The year is 1666 and Central London is inadvertently set on fire, burning uncontrollably for 4 days igniting and destroying everything in its path, including the beloved St Paul’s Cathedral. 350 years later, 2016 marks the anniversary of the 1666 Great Fire of London and in light of this, I had the chance to relive the infamous conflagration at the Museum of London Fire! Fire! Exhibition.
Upon entry, a theatrical setting is kindled. A gloomy, narrow walkway recreates the environment of the confining streets of Old London, specifically Pudding Lane where the fire started. Illuminated on the wall reconstructs the moment Thomas Farriner, oblivious to a buildup of fire, awakens to flee his now burning bakery with his family.
Rare exhibits from the fire are in the form of documents, memoirs, books, quotes on the wall and letters. Whilst these are meaningful, for me the preserved archaeology from the fire is what gives the exhibition its spark. Remnants of padlocks, keys and door locks burnt beyond recognition were all on showcase, albeit in protective glass, it gave me a sense of how extremely intense the fire must have been. To be able to physical visualize this was literally untouchable. Also, it was intriguing to see how unsophisticated the technique of firefighting was back in the 17th century compared with the ‘excuse me, coming through’ well-equipped fire trucks of today. How times have changed!
Making sure I walked through the entire physical space of the exhibition, the extent of the inferno is evident towards the end, where voices make known personal consequences of the fire, each claiming ‘his loss was the greatest’. Around 100,000 homes were destroyed. A makeshift tent constructed demonstrates what the homeless had to contend with. Seeing this visually brings their story to life.
Immersive, interactive and with genuine objects of interest on show the exhibition magnifies the realities from the Great fire of London. The fire was not inevitable but events like these make us learn more not less and one thing is for certain, London continues to endure and thrive today.
Written by Camron Intern Samuel Kolawole
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