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This Friday 2nd September 2016 marks 350 years since the Great Fire of London began, and huge exhibition and a six-day arts festival across the city mark the event that changed the capital forever.
The Great Fire of London is one of the most famous incidents in England. Back then, London was a different city, a maze of streets made up of tightly-packed wooden houses. Fires were not uncommon in the city, and at first, no-one took much notice. But the conflagration quickly spread and the fire that took hold on 2 September 1666 was devastating. It took a united effort to extinguish it.
How did it start?
Around midnight on Sunday, September 2 1666, a small fire started on Pudding Lane in central London. It is believed to have started at a bakery, owned by Thomas Farriner, King Charles II’s baker. But throughout his life, he strongly denied that his bakery was to blame and claimed that his oven had been properly cleaned out the night before. His family were trapped upstairs but managed to escape by climbing from an upstairs window to the house next door. His maid, however, did not survive. Because of an extreme drought following from the summer, the fire quickly spread to adjoining houses, which were made of wood and were built very close together. To make it worst, a strong wind from the east pushed the flames across the city.
Where did it spread to?
The fire quickly spread to the north and reached the financial district of the city. Dozens of bankers in Lombard Street rushed to gather their gold coins before they melted away as the blaze engulfed the wealthy area. The Royal Exchange was reduced to ashes by the afternoon, while houses along the Bridge and upwards towards Cheapside were all destroyed.
Many people rushed to get out of the city as quick as they could while others escaped to nearby heaths such as Hampstead.
The fire spread quickly, fanned by the east wind and fed by the tinder-dry wooden frames of the houses, which almost touched across the narrow streets. Over four days it roared its way through the City, causing chaos and devastation as residents packed their goods and fled for the river or open spaces beyond the Roman walls. Among the archaeological records of the hellish heat are the melted and scorched glassware, metalwork and bricks now on show in the Museum of London’s blockbuster exhibition, Fire! Fire! until April next year.
There are conflicting reports of the number of deaths with many people thinking there were only a few. Only six verified deaths were recorded in the aftermath of the fire but because many of the deaths of poor and middle-class people were not recorded, the death toll was thought to be much higher. Around 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches and St Paul’s Cathedral were destroyed in the fire, leaving more than 100,000 homeless. Many were forced to live in temporary fix shacks in nearby fields for up to eight years.
A Monument to the Great Fire of London was constructed in 1671 to preserve the memory of the tragic event.
Today, it’s more commonly known as the Monument and sits at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill, near the northern end of London Bridge. It stands at 202ft tall and 202ft from the spot in Puddling Lane where the Great Fire started.
What is London’s Burning?
Many of these facts are to be recalled in London’s Burning, a six-day festival of arts and ideas staged by the creative company Artichoke to mark the 350th anniversary.
Fiery sculptures and art installations will combine with talks, exhibitions, performances and more to mark 350 years since flames from Pudding Lane set the capital ablaze .Exploring the impact of the fire on London’s history, as well as its contemporary resonance, London’s Burning will be a free festival of arts and ideas from 30 August at locations across the City and the banks of the Thames.
No commemoration of the inferno that engulfed London would be complete without some flames to remind us of their destructive power. Artist Martin Firrell’s installation “Fires of London” will see the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and the fly-tower of the National Theatre illuminated with fiery projections visible from afar from dusk till 11pm every evening from Thursday 1st to Sunday 4th Sept.
The little knowm Great Fire of Southwark in 1212 was one of several that took their toll on Medieval London. Situated on the front lawn of the Tate Modern, with views across to the City and St. Pauls, Fire Garden by French fire artist Compagnie Carabosse will remember these other fires alongside the Great Fire of London with burning metal structures, cascading candles and flickering flowerpots. Amongst the flames, discover live music and intruiging goings-on at one of London's most celebrated buildings. Experience fire like never before and remember the blaze that changed London forever. From Thursday 1st - Saturday 3rd Sept 8pm-11pm.
Dominoes - Station House Opera
On Saturday 3rd September, experience the delight of watching dominoes topple over on a grand scale depicting the route the fire took together with the buildings it burned down. The domino routes will thread their way through historical and everyday parts of the City, linking areas in a symbolic as well as physical chain of cause and effect. A total of 23,000 breezeblocks will trace a 6km route through the City's streets and buildings with the help of 500 volunteers.
Bringing the London's Burning festival to a close, a vast 120m-long wooden sculpture of the 17th Century skyline will be floated onto the River Thames and burned, in a dramatic re-telling of the story of the Great Fire. Designed by American artist David Best who was inspired by the events of 1666, this hugely ambitious project is the work of many, including hundres of school children and young people from the inner London boroughs. Each has drawn their hopes for London in the future, and several of these designs be crafted into decorative panels and become part of the final sculpture..
For the full programme of events visit: