea Power Station

Just as the walkway around the top of The Monument can be a challenge for those scared of heights, here the heavy stonework and iron bars will reassure.

Inside some displays about the construction of the Cathedral are interesting, but sadly the whole place is covered in childish graffiti of the “I woz ere” variety. Not just pen scribbling, but also gouged into the brickwork.

BT Tower

Although the tower has a lift, that doesn’t really make the site disabled friendly, as the viewing areas at the top are quite small and have a steep step to get into them.

Admission is £5, but it is also worth paying £3 extra for the Treasures exhibition on the 1st floor.

More photos here.

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6 Comments

  1. Beth

    I climbed the Monument today too, for the first time. I’ve been avoiding it for five years because I am really bad with heights, but for some reason I got it into my head that today was the day I was going to conquer that fear. Well…I made it to the top, after several slightly panicky stops on the way up. But I didn’t manage to make it more than four steps onto the balcony before deciding that no…couldn’t do it. The view was very nice from the doorway out onto the platform, though. Then I took myself back down the steps as quickly as possible, and had a calming sit-down at the bottom. All of which sounds very negative, but I actually consider it a success and that I had a good time today.

    All of which is a long-winded way of saying – interesting post :)

  2. Edgemaster

    I’ve not climbed either, hadn’t even realised that the Westminster Cathedral tower was open.
    I have however climbed to the top of a more impressive tower in the City of Westminster – the Imperial College Queen’s Tower, luckily I had a clear day for it too, but unluckily a quite poor camera.
    As a bellringer, I’m most lucky to be able to climb unhindered to the top of some of the finest church towers around the country.

  3. Well done, Beth – I know just what you mean because I’m not very good with spiral staircases and as this one narrows towards the top, I was pretty shaky by the time I got there. It’s great to see your interior photo, Ian, because I never managed to take one! I’ve also added Westminster Cathedral tower to my must-do list.

  4. jessica

    This is something I have to do when next in London!

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