I have not written anything for a while because I have been distracted by other things – one of those was a research trip to London into which I built a visit to the Great Fire 350 commemorations. The highlight was Artichoke’s brilliant re-enactment of the fire itself.
The model of the 1666 London skyline was worth a visit in itself.
The skyline was dominated by the model of Old St Paul’s even after it lost its spire in 1561. The structure was parked close to the Embankment near Blackfriars Bridge during the day and attracted large, admiring crowds. Later, around 17:30, the 400 foot long model was floated into the middle of the river – another experience worth watching.
I arrived extremely early for the 20:30 event and, inevitably, spent some of the waiting time reflecting on how familiar the skyline is likely to have been to Thomas Bowrey when he was young. The fire happened just a few years before he departed for India. Although it is likely that he lived in the Wapping area, he would have seen the fire and experienced the aftermath as thousands of refugees fled the City. One of the markets set up by Charles II following the fire was just along the road at Ratcliffe Highway.
One of the most notable things was we stood on the Embankment watching the 2016 re-enactment was the heat from the fire. How much greater must the heat have been for those experiencing the original fire 350 years before.
Watching on Sunday evening, we knew that we were safe. In Wapping in 1666, there could have been no such certainty. Between the City and Wapping stood the Tower of London, used at that time to store gunpowder and armaments. Samuel Pepys, in his diary, recorded the fears of the fire reaching the Tower -after all, he lived close by. In Wapping, they must have had the same fears. Bowrey probably remembered these fears years later when he had returned to London from the East Indies. Bowrey’s papers include an undated draft petitions to the Mayor and Alderman of the City of London raising concerns about the amount of ammunition stored at the Tower.