Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Country House, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Museum, Review, Theatre History

Wallace Collection, London: ‘Joshua Reynolds: Experiments In Paint’ Exhibition

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A room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts.” Joshua Reynolds (1784)

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  • Engraving from 1873 featuring Joshua Reynolds.

It was a pleasure to receive an invitation to an exclusive Bloggers event at the Wallace Collection, London last Friday. This is the first event of its type organised by the museum and it was a great success. The occasion marked the opening of their new exhibition, ‘Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint’, a free exhibition that continues until 7th June 2015.

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©Come Step Back In Time

The exhibition explores Joshua Reynolds’s (1723-1792) painting techniques, pictorial compositions and narratives through the display of twenty paintings, archival sources and x-ray images. Paintings Conservator for The Wallace Collection Reynolds Research Project, Alexandra Gent, gave us a comprehensive and fascinating insight into some of the surprise discoveries encountered whilst working on the collection’s Reynolds paintings over the last four years. There are twenty paintings on display in the exhibition, twelve of which are from The Wallace Collection, others are on loan from collections elsewhere in the UK, Europe and the USA.

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With support from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, TEFAF, the Hertford House Trust, various private donors, and Trusts and drawing on the research expertise of the National Gallery in London and the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, the exhibition spans most of Reynolds’s career and includes portraits, ‘fancy’ pictures (young children in a variety of guises) and history painting.

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©Come Step Back In Time

The exhibition has been curated by Dr Lucy Davis, Curator of Old Master Pictures at the Wallace Collection, Professor Mark Hallett, Director of Studies in British Art at the Paul Mellon Centre and Alexandra Gent. Ms Gent explains why this research project has been so fascinating as well as challenging:

One of the things about Reynolds, and the reason it was started as a research project, is that his painting technique is quite notorious amongst conservators as being tricky to deal with….So to have a really good understanding of the way the paintings had been made and constructed and what materials had been used was really important to make informed decisions about which paintings to treat. The paintings as a group hadn’t been restored for a very long time, a few of them had had minor treatments but none of them had really been cleaned since they’d entered the Wallace Collection in the mid-19th century.

Although Reynolds is notorious for using wax, we only found wax in small amounts on paintings. The Portrait of Miss Jane Bowles appears to have a varnish layer on it that is made from wax, and we think that this is original and really interesting to see Reynolds use as a varnish layer.

It’s been a real privilege to work on these paintings, they’re a really wonderful group of paintings by Reynolds.

(‘New Perspectives on Joshua Reynolds’ by Lorna Davies, The Portman, Spring, 2015, pp.18-19)

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©Come Step Back In Time

In 1755, Reynolds had a hundred and twenty sitters, in 1758 he had a hundred and fifty sitters. He charged some of the highest prices by any painter working in London at that time but still the commissions kept on coming. In 1760, he earned between £6,000 and £10,000 per annum, working seven days a week, eight hours a day. (Source: The 17th and 18th Centuries Dictionary of World Biography Vol.4, edited by Frank N. Magill, 2013, p.1161)

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Mrs Abington as Miss Prue from William Congreve’s ‘Love For Love’ (c.1771-1772) Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

Reynolds often produced multiple versions of his paintings, worked over a length of time, sometimes four years. It was not unusual for him to work on two similar pictures side-by-side. He also encouraged his subjects to perform roles that would reveal an aspect of their personality, actresses he depicted in character such as Mrs Abington as Miss Prue, (c.1771-1772). Mrs Frances Abington (1737-1815) with her coquettish gaze as Miss Prue, the silly, awkward country girl from William Congreve’s (1670-1729) comedy Love For Love (1695).

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  • Engraving depicting Mrs Frances Abington c.1785. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images)

X-ray Image And Infrared Reflectography Use In Painting Conservation

X-ray image: X-rays can penetrate through most parts of a painting but denser materials, such as lead containing pigments and iron tacks, obstruct them. An X-ray image records the areas where the X-rays have been obstructed and these areas appear lighter. These images are useful for revealing paint losses and changes to a painting. However, they can be difficult to interpret because they show all the layers of the painting superimposed.

Infrared reflectography: an imaging method used to ‘see through’ paint layers that are opaque to the human eye. Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with longer wavelengths than those of visible light. Infrared radiation passes through the paint until it either reaches something that absorbs it or is reflected back to the camera. An infrared image can often reveal under-drawing.

Mrs Mary Robinson (1783-1784). Oil on canvas. The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Mrs Mary Robinson (1783-1784). Oil on canvas. The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

Curation of ‘Experiments in Paint’ is excellent. Reynolds’s portraits are accompanied with detailed background to both painting and sitter. Those works on display that have been subjected to detailed conservation analysis are of particular interest.

Alexandra Gent explains conservation on The Strawberry Girl. ©Come Step Back In Time
Alexandra Gent explains conservation on The Strawberry Girl (1772-1773). ©Come Step Back In Time

For example, an X-ray of Reynolds’s slightly unnerving, The Strawberry Girl (1772-1773), revealed that it resembled the version of The Strawberry Girl reproduced in Thomas Watson’s 1774 mezzotint. Reynolds had reworked the figure, lowering the shoulders, painting a fringe of brown hair and developing a more oriental style of turban.

Infrared reflectography of the Wallace Collection’s version of The Strawberry Girl  also revealed under-drawing around the hands and in the folds of the drapery. The use of such under-drawing may indicate that the composition of this painting was transferred from an earlier version of The Strawberry Girl.

An X-ray of Mrs Abington as Miss Prue showed that Reynolds had originally intended her to wear a simple bonnet that would have been more in keeping with her role as Congreve’s Miss Prue. Instead the final painting showed her sporting an updo hairstyle fashionable at the time.

Lady Elizabeth Seymour-Conway (1781). Oil on canvas. The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Lady Elizabeth Seymour-Conway (1781). Oil on canvas. The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

An X-ray of Lady Elizabeth Seymour-Conway (1754-1825) painted in 1781, revealed that Reynolds updated the sitter’s hairstyle just before the painting left the studio making it look much fuller, as was popular at the time of the work’s completion. The original hairstyle had been smoother and the curls at the neck are higher, similar to those adopted by the fashionable Waldegrave sisters painted by Reynolds between 1780 and 1781.

According to Alexandra Gent, Reynolds used five different sizes of canvas available to the Georgian painter: head; three-quarter length; half-length; full length and Bishop’s half-length (large enough to fit in his mitre!). A popular pose for Georgian sitters was ‘penseroso’, resting with chin in the hand, signalling to the viewer that the subject was refined and contemplative.

Mrs Jane Braddyll (1788) in 'penseroso' pose. ©Come Step Back In Time
Mrs Jane Braddyll (1788) in ‘penseroso’ pose. Oil on oak panel. Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

Even a faded picture from Reynolds will be the finest thing you have.” Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827)

Events & Further Information

There is an extensive programme of educational and cultural events taking place at The Wallace Collection to compliment this new exhibition:

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  • 1748, Sir Joshua Reynolds at his easel working on a portrait. He was elected the first President of the Royal Academy in 1768 and knighted in 1769. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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  • Manchester House, on the north side of Manchester Square, Marylebone, London, 1807. (Photo by Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

  • Fashion Designer, Vivienne Westwood, explaining why she is inspired by The Wallace Collection. Uploaded to You Tube 1.10.2009.

The Wallace Collection – Main Museum

The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
The Wallace Collection, Manchester House, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

I first discovered The Wallace Collection, by chance, in 2005 whilst working in Portman Square as a corporate researcher. In order to escape the caged existence of my office and reawaken my senses, I regularly took long walks, exploring the surrounding area. There is so much to see, all just a stone’s throw from the craziness of Oxford Street. Attractive squares and stunning architecture as well as more blue plaques than you can shake a stick at!

The grand, main staircase inside The Wallace Collection, 2015.  ©Come Step Back In Time
The grand, main staircase inside The Wallace Collection, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

When I visited the Wallace Collection for the first time, I remember being completely awestruck by the magnificent interior and extensive collection of French eighteenth century painting, furniture and porcelain. The good news is that in the last ten years admission charges have remained the same, absolutely FREE.

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©Come Step Back In Time

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  • View of the north side of Manchester Square, Marylebone, London, 1813. Manchester House is on the left. (Photo by Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
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©Come Step Back In Time
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©Come Step Back In Time

The Wallace Collection is housed in Manchester House, a fine example of Georgian architecture built between 1776 and 1788 for the 4th Duke of Manchester (1737-1788). The original shell of the building was built by Samuel Adams in 1771. It wasn’t until the 4th Duke brought the leasehold in 1788 that substantial structural alterations were made by the architect Joshua Brown.

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©Come Step Back In Time
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©Come Step Back In Time

A few key dates in the history of Manchester House:

  • 1791-95 – house let as the Spanish Embassy;
  • 1797 – 2nd Marquess of Hertford (1743-1822) acquires the house’s lease;
  • 1836-51 – house let as the French Embassy;
  • 1800-1870 – 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800-1870) uses the house to store his private art collection;
  • 1871 – the 4th Marquess’ illegitimate son, Richard (1818-1890), moves back to London from Paris and brings with him a large portion of his private art collection;
  • 1897 – Lady Wallace bequeaths the collection to the British Nation. Lady Wallace (Amélie-Julie-Charlotte Castelnau (1819-97)), married Richard in 1871, she had been his mistress for many years. Upon his death in 1890 he bequeathed to her all his property;
  • the house opens to the public as a Museum on 22nd June, 1900 (closing during both World Wars);
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©Come Step Back In Time

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  • Photographing at the Wallace Collection, London, 1908-1909. From Penrose’s Pictorial Annual 1908-1909, An Illustrated Review of the Graphic Arts, volume 14, edited by William Gamble and published by AW Penrose (London, 1908-1909). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
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The Wallace Collection is one of the most significant collections of European fine and decorative arts in the world and the greatest bequest of art ever left to the British Nation. The collection encompasses old master oil paintings from the fourteenth to the late nineteenth century including works by Titian, Velazquez, Rubens and Van Dyck, princely arms and armour, and one of the finest collections of French eighteenth century art in all media.

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©Come Step Back In Time

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  • The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, London, 1926-1927. Illustration from Wonderful London, edited by Arthur St John Adcock, Volume I, published by Amalgamated Press, (London, 1926-1927). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
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Magnificent collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century snuff boxes in The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Magnificent collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century snuff boxes in The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

The Curious Will of Mrs Margaret Thompson (1777) – The Joy of Snuff!

“Scotch snuff is the grand cordial of human nature”.

Recently, a member of my family passed on to me a copy of Chalfont St Peter Parish Magazine (February, 2015) which included a reproduction of one of the most interesting and amusing examples of an eighteenth Will that I have ever come across. The Will belonged to Mrs Margaret Thompson who died on 2nd April, 1777, at her house in Boyle Street, Burlington Gardens, Mayfair, London.

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©Come Step Back In Time

The Will was discovered in one of the old registers at St. James’s Church, Piccadilly. However, there is no record of the burial of Mrs Thompson in the Burial Register of St. James’s, for April, 1777. Upon arrival at the Wallace Collection last Friday, I made straight for their superb collection of eighteenth century snuff boxes. Mrs Thompson was clearly a lady who adored to indulge in the then fashionable trend of snuff-taking!

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  • ‘The French Fireside’, eighteenth century, a young lady indulging in some recreational snuff-taking. From The Connoisseur magazine (February 1905). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
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©Come Step Back In Time

Mrs Margaret Thompson’s will (1777):

I Margaret Thompson, etc, being of a sound mind, etc, do desire that when my soul is departed from this wicked world, my body and effects may be disposed of in the manner following, etc.

I also desire that all my handkerchiefs that I may have unwashed at the time of my decease, after they have been got together by my old and trust servant, Sarah Stewart, may be put by her, and her along, at the bottom of my coffin, which I desire may be made large enough for that purpose, together with such a quantity of the best Scotch snuff (in which she knoweth I always had the greatest delight) as will cover my deceased body; and this I desire, and more especially as it is usual to put flowers into the coffin of departed friends, and nothing can be so pleasant and refreshing to me, as that precious powder; but I strictly charge that no one be suffered to approach my body till the coffin is closed, and it necessary to carry me to my burial, which I order in the following manner:

Six men to be my bearers, who are well known to be great snuff-takers in the Parish of St James’s, Westminster; and instead of mourning, each to wear a snuff-coloured beaver, which I desire to be brought for that purpose, and given to them; Six Maidens of my old acquaintance to bear my pall, each to wear a proper hood, and to carry a box filled with the best Scotch snuff, to take for their refreshment as they go along. Before my corpse I desire that the minister may be invited to walk, and to take a certain quantity of snuff, not exceeding one pound, to whom also I bequeath five guineas on condition of his doing so. And I also desire my old and faithful servant, Sarah Stewart, to walk before the corpse to distribute every twenty yards a large handful of Scott snuff on the ground, and to the crowd who possibly may follow me to the burial place – on condition I bequeath her Twenty Pounds. And I also desire that at least two bushels of the said snuff may be distributed at the door of my house in Boyle Street.

I desire, also, that my funeral shall be at twelve o’clock at noon. And in addition to the various legacies I have left my friends in a former will, I desire that to each person there shall be given a pound of the best Scotch snuff, as it is the grand cordial of human nature.

In the eighteenth century, snuff was a tobacco product favoured by the upper classes, snorted directly from the back of the hand into the nostrils. Smoking pipes containing tobacco was associated with the lower and working classes. Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) earned the nickname ‘Snuffy Charlotte’ on account of her love of the brown stuff. She had an entire room at Windsor Castle devoted to her substantial stock of snuff.

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©Come Step Back In Time

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) is purported to have enjoyed taking snuff so much that she had fifty-two gold snuff boxes in her wedding basket. Joshua Reynolds also indulged in large amounts of snuff, on a regular basis, according to fellow artist Joseph Farington (1747-1821):

January 16th, 1796: Steevens speaking of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ habit of taking snuff in great quantities, said, he not only carried a double box, with two sorts of snuff in it, but regaled himself out of every box that appeared at the table where he sat; and did his neighbour happen to have one, he absolutely fed upon him. When I expected to meet Sir Joshua in company added he always carried an additional allowance.

(The Farington Diary: July 13th, 1793 to August 24th, 1802, Volume 1 by Joseph Farington, p. 184)

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  • Part of Shenstone’s poem, The Snuff Box, 1735, (1840). Facsimile of part of The Snuff Box. Illustration from Historical and Literary Curiosities consisting of Facsimilies of Original Documents, by Charles John Smith, (Henry G Bohn, London, 1840). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
A sneaky self-portrait in The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
A sneaky self-portrait in The Wallace Collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Posted in History, Literature, TV Programme

Samuel Pepys &The Great Fire Of London 1666

Map of London in 1660s showing the districts west of Whitefriars. Illustration by Ernest H. Shepard (1926). From my copy of Everybody's Pepys: The Diary of Samuel Pepys 1660-1669 (1935). On the right of the map I have outlined in red where The Great Fire of London encroached into the Whitefriars district.
Map of London as it would have been prior to the Great Fire.  It shows the districts west of Whitefriars. Illustration by Ernest H. Shepard (1926), from Everybody’s Pepys: The Diary of Samuel Pepys 1660-1669 (1935). On the right of the map I have outlined in red where the Great Fire encroached upon the Whitefriars district.
Map shows the district east of Whitefriars. I have outlined in red the extent to which the fire spread in this district. Illustration by Ernest H. Shepard (1926), from Everybody's Pepys: The Diary of Samuel Pepys 1660-1669 (1935).
Map shows the district east of Whitefriars. I have outlined in red the extent to which the fire spread in this district. Illustration by Ernest H. Shepard (1926), from Everybody’s Pepys: The Diary of Samuel Pepys 1660-1669 (1935).

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  • Vintage engraving of London, England, before the Great Fire. From the Tower of St Mary Overies, Southwark, 1649.

  • A stunning 3D graphical representation of London before The Great Fire. Created by six students from De Montfort University taking part in the Crytek Off the Map project. Uploaded on You Tube, 8.5.2013.

On the second instant, at one of the clock in the morning, there hapned to break out, a sad in deplorable Fire in Pudding-Lane, neer New Fish-Street, which falling out at that hour of the night, and in a quarter of the Town so close built with wooden Pitched houses Spread itself so far before day, and with such distraction to the inhabitants and Neighbours, that care was not taken for the timely preventing the further diffusion of it, by pulling down houses, as ought to have been; so that the lamentable Fire in a short time became too big to be mastered by any Engines or working neer it. It fell out most unhappily too, that a violent Easterly wind formented it, and kept it burning all that day, and the night following spreading itself up to Grace-Church-Street and downwards from Cannon-Street to the Water-side, as far as the Three Cranes in the Vintrey….

Illustration from 'Everybody's Pepys: The Diary of Samuel Pepys 1660-1669' Abridged by O. F. Morshead. (1935). Illustration is by Ernest H. Shepard.
Illustration from Everybody’s Pepys: The Diary of Samuel Pepys 1660-1669 Abridged by O. F. Morshead. (1935). Illustration is by Ernest H. Shepard.

By the favour of God the Wind slackened a little on Teusday night and the flames meeting with brick buildings at the Temple by little and little it was observed to lose its force on that side,..On Thursday by the blessing of God it was wholly beat down and extinguished. But so as that Evening it unhappily burst out again a fresh at the Temple, by the falling of some sparks upon a Pile of Wooden buildings; but his Royal Highness who watched there that whole night in person by the great labours and diligence used, and especially by applying Powder to blow-up the Houses about it, before day most happily mastered it.

(Above extracts are from The London Gazette – Monday 3rd September – Monday 10th September, 1666, Whitehall, 8th September, 1666)

Why Did The Great Fire Of London Happen?

The Great Fire of London began at approximately 1am on Sunday 2nd September, 1666.  That summer had been exceptionally dry and London was in the midst of a drought. Buildings, made of timber covered in pitch and tightly packed together, had dried out in the heat. In effect, by Sunday 2nd September, London was a giant tinder-box, vulnerable to even the smallest source of ignition.

…old paper buildings and the most combustible matter of Tarr, Pitch, Hemp, Rosen, and Flax which was all layd up thereabouts.

(An unknown correspondent writing to Lord Conway, September, 1666, describing the buildings along the wharves of London)

  • Introduction to Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.

  •  Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop one. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.

Sunday 2nd September, 1666

The fire started at the bakery of Thomas Farriner (Farynor) on Pudding Lane and one of the fire’s first victims was Farriner’s maid. The fire spread down Fish Street Hill towards London Bridge, destroying St. Magnus’ (The Martyr) church. It spread onto London Bridge, along the Thames to the Steelyard. In the City, forty-four company halls, including Fishmongers’ Hall, burned down and St. Margaret Fish Street Hill is completely destroyed. At 4am, Lord Mayor, Thomas Bludworth (1620-1682), comes to look at the fire and declares: ‘A woman might piss it out’

By 9am, fire had spread around the City, inhabitants desperately tried to save their belongings, removing them to north of the City. It is around this time, rumours begin that London is under either French or Dutch attack.

In 1666, Britain was at war with the Dutch. The Second Anglo-Dutch War began on 4th March 1665 and didn’t end until 31st July 1667. As fire raged in the City, inter-racial tensions, particularly towards Dutch citizens and Catholics, reached dangerous levels. On 4th September, there was even an attempt to assassinate the Portuguese ambassador. Violence street crime was endemic and lynch mobs combed the City hunting for suspicious foreigners to ‘weed out’.

By midday, fire had spread north above Thames Street and Merchant Taylors’ Grammar school is burned to the ground. The King, Charles II (1630-1685), appears with his brother, James, Duke of York at 3pm on the royal barge to observe the fire.

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  • Diarist Samuel Pepys. Painted 8th August, 1646.

Diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), who lived in London when the Great Fire broke out, wrote a detailed eye witness account of the event. His diaries are important historical documents that provides us with a fascinating insight into what happened during those fateful four days in September, 1666.

The diary, in multiple volumes, was intended for his own personal use only and not publication. This comes as no surprise when you read some of the more racier entries which detail his lust for the ladies.  Pepys wrote the diaries using a form of shorthand, popular at the time, called Tachygraphy. The text was not transcribed until the early nineteenth century. In 2014, much of his diary reads like a Twitter timeline, shortened sentences, jam-packed full of happenings.

Diary entry by Samuel Pepys for Sunday 2nd, September, 1666

(Lord’s Day) Some of our mayds sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast today, Jane called us up about three in the morning to tell us of a great fire they say in the City. So I rose and slipped on my night-gowne and went to her window, and thought it to be on the back-side of Marke-lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep.

About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window and saw the fire not so much as it was, and further off. So to my closett to set things to rights after yesterday’s cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge.

So I made myself ready presently and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson’s little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at the end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge. So with my heart full of trouble, I down to the water-side and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire.

Poor Michell’s house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from pair of stairs by the water-side to another.  And among other things the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loath to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down.

Having staid, and in an hour’s time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods and leave all to the fire; and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the City, and every thing after so long a drought proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, I to White Hall and there up to the King’s closet in the Chappell, where people come about me and I did give them an account dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King.

So I was called for and did tell the King and Duke of Yorke what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him that if he would have any more soldiers he shall.

Here meeting with Captain Cocke, I in his coach which he lent me, and Creed with me to Paul’s, and there walked along Watling Street as well as I could, every creature coming away loaded with goods to save, and here and there sicke people carried away in beds. Extraordinary good goods carried in carts and on backs. At last met my Lord Mayor in Canning-Street like a man spent, with a handkercher about his neck. 

To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman, “Lord! What can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it,”  That he needed no more soldiers; and that, for himself, he must go and refresh himself, having been up all night. So he left me, and I him, and walked home, seeing people all almost distracted; and no manner of means used to quench the fire.

  • The Great Fire of London 1666. Painting. Dutch School. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)

The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tarr, in Thames-street; and warehouses of oyle, and wines, and brandy and other things. I saw Mr Isaake Houblon, the handsome man, prettily dressed and dirty, at his door at Dowgate receiving some of his brothers’ things, whose houses were on fire; and, as he says have been removed twice already, and he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in little time removed from his house also, which was a sad consideration. And to see the churches all filling with goods by people who themselves should have been quietly there at this time. By this time it was about twelve o’clock; and so home, and soon as dined, away and walked through the City, the streets full of nothing but people and horses and carts loaden with goods.

They now removing out of Canning-streete (which received goods in the morning) into Lumbard-streete, and further.  Met with the King and Duke of York in their barge, and with them to Queenhithe, and there called Sir Richard Browne to them.  Their order was only to pull down houses space; and so below bridge at the water-side, but little was or could be done, the fire coming upon them so fast. River full of lighters and boats taking in goods, and good goods swimming in the water, and only I observed that hardly one lighter or boat in three that had the goods of a house in, but there was a pair of Virginalls in it.

  • Charles II (1630 -1685).

Having seen as much as I could now, I away to White Hall by appointment, and there walked to St. James’s Parke, and there met my wife and Creed, and walked to my boat; and there upon the water again, and to the fire up and down, it still increasing, and the wind great. So near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one’s face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of fire-drops. This is very true; so as houses were burned by these drops and flakes of fire, three or four, nay, five or six houses, one from another.

When we could endure no more upon the water, we to a little ale-house on the Bankside, over against the Three Cranes, and there staid till it was dark almost, and saw the fire grow; and, as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire.

We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it. The churches, houses and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruine. So home with a sad heart, and there find poor Tom Hater come with some few of his goods saved out of his house, which is burned. I invited him to lie at my house and did receive his goods, but was deceived in his lying there, the newes coming every moment of the growth of the fire; so as we were forced to begin to pack up our owne goods and prepare for their removal; and did by moonshine (it being brave dry and moonshine and warm weather) carry much of my goods into the garden, and Mr Hater and I did remove my money and iron chests into my cellar, as thinking that the safest place.

And got my bags of gold into my office ready to carry away, and my chief papers of accounts also there, and my tallys into a box by themselves. So great was our fear, as Sir W. Batten hath carts come out of the country to fetch away his goods this night. We did put Mr Hater, poor man, to bed a little; but he got but very little rest, so much noise being in my house taking down of goods.

  • Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop two. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.

  • Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop three. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.

Monday 3rd September, 1666

Just after midnight, the post office on Cloak Lane burns down. Before dawn, fire reaches the eastern end of Cannon Street. Thames Street is next, followed by Cutlers’ Hall in Cloak Lane. By 10am, it reaches Queenhithe, then Lombard Street and Gracechurch Street.

The commercial districts are threatened when fire reaches Cornhill and the Royal Exchange. In order to stop the fire in its tracks and create a break, buildings on the south side of Cornhill were pulled down. Unfortunately, discarded rubbish in the street caught fire and ignited properties to the north side of Cornhill. Fearing civil unrest, the militia are sent in to help restore order and assist with fire fighting duties. Towards the end of the afternoon, Threadneedle Street succumbs and St. Benet Finke’s church is destroyed.

By evening, Cordwainer Street, Friday Street, Bread Street, Salters’ Hall, Derby House, Baynards Castle, St Mildred Poultry, St. Christopher-le-stocks, St. Bartholomew Exchange, Grocers’ Hall and Mercers’ Hall are all effected by fire.

Diary entry by Samuel Pepys for Monday 3rd, September, 1666

About four o’clock in the morning my Lady Batten sent me a cart to carry away all my money and plate and best things to Sir W. Rider’s at Bednall-greene: which I did, riding myself in my night-gowne in the cart, and, Lord! To see how the streets and the highways are croded with people running and riding, and getting of carts at any rate to fetch away things. I find Mr W. Rider tired with being called up all night and receiving things from several friends. His house full of goods, and much of Sir W. Batten’s and Sir W. Pen’s. I am eased at my heart to have my treasure so well secured.

Then home, with much ado to find a way, nor any sleep all this night to me nor my poor wife, but then, and all this day, she and I and all my people labouring to get away the rest of our things. The Duke of Yorke come this day by the office and spoke to us, and did ride with his guard up and down the City to keep all quiet (he being now Generall, and having the care of all).

This day, Mercer being not at home but against her mistress’s order gone to her mother’s, and my wife going thither to speak with W. Hewer met her there, and was angry; and her mother saying that she was not a ‘prentice girl, to ask leave every time she goes abroad, my wife with good reason was angry, and when she came home bid her be gone again. And so she went away, which troubled me; but yet less than it would, because of the condition we are in fear of coming into in a little time of being less able to keepe one in her quality.

At night lay down a little upon a quilt of W. Hewer’s in the office, all my owne things being packed up or gone; and after my poor wife did the like, we having fed upon the remains of yesterday’s dinner, having no fire nor dishes, nor any opportunity of dressing any thing.

  • Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop four. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.

  • Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop five. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.

Tuesday 4th September, 1666

In the early hours of Tuesday morning houses are destroyed in Whitefriars in an attempt to halt the fire. By dawn, Cheapside is ablaze and at midday the fire reaches Salisbury Court, Guildhall and St. Paul’s School is burned to the ground. The Sessions House in the Old Bailey, Ludgate and Newgate Prisons are next. Upon evacuation to Southwark, many of the prisoners escaped.

Early evening the fire had still not abated and next to be destroyed were Inner Temple and buildings along Fleet Street. To stop the fire spreading towards Whitehall, buildings from Somerset Houses to Charing Cross and Scotland Yard are pulled down or have their roofs removed. The fire is now raging along both sides of Fleet Street and heading towards Chancery Lane. At 8pm St. Paul’s Cathedral goes up in flames.

Diary entry by Samuel Pepys for Tuesday 4th, September, 1666

Up by break of day to get away the remainder of my things. Sir W. Batten not knowing how to remove his wine did dig a pit in the garden and laid it in there; and I took the opportunity of laying all the papers of my office that I could not otherwise dispose of. And in the evening Sir. W. Pen and I did dig another and put our wine in it, and I my Parmazan cheese as well as my wine and some other things.

This afternoon, sitting melancholy with Sir W. Pen in our garden, and thinking of the certain burning of this office without extraordinary means, I did propose for the sending up of all our workmen from Woolwich and Deptford yards (none whereof yet appeared), and to write to Sir W. Coventry to have the Duke of Yorke’s permission to pull down houses rather than lose this office, which would much hinder the King’s business.

So Sir W. Pen he went down this night, in order to the sending them up to-morrow morning; and I wrote to Sir W. Coventry about the business, but received no answer.  This night Mrs Turner (who, poor woman, was removing her goods all this day, good goods into the garden, and knows not how to dispose of them) and her husband supped with my wife and I at night in the office, upon a shoulder of mutton from the cook’s, without any napkin or anything, in a sad manner, but were merry.

Only now and then walking into the garden, and saw how horridly the sky looks, all on a fire in the night, was enough to put us out of our wits; and indeed it was extremely dreadful, for it looks just as if it was at us, and the whole heaven on fire. I after supper walked in the darke down to Towner-streete, and there saw it all on fire.

Now begins the practice of blowing up of houses in Tower-streete, those next the Tower, which at first did frighten people more than any thing. W. Hewer this day went to see how his mother did, and comes late home, telling us how he hath been forced to remove her to Islington, her house in Pure-corne being burned; so that the fire is got so far that way, and all the Old Bayly, and was running down to Fleete-streete; and Paul’s is burned, and all Cheapside. I wrote to my father this night, but the post-house being burned, the letter could not go.

  • Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop six. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.

Wednesday 5th September, 1666

The Whitefriars district is on fire and Shoe Lane is threatened by the flames. Lambs Building in Middle Temple are destroyed and all buildings along the Strand are blown-up to stop the fire spreading. By evening, the fire is starting to be contained and west of the city is no longer ablaze.

Diary entry by Samuel Pepys for Wednesday 5th, September, 1666

I lay down in the office again upon W. Hewer’s quilt, being mighty weary  and sore in my feet with going till I was hardly able to stand. About two in the morning my wife calls me up and tells me of new cryes of fire, it being come to Barkeing Church, which is the bottom of our lane [Allhallows Barking, in Great Tower Street, nearly opposite the end of Seething Lane].

I up, and finding it so resolved presently to take her away, and did, and took my gold, which was about £2,350, W. Hewer and Jane down by Proundy’s boat to Woolwich; but, Lord! What a sad sight it was by moone-light to see the whole City almost on fire, that you might see it plain at Woolwich as if you were by it. There when I come I find the gates shut, but no guard kept at all, which troubled me because of discourse now begun that there is plot in it and that the French had done it, I got the gates open, and to Mr Sheldon’s, where I looked up my gold and charged my wife and W. Hewer never to leave the room without one of them in it, night or day.

So back again, by the way seeing my goods well in the lighters at Deptford and watched well by people. Home, and whereas I expected to have seen our house on fire, it being now about seven o’clock, it was not. But to the fyre, and there find greater hopes than I expected; for my confidence of finding our Office on fire was such that I durst not ask any body how it was with us till I come, and saw it not burned.

But going to the fire I find, by the blowing up of houses and the great helpe given by the workmen out of the King’s yards sent up by Sir W Pen, there is a good stop given to it, as well as at Marke-lane end as ours; it having only burned the dyall of Barking Church and part of the porch, and was there quenched. I up to the top of Barking steeple and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw; every where great fires, oyle-cellars and brimstone and other things burning.

I became afeard to stay there long, and therefore down again as fast as I could, the fire being spread as far as I could see it; and to Sir W. W. Pen’s, and there eat a piece of cold meat, having eaten nothing since Sunday, but the remains of Sunday’s dinner. And having removed all my things and received good hopes that the fire at our end is stopped, I walked into the town, and find Fanchurch-streete, Gracious-streete, and Lumbard-streete all in dust.

The Exchange a sad sight, nothing standing there of all the statues or pillars but Sir Thomas Gresham’s picture [statue] in the corner. Walked into Moorefields (our feet ready to burn, walking through the towne among the hot coles), and find that full of people, and poor wretches carrying their goods there, and paid twopence for a plain penny loaf; thence homeward, having passed through Cheapside and Newgate Market, all burned, and seen Anthony Joyce’s house in fire. I also did see a poor cat taken out of a hole in the chimney joyning to the wall of the Exchange, with the hair all burned off the body and yet alive.

So home at night, and find there good hopes of saving our office, but great endeavours of watching all night, and having men ready; and so we lodged them in the office and had drink and bread and cheese for them. And I lay down and slept a good night about midnight.

  • Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop seven. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.

Thursday 6th September, 1666

In the early hours of Thursday morning, an isolated fire breaks out in Bishopsgate but is soon extinguished.

Diary entry by Samuel Pepys for Thursday 6th, September, 1666

Up about five o’clock, and there met Mr Gawden at the gate of the office to call our men to Bishop’s-gate, where no fire had yet been near, and there is now one broke out. I went with the men, and we did put it out in a little time; so that that was well again. It was pretty to see time; so that that was well again. It was pretty to see how hard the women did work in the cannells, sweeping of water; but then they would scold for drink, and be as drunk as devils. I saw good butts of sugar broke open in the street, and people go and take handsfull out and put into beer and drink it.

And now all being pretty well I took boat over to Southwarke, and took boat on the other side the bridge and so to Westminster thinking to shift myself, being all in dirt from top to bottom; but could not there find any place to buy a shirt or pair of gloves, Westminster Hall being full of people’s goods; but to the Swan, and there was trimmed, and then to White Hall, but saw nobody, and so home.

A sad sight to see how the River looks, no houses nor church near it, to the Temple, where it stopped.  To Sir R. Ford’s and there dined on an earthern platter; a fried breast of mutton; a great many of us, but very merry, and indeed as good a meal, though as ugly a one, as I ever had in my life. Thence down to Deptford, and there with great satisfaction landed all my goods at Sir G. Carteret’s safe, and nothing missed I could see, or hurt.

This being done to my great content, I home and to Sir W. Batten’s, and there supped well and mighty merry, and our fears over.  From them to the office, and there slept with the office full of labourers, who talked and slept and walked all night long there. But strange it was to see Cloath-workers’ Hall on fire these three days and nights in one body of flame, it being the cellar full of oyle.

  • Museum of London’s Great Fire of London Audio Walking Tour. Audio tour stop eight. Uploaded on You Tube 29.3.2010.

Friday 7th September, 1666

Diary entry by Samuel Pepys for Friday 7th, September, 1666

Up by five o’clock, and blessed be God! Find all well; and by water to Paul’s Wharfe. Walked thence and saw all the towne burned, and a miserable sight of Paul’s church, with all the roofs fallen, and the body of the quire fallen into St. Fayth’s; [St. Faith’s church was in the crypt under the choir of old St Paul’s]; Paul’s school also, Ludgate, and  Fleet-street, my father’s house and the church and a good part of the Temple the like.

So to Creed’s lodging near the New exchange, and there find him laid down upon a bed, the house all unfurnished, there being fears of the fire’s coming to them. There borrowed a shirt of him and washed. To Sir W. Coventry at St. James’s, who lay without curtains, having removed all his goods, as the King at white Hall and every body had done and was doing.

He hopes we shall have no publique distractions upon this fire, which is what every body fears, because of the talke of the French having a hand in it. And it is a proper time for discontents; but all men’s minds are full of care to protect themselves and save their goods. The militia is in armes every where. Our fleetes, he tells me, have been in sight one of another, and most unhappily by fowle weather were parted, to our great losse. So home and did give orders for my house to be made clean.

This day our Merchants first met at Gresham College, which by proclamation, is to be their Exchange. Strange to hear what is bid for houses all up and down here, a friend of Sir W. Rider’s having £150 for what he used to let for £40 per annum. Much dispute where the Custome-house shall be; thereby the growth of the City again to be foreseen.

I home late to Sir W. Pen’s, who did give me a bed, but without curtains or hangings, all being down. So here I went the first time into a naked bed, only my drawers on, and did sleep pretty well; but still both sleeping and waking had a fear of fire in my heart, that I took little rest.

People do all the world over cry out of the simplicity of my Lord Mayor in general; and more particularly in this business of the fire, laying it all upon him. A proclamation is come out for markets to be kept at Leadenhall and Mile-end-greene and several other places about the towne, and Tower-hill; and all churches to be set upon to receive poor people.

Aftermath Of The Great Fire Of London

The Great Fire gutted the medieval City of London inside of the Old Roman City Wall. Westminster and Charles IIs Palace of Whitehall were spared. In total, thirteen thousand two hundred houses were lost, eighty-seven Parish Churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, were destroyed. Approximately, 85% of the City’s inhabitants lost their homes.

There were only six verified and officially recorded deaths associated with the Great Fire, however, this is by no mean an accurate indication of the final death toll. In 1666, deaths of the poor and middle-classes were never recorded and many of victims were cremated by the fire. Civil registration of ALL births, marriages and deaths, in England and Wales, did not become law (Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1836) until 1st July, 1837.

Charles II set-up a special Fire Court to deal with disputes between tenants and landlords of burned buildings. The aim was to expedite the decision-making process relating to who should be responsible for rebuilding each property. The decision of the Court was based upon an individual’s ability to pay. The Court was in session from February 1667 until September 1672.  Cases were heard and verdicts given on the same day. New legislation was also created. The Fire of London Disputes Act 1666 was overseen by twenty-two judges of the Kings Bench, Court of Common Pleas and Court of Exchequer.

There is a Monument to the Great Fire of London, designed by one of the City’s most influential post-fire architects, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). Robert Hooke (1635-1703) assisted Wren in the Monument’s design. The structure was erected near to Pudding Lane.

Further Resources

  • ‘The Striking Parallels Between the Political Situation During the Great Fire of London and 2014’ by Political Editor of ITV News, Tom Bradby. (ITV online 23.10.2014);
  • The Great Fire of London – London Fire Brigade’s website, click here.
  • ITV’s new four-part series, written by Tom Bradby, inspired by historical events of 1666 with the decadent backdrop of King Charles II’s court, The Great Fire, can be seen now on ITV Player. Click Here.

Embed from Getty Images

  • Sir Christopher Wren from an 1833 engraving. Wren rebuilt sixty-one of the City’s churches that had been lost in the fire, including St. Paul’s Cathedral.