96-year-old Great Fire Experience inferno model to return to Museum of London

By Culture24 Staff | 19 February 2010
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A photo of a model of a city with flames burning in front of it on a screen

When the Museum of London opens its Galleries of Modern London in May, the £20 million development will be accompanied by the return of an equally significant favourite from almost a century ago.

The Great Fire Experience (above), a recreation of the conflagrant catastrophe which ravaged the city centre in a four-day inferno in 1666 complete with a soundtrack and lighting, has been relit for the first time in three years with a new fibre optic lighting system and visual effects.

It adds more voices to the scripted commentary and a specially commissioned video backdrop, updating JB Thorp's original design which was given to the Museum at the order of a benefactor in Autumn 1914.

Curator Meriel Jeater said the Museum was "thrilled" at the new incarnation of the oldest model in its collection, having extinguished the piece for three years during renovation works.

"It is one of our most popular and asked after exhibits, held in special affection by visitors across generations," she said.

"The model, with its flaming lighting effects and now a new video and soundtrack, is a really effective way of relaying the horror and chaos of London's most infamous disaster."

A close-up photo of a model version of an ancient city on fire

A new fibre optic lighting system and visual effects have been added to the latest incarnation of the Experience

Organisers admit the Experience led "a peripatetic existence" during the mid-20th century, shifting to Kensington Palace in 1951. It was finally installed at 4am on the day the new Museum opened in 1976, featuring a Michael Holden reading from Samuel Pepys’ diary provided by the BBC.

When it is lit on May 18, the installation will star in the War, Plague and Fire gallery, which is about to open at the Museum.

An exploration of the turbulent period between the 1558 accession of Elizabeth I and the Great Fire, the gallery will house London's earliest map, Jacobean jewels, Oliver Cromwell’s Death mask and archaeology from the blaze.

The display promises a divided metropolis, pitching Shakespeare-loving culture gluttons against unimpressed evangelical Puritans. Charles I had his head lopped off and the plague killed 7,000 Londoners a week along the way.

"This was a period of revolution in almost every sphere of human life," said Hazel Forsyth, Senior Curator of Post-Medieval London.

"Overcrowded and divided, many Londoners prospered. Others struggled to make sense of their new urban and overseas world."

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