diamond geezer

 Saturday, September 03, 2016

LINE OF FIRE: 1666-2016
A walk around the edge of the Great Fire of London
Part 1:
Temple to Holborn Bridge

To commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, I've taken a walk around the edge of the area that burned. We know the fire's extent quite accurately thanks to a fantastic map named 'A Plan of the City and Liberties of London Shewing the Extent of the Dreadful Conflagration in the Year 1666', completed by John Noorthouck in 1672. What's a bit trickier is translating his map onto modern day London, although in many places the street pattern has survived pretty much unchanged. I'll therefore be walking very close to but not necessarily along the dividing line, and I'm not going to walk the southern edge along the Thames foreshore (been there, done that). Instead I'm heading from the westernmost point near Temple to the easternmost at the Tower, and dividing the journey up into three parts.

The Great Fire spread much further to the west than the east, thanks to a strong prevailing wind. By the final day it was threatening the Temple, and London's legal finest were out demolishing buildings to try to prevent the remainder of their site being destroyed. Then the wind finally dropped, ensuring that the remaining flames became easier to extinguish, and the threat to properties upstream along the Strand was also lifted. The riverside limit was around the Inner Temple Garden, approximately where Crown Pier and the Temple Avenue bus stop stand today. Of course the Victoria Embankment wasn't here at the time, that's a Victorian addition, and the river would have lapped some metres beyond the existing garden railings, to where a change in gradient can be clearly seen. And for one weekend only the fire's western limit has been marked by a particularly appropriate sight - a wooden city on a barge.

This is Watch It Burn, a floating sculpture by a Californian artist who more normally does this kind of thing at the annual Burning Man Festival. Under David Best's instruction a 120 metre-long re-creation of the 17th century city has been built, complete with gabled townhouses, church spires and a model of St Paul's. A chain of circular shields surrounds the densely-packed highly-flammable construction, which is already in position should you fancy taking a look in advance. And on Sunday evening it's going to be set alight, both for the amazement of a few people who manage to cram onto the Embankment, and for a much larger audience online. You can enjoy this wooden city's death throes live-streamed here at 8.30pm, or watch on BBC4 the following evening.

To start my walk I'm heading up Middle Temple Lane, the legal enclave's sole connection to the river, and one of the more peculiar streets in the City. A gatehouse watches over the Embankment end, closed out of hours, before the lane rises gently into the Inns of Court with legal quarters to either side. Behind each doorway the problems of the world are being untangled, at a price. Few tourists wander this far into the warren of courtyards and alleys, although many come to see (and enter) the Temple Church, built by the Knights Templar in 1185 and made especially famous by The Da Vinci Code. It's one of a very small number of existing buildings in the City to predate the Great Fire, although it was heavily firebombed in the Blitz so the interior's not what it was.

Take the alleyway past the circular nave and another Fire survivor can be found immediately above the exit into Fleet Street. This is Prince Henry's Room, known to Samuel Pepys as the Fountain Tavern, and originally dating back to 1610. The half-timbered frontage juts appealingly above the pavement, behind which is a Jacobean plaster ceiling with a Prince of Wales design, although you now have to be on the City of London's guestlist to see it as public access terminated several years ago. More specifically the Great Fire was halted three doors down from St Dunstan-in-the-West, thanks to serious waterbucket action from the Dean of Westminster, although the current church on this site is a Victorian replacement.

Fetter Lane marks the continuation of the boundary, the fire consuming all the buildings as far as about halfway up. The road may be medieval although the modern view is anything but, with various bland office blocks curving around the bend, one resembling a giant waffle, another an advent calendar in concrete. A statue of John Wilkes marks the point where New Fetter Lane breaks off, this now the more important thoroughfare (and the start/finish of the A4 to boot). Everything to the right was lost in 1666, and has been lost again much more recently with the creation of New Street Square. This major office development wiped away the previous street pattern and has replaced it with a work'n'retail buzz surrounding an anonymous part-private piazza, where office workers slip out to buy lunchtime burritos, security guards watch over the vandalproof benches and bonuses are cemented on the bistro terrace. I'm no fan, if you hadn't guessed.

And there's a lot more of this kind of stuff going up all around, which unless you're a builder or a shareholder makes for a somewhat unexciting stroll. Deloitte dug in a few years back with a consultancy fortress, further identikit stacks stand opposite, while on the far side of Shoe Lane a vast tract of demolished land has risen again, thus far only to liftshaft height. The edge of the Great Fire's destruction passes diagonally across Goldman Sachs' future office development, whereas what's now Holborn Circus and all points northwest survived the blaze. Here St Andrew's Church was only a couple of hours from burning down before the wind turned, but the medieval structure was so ancient that Christopher Wren rebuilt it anyway, and it's his Baroque replacement we see today.

We've reached the River Fleet, which city elders in 1666 hoped would provide a natural firebreak, but on the third day of the blaze they were proved wrong. More precisely we've reached the site of Holborn Bridge, then the main crossing point hereabouts, an annoyingly narrow span with hills rising to either side which horse-drawn traffic found quite challenging. Two centuries later Holborn Viaduct would span the valley, incontrovertibly London's first flyover, its gradient-free passage much easier for motorless vehicles to cross. Christopher Wren's post-Fire plans had been to widen the river to the south of this point, taking advantage of the overnight disappearance of the slums to either side. Instead a more Venetian-style channel called the New Canal was created, although failed to find favour with Londoners and over the next 100 years a street market and then a major roadway were overlaid on top. [today's 8 photos]

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this month?
28 Jan – 23 Apr (10am-4.30pm)
Sussex Modernism
The sixth annual exhibition at Two Temple Place focuses on radical art/writing in Sussex, and is damned excellent.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Feb17  Jan17
Dec16 Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards