Posts Tagged ‘London’

It’s hard to believe that Londoners have been racing up stairs for almost 290 years, but it’s true.

In 1730, a young man took on the challenge of running up and down what at the time was one of the capital’s tallest structures.

Read on to find out more about what surely must be the earliest record of competitive stair running.

The venue: The Monument to the Great Fire of London

The Monument commemorates the Great Fire of London that happened in 1666. The renowned architect Christopher Wren (of St Paul’s Cathedral fame) worked on its design along with Robert Hooke, and construction began on it in 1671. By 1677, the 202 feet (62m) column was complete. It was positioned 202 feet from the spot where the Great Fire had begun on Pudding Lane.

Inside, a narrow spiral staircase with 311 steps led up to a viewing deck at the top. You can see the Monument in the image below (highlighted by red arrow), just east of the old London Bridge.

London in 1730

An engraving of London made in 1730. The Monument can be seen to the east of London Bridge, highlighted by the red arrow.

The Monument close up

A closer look at The Monument, taken from an engraving of the city of London made in 1710.

The Monument in 1753

The Monument in 1753.

The wager: the Baptist Head Tavern, Old Bailey

On Thursday, 24 September 1730, a group of men sat in the Baptist Head Tavern, which was at the southern end of Old Bailey, the road most famously known for featuring London’s central criminal court among its buildings.

A small excerpt in the following Saturday’s (26th September) copy of J. Read’s Weekly Journal gives all the information we have about what transpired next, so some of the finer details remain unknown.

Old Bailey map Baptist Tavern

The Old Bailey (O Bayley) can be seen on this map from 1739. The arrow shows the approximate location of the Baptist Head Tavern at the southern end of the street, facing the courts.

The group made ‘a considerable wager’ among themselves, placing money on whether a barman (‘a nimble little drawer’) at the Baptist Head Tavern could run up the 311 steps of The Monument and back down again in three minutes or less.

The Monument is around a mile east of the Old Bailey, with an easy 20-minute walk getting you from one place to the other.

At The Monument, the speedy barman managed to complete the stair running challenge in just 2:32, which was deemed ‘an extraordinary performance’.

The Monument stairs

The narrow staircase inside The Monument.

Apparently on his way down the stairs he was shouting, ‘Coming, coming Sir’.

The actual copy from the Weekly Journal is reproduced below:

1730 exerpt

Although it wasn’t a ‘race’ as such (though still a race against the clock), this is now easily the earliest example of stair running for sport we’ve seen. It pre-dates the earliest proper stair race in Paris in 1903, by a massive 173 years.

Earlier this year, The Monument made good promotional use of this historic event to challenge visitors to beat the record of the ‘nimble little drawer’.

The venue tends to be fairly busy at all times of the day, so getting a clear run up and down is very unlikely. But you can enter the site every day from 9.30am for £4.50 to give it a shot. More info available on The Monument website.

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