Museum of London reveals the archaeology behind the Great Fire of London

By Culture24 Reporter | 10 March 2016

Never before displayed archaeological artefacts will help The Museum of London convey the power of the Great Fire of London for its summer exhibition Fire! Fire!

a side by side photograph of a clump of melted metal with an x-ray next to it
Melted iron key found amongst Great Fire debris on Botolph Lane, fused into a clump with other pieces of ironwork.© Museum of London
Ahead of its major exhibition marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, the Museum of London has revealed a variety of fragile flame-scarred archaeological artefacts that show the destructive power of the inferno.

The summer exhibition, Fire! Fire!, which with its recreation of Pudding Lane and a huge moving panorama of London in flames, promises to be one of the museum’s most immersive and interactive exhibitions to date, will be mining its collection  of never see before archaeological artefacts from the epicnetre of the fire.

A once flat and terracotta ceramic roof tile found in excavations of a house on Botolph Lane that had been destroyed by the fire is blackened, melted and bent in half to reveal how temperatures must have been over 1500 degrees centigrade.

Similarly burnt padlocks and keys made from iron, found at the Monument House excavations on Botolph Lane near Pudding Lane, reveal the destructive force of a blaze which swept through the city over three days and nights in September 1666 and which effectively destroyed the medieval city that had grown chaotically within the old Roman walls.

a photo of a scorched piece of terracotta folded over on itself
Blackened and warped ceramic roof tile which should be flat and terracotta in colour has been bent in half by temperatures over 1500oC.© Museum of London
Meriel Jeater, Great Fire of London exhibition curator, said the museum’s rich collections of 17th century archaeological artefacts would help  “shed new light on the events of September 1666”.

“As one of London’s most famous historical disasters, people often assume that there is nothing new to discover about the Great Fire of London. In fact, there are still numerous unconfirmed hypotheses about how and why the fire started, as well as a number of myths that have built up over the years.”

Among the other artefacts telling the story of the fire which started in a bakery on Pudding House Lane are fascinating letters revealing the response of Londoners to the cataclycsm that enveloped them.

A letter written by “sorrowful” James Hicks on September  4 1666 informs fellow postmasters of the “great loss and sufferings” from the fire. James Hicks worked at the post office in the City which burnt down shortly after 1am on 3 September. He and his family escaped to Barnet, taking as many letters as they could.

a photo of a page of a letter in handwritten text
Letter from Robert Flatman, who witnessed the Great Fire, to his brother Thomas on 9 Sept 1666.© Museum of London
Another letter written by Robert Flatman on 9 September 1666 to his brother Thomas, a barrister who worked in the city but was out of town for the fire informs his sibling of how “your Chamber in the Temple is down, but your books are safe”, suggesting that he saved these items before Thomas’ rooms at the Temple were destroyed.

The exhibition is part of Great Fire 350, a programme of events and activities in partnership with the City of London Corporation, Barbican, Artichoke and others to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. 

  • Fire! Fire! runs from 23 July 2016 – 17 April 2017 and will be accompanied by a programme of talks and events. Tickets priced from £8 for adults and £5 for children online, family tickets are available.
For more information see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/greatfire

a photo of a burnt and corroded lump of metal with a key shape
Burnt padlocks and key found at Monument House excavations on Botolph Lane.© Museum of London
a photo of a decorated plate fragment
Bubbled and burnt plate from a cellar on Pudding Lane, two doors down from the Thomas Farriner’s bakery.© Museum of London
A photo of a melted padlock with an x-ray of the same
Burnt padlocks and key found at Monument House excavations on Botolph Lane. The x-ray reveals the detail.© Museum of London
a photo of a mass of metal hooks fused together
Melted and fused iron hooks and eyes from Pudding Lane excavations.© Museum of London
a photo of an unfinished embroidery with flower design, deer and woman symbolism
Unfinished piece of mid-17th century embroidery, reputedly saved from a house on Cheapside during the fire.© Museum of London
a painting in searing red of building and towers ans churches on fire
Oil painting of the Great Fire seen from Ludgate, c1670-1678. Originally black with dirt, the painting was restored by William Jones c1910, revealing this vivid Great Fire scene.© Museum of London
a photo of a black sooted floor tile with a blue decorative design
Singed tin-glazed floor tile from Monument House excavations on Botolph Lane.© Museum of London
a photo of a hand written letter
James Hicks’ letter informing postmasters of the fire on 4 Sept 1666. Hicks worked at the Post Office in the city which burnt down on 3 Sept 1666.© Museum of London
a photo of a map with a large area marked in red
Map showing the spread of the fire across 436 acres. 13,200 houses were burnt down and around 80-100,000 people were made homeless.© Museum of London

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