Fire! Fire! Pour on Water! my primary school days echoed to the sound of that round as we practiced over and over again for an inter-schools singing get-together. We all know about the Great Fire of London, dates and causes committed to memory…. 1666, started in Pudding Lane from a baker’s oven. When the Junior CW’s studied the fire in Year 2, we made the pilgrimage to the Monument only to discover halfway up that one child was deeply fearful of the spiral staircase and wanted to go neither up nor down. Now to mark the 350th anniversary of the Fire, the Museum of London has put on a special show.
Stepping inside Fire! is like plunging headlong into a woodcut picture. Black, white and flame red are the colours here. You start at dusk, the night before the fire, in a narrow street with some rather fine carved jetty brackets, supporting the overhanging first floors. Windows are lit for you to glimpse through, a cat mews in the background and the smell of bread wafts around. Then you turn the corner into a life size woodcut, flames are flickering from the bread oven and slowly spread, above the baker wakes, rouses his family and leaps from the first floor window. The fire has begun. How the fire spread is very neatly shown on an outsize loaf of bread, animated flames consume 436 acres destroying 13,000 houses and 87 churches in its wake.
Firefighting was a rudimentary art in 1666. We see a fearsome looking hook that would have been used to pull down thatch and buildings in an attempt to stop the fire spreading. One device is little more than an oversized syringe. It is no wonder that that the fire spread through the thatch and timber city. Technology was improved in the wake of the fire and the museum has restored one of the newfangled fire engines but it still doesn’t look hugely effective. Maybe just as well that any new buildings had to be made of stone!
Fire consumed most of things that a museum might ordinarily show you but people like Samuel Pepys wrote diaries and newspapers published eyewitness accounts. Contemporary newspaper accounts are on display along with a set of virginals. According to Pepys, one in three of the boats fleeing the conflagration was loaded with the instrument. Love a useless fact!
Such widespread destruction left a blank canvas for architects and town planners. All manner of fancy plans were put forward. Christopher Wren proposed wide streets radiating out from a central point. Existing property owners proved reluctant to the new plans and swiftly built on the existing sites leaving us with the medieval street plan. If you fancy trying your hand at town planning there is a fine map complete with moveable wooden buildings to bring out your inner Wren.
If you want to know more about the Great Fire of London and are unable to get down to London the Museum of London has launched a website with all manner of information and games …… Minecraft fire of London anybody? You can The Great Fire of London website by clicking here
FIRE!FIRE! at the MUSEUM OF LONDON
23 July 2016 – 17April 2017
Open daily 10am-6pm
Admission: Adults £8, Children £4 when bought online, family tickets are available