I am reminded, or informed, that this month marked the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Great Fire of London, which torched the city on the fifth of September 1666. The Great Fire is believed to have been started at Thomas Farriner’s Bakery on Pudding Lane shortly after midnight on Sunday, September 2nd. and to have spread rapidly.
“It begun this morning in the King’s baker’s’ house in Pudding-lane.”
So poor Mr. Farriner shares unwanted infame with a certain Chicago bovine. The major firefighting technique of the day was to demolish buildings and create fire breaks. However, this was delayed by the indecisiveness of the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth. Just as today, blame seems to have been important in the seventeenth century. The fire gutted the entire medieval City of London that is inside the old Roman city wall. It did not successfully reach the wealthy district of Westminster, Charles II’s Palace of Whitehall, and also spared most of the suburban slums. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, including St Paul’s Cathedral. Rumors quickly spread that the fire was set by suspicious foreigners, particularly homeless French and Dutch, who were England’s traditional enemies at the time. There were public lynchings and street violence. Hmm, blaming immigrants – glad we’ve put that behind us.
What does all this have to do with photography? Certainly it was not yet invented; so we lack photographs of the event. What has turned my mind to this is a wonderful photograph taken by 120-meter long model of London’s 17th-century skyline ablaze during a commemoration of the Great Fire.
“Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the
City. So I rose and slipped on my nightgowne, and went to her window…but, being
unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again
and back to sleep.”