An old laboratory space beneath The Monument could soon open to the public, reports the Evening Standard. The subterranean room was used by the column's architects — Robert Hooke and Christopher Wren — as a laboratory.
The chamber has been off limits for decades — only glimpsed through a grille beneath the baggage rack.
The £1.5 million revamp would finally allow access to the chamber, so intimately associated with two of the greatest minds of the early Enlightenment.
The work would also see construction of a visitor centre, which would explain the history of the Great Fire and its towering monument. According to the Standard, the proposals would allow an increase in capacity, but also raise the entrance fee by a whopping 75%. Is it worth it? Yes.
What's it like down there?
We've had a look in Hooke's laboratory. The entrance is behind a tiny hatch, just on the right as you go into the Monument. Such is the stoop required that we suspect the entrance will be the first thing on the list of alterations to allow public access.
A narrow twist of steps leads down one floor to the laboratory. This room is no wider than the entrance space to the column above. It is unremarkable in itself. But look upwards and you see something different.
Hooke and Wren designed the Monument not only to commemorate the Great Fire, but also with a practical purpose: as London's largest scientific instrument.
The centre of the column has been left hollow, with the staircase winding around the void. If you stand at the bottom — in Hooke's laboratory — and gaze upwards, you get this view:
This long, straight tube could be used to study stars passing overhead — an instrument known as a zenith telescope. The Monument was also employed for experiments with pendulums, and other investigations into gravity. It wasn't particularly successful. Nearby Fish Street Hill and the approach to London Bridge were among the busiest roads in London at the time, and the vibrations made for less-than-ideal conditions.
So why should we care?
It might not have changed the world, but this tiny laboratory deserves to be seen by the public. London has so few spaces devoted to the scientific revolution of the 17th century, when men like Hooke, Newton and other members of the Royal Society started digging deep into the mechanisms of nature. It is a London story through and through, and the Monument is a visible reminder of its legacy.
Christopher Wren has St Paul's Cathedral as his memorial. Robert Hooke still lacks a cultural shrine in London, despite huge interest in his work over the past few decades. The Monument, and the secret chamber beneath, can become Hooke's great hook.