Published on September 2nd, 2016 | by Michelle Roper-Shaw
With parks and trees tinder-dry after weeks of sweltering weather, Londoners may be horrified to see flames flickering in the heart of the city this weekend, reflected in the Thames and apparently licking at the dome of St Paul’s. But the flames are the creations of artists, celebrating the 350th anniversary of the most devastating fire in the capital’s history.
The Great Fire began in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane in the small hours of 2nd September 1666 which continued until 5th September. It destroyed more and 13,000 houses and 87 churches in total.
Graphic Depiction of the Great Fire in this New Set of Stamps
A set of Special Stamps have been released today to commemorate the 350th anniversary since this devastating event occurred. The stamps are designed by comic book artist John Higgins who has worked on titles such as Judge Dredd and 2000 AD.
They have a graphic novel style illustration which is accompanied by a brief but informative caption that also feature scenes from the start, spread and aftermath of the Great Fire, using a street map design throughout the middle of them.
The Great Fire of 1666
Although fire was a common hazard in medieval cities, the Great Fire of 1666 did more damage than any since Boudicca torched the Roman city, and would not be rivalled until the Blitz.
After an exceptionally dry spell of weather, it rampaged across the city for three days, leaping between the overhanging eaves of wooden houses. When the wind that had been fanning the flames finally dropped and rain fell, more than 13,000 houses had either been burnt or pulled down as firebreaks, 86 of the city’s 108 churches and scores of the beautiful medieval guildhalls were in ashes or tottering ruins, and up to 80,000 people were homeless. Many of the poor would still be homeless years later.
Only a handful of people are known to have died in the fire – perhaps as few as six, including the unfortunate servant in the bakery who was too frightened to climb from an upstairs window. That toll and the tens of thousands made homeless, and tallies for other historical and contemporary events, will be measured out in grains of rice in an installation in Middle Temple in one of many commemorative events happening in London.
London’s Burning Festival
The biggest commemoration of this momentous event is the London’s Burning festival*, commissioned by the arts charity Artichoke. It will include an audacious amount of meticulously planned and scrupulously monitored real flames, including a fire garden created by the French company Carabosse that will light up the lawn outside Tate Modern from dusk each evening until Sunday.
The most spectacular conflagration will be on Sunday night when a 120ft (37-metre) floating sculpture of a street of 17th-century wooden houses, designed by the US artist David Best and built on to barges by hundreds of schoolchildren and unemployed young people, will be torched.
The fire will be started at 8.30pm on Sunday on the Thames between Blackfriars and Waterloo bridges. Thousands of people are expected to gather to watch from the safety of the South Bank.
A six-hour underwater performance piece by the US-based Early Morning Opera will offer a reminder that rising sea levels and flooding are now a greater threat than fire.
Daylight events include a giant version of a domino topple on Saturday, with 23,000 breeze blocks tracing the course of the fire through 3.5 miles of the city.
There will also be a series of special programmes on BBC Radio 4, and tours and events at various sites in the capital, including many City pubs and the the Museum of London – which has an exhibition on the fire.
At the Monument, the actor Simon Callow will read from Dryden’s poem lamenting the disaster. The Monument, designed to stand as tall as the distance between it and the ill-fated bakery, is one of the most visible reminders of how the fire changed the face of the city forever.
*The London’s Burning festival is running from the 30 August to 4 September. You can find out more information about the festival by going to the Visit London website.