Real Homes: House Doctor

YOU WILL all be familiar with the first and last of these: 1066 was when we invited the French over and taught them how to make beer, and in 1966 we invited the Germans over for a few football lessons. But why was 1666 significant? The Great Fire of London, that's why.

The outbreak of the Great Fire in Pudding Lane is marked by Christopher Wren's Monument which, at 202ft tall, is sited 202ft from the baker's shop where the fire started, allegedly.

When I was a kid you could climb the spiral stone staircase inside for threepence and have a grandstand view down on to the river Thames and the surrounding City buildings. Now the Monument is overshadowed by skyscrapers, and many people don't even realise it's there. The modern view is upwards to the Lloyds Building and the NatWest Tower, and even that is obscured by the bars of the anti-suicide cage. Pudding Lane itself is a bleak wind-tunnel whose main features are the air-con ducts and underground car-park ramps of the office buildings. It is hard to think of many other European capitals where an equivalent historical site would be treated with such disdain. Still, the Monument itself is built of stone, and it will still be standing long after the Lloyds Building has been cut up and sold off for scrap.

An interesting Latin inscription on the north side of the base charts the course of the fire. But the most significant inscription, for our purposes, is on the southern side, and recounts the story of the rebuilding of the City. The London Rebuilding Act of 1667 resulted in the first serious controls on town planning and building, and evolved into the Building Regulations as we know them today. Previous attempts to stop people constructing dangerous and insanitary buildings had generally been ignored or circumvented. The virtual destruction of the capital made people take things a bit more seriously, and, as a result of the Great Fire, regulations were introduced to replace flammable materials such as timber and thatch with brick and slate. There was also a requirement that party walls should rise above the roof line, to prevent fire spreading along the rooftops. This is still often enforced in London, where the local building by-laws are slightly different from those in the rest of Britain.

Other significant measures stemming from that time include minimum street widths and provision for the disposal of effluent: things we take for granted, but which are still sadly lacking for the millions who live in squalid conditions in poorer parts of the world.

Anybody looking to kill a couple of hours in London, and show their kids a bit of real British history, could do worse than visit the Monument - the entrance fee is pounds 1.50 these days - and then walk through the old City to the excellent Museum of London, which has lots of interesting stuff on the Great Fire.

The Monument is at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street - Monument Tube station. The Museum of London is at the junction of London Wall and Aldersgate Street - Barbican tube.

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