Both of my kids enjoyed learning about the great fire of London at school. We’ve visited some of the places below when the kids were younger but as they were both eager to revisit the Monument I decided to take them on a themed ‘Great fire of London’ day.
Museum of London
We started with a visit to the Museum of London to see their Plague and Fire gallery. The best place to begin is by watching the 6 minute video which gives an overview of the fire and a day by day account from some of the eye witnesses. You might also like to pick up the War, Plague and Fire family activity sheet from reception (or download in advance from their website).
Afterwards take a walk around the gallery and see some of the objects relating to the fire. Our favourites were smoke blackened tiles unearthed in a cellar in Pudding Lane back in the 1970s. You can also try on a fire fighters leather helmet and compare it with our modern day equivalent.
St Paul’s cathedral
After leaving the museum we walked to the Monument past St Paul’s cathedral. The previous cathedral, known as Old St Paul’s, was one of the casualties of the fire. Many people had put their belongings into the crypt, believing they’d be safe from the fire but sadly it was not to be and the cathedral burnt. The current cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and rebuilt after the fire once attempts to restore Old St Paul’s were stopped.
We’ve visited St Paul’s Cathedral before so didn’t go in this time but if you’ve never been it’s worth it for the climb up to the Golden Gallery. It’s not cheap but you can get slightly reduced prices by buying tickets online.
Monument to the Great Fire of London
On to the Monument, which was designed by Wren and his colleague Dr Hooke, as a memorial to the Great Fire. This stone column is 61.5 metres high which is the exact distance from its location to the start of the fire. It’s fun to climb the 311 steps to the top and take in the view over London although you may need to queue for a while to get in.
The view had changed significantly since I last climbed the Monument as the new Walkie Talkie skyscraper now dominates the area! You can always pretend it’s not there and look out to the Thames and Tower Bridge instead. There is wire fencing all around the viewing area which can make it a little tricky to take photographs (hence no photo of the Walkie Talkie) but at least you’re safe.
Once you’ve squeezed back down the stairs you can pick up a free certificate to show you’ve climbed the Monument.
Just down the road from the Monument is Pudding Lane which, as all kids like to tell you, is where the fire started. The only reminder nowadays is a small plaque on one of the buildings which records the site as being the start of the fire. The road itself is nothing special, I think a new bakery would be a great addition.
All Hallows by the Tower
All Hallows by the Tower is the oldest church in London. It’s location next to the Tower of London means that it received plenty of beheaded bodies from the executions.
It’s also the church where Samuel Pepys climbed the tower to view the progress of the great fire. The church survived thanks to surrounding buildings being demolished to create firebreaks. It didn’t fare so well in the second world war though and in the crypt you can see lead which melted from the roof during the bombings. In the under croft you can also find an excavated Roman pavement, dating from the second century, which has got me thinking about a Roman themed trip to London.
We finished our tour with a quick trip to Borough Market. This has a tenuous link of existing at the same time as the great fire, but we only really visited for its yummy food!
The National Maritime Museum, just along the river in Greenwich, is hosting the Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution exhibition until 28 March 2016. Samuel is the diarist who famously buried a lump of cheese in his garden to protect it from the Great Fire. I doubt the cheese will be an exhibit but there are over 200 exhibits from the 1600s on display.
- The Museum of London is free although a donation is appreciated. The museum is open daily from 10am-6pm. It’s a short walk from either Barbican or St Paul’s underground stations.
- The Monument costs £4 for adults, £2 for children. The stairs are the only way to get up and the staircase is pretty narrow, as is the viewing platform. It can be a bit of a squeeze when trying to pass people. I wouldn’t personally recommend it if you have pre-school children but we did see a few being carried up.
- All Hallows by the Tower is free to enter. It’s open 7 days a week except during services. The nearest tube station is Tower Hill.