8 August 2016

Fire! Fire! Explore the 5 days in 1666 when London burned down.

350 years ago London was devastated by the The Great Fire of London. Fires were commonplace in London as the city was full of wooden buildings on narrow streets,  but this one was a disaster of major proportions when 13,200 houses and 87 churches were destroyed and around 100,000 people were made homeless. 

The Museum of London has a great exhibition called Fire! Fire! which takes you through the 5 days of the fire and its aftermath through quotes from those caught up in the fire, original objects, paintings, interactive displays, films and original illustrations, all with the sounds of fire in the background 
Welcome to the exhibition!

It all started early in the morning of 2nd September 1666 when Thomas Farriner, a baker living in Pudding Lane, woke on this Sunday morning to a fire in his downstairs bakery. He escaped with his family and their neighbours helped to try to put the flames out However, London was dry after a period of drought and the winds were picking up from the east so the fire began to spread. 

Samuel Pepys the famous diarist of the age was woken with news of the fire and soon realised it was serious so he went to see the King.  A wonderful timeline takes us through the events of the next 5 days. Pepys had a great deal of foresight and here, in one of the many wonderful quotes that bring this exhibition to life, he warns the King of the dangers ahead. 

Follow the fire hour by hour on the timeline 
Pepys is off to see the King on 2nd September 

Next we see a large block shaped like a loaf  graphically showing the fire spreading through the a map of the city, blotting out in streets and homes as it goes. 

4 days later, the city has burned to its edges 
A small black area on the morning of 2nd September

As the fire takes hold on the 3rd of September we see dramatic painting showing flames engulfing everything, both by unknown artists The sounds effects get loader and the quotes more concerned! 

As the flames gather strength people are grabbing what they can and even treasured items are caught in the fire before they are rescued.

The burnt edges of a family bible.

The main exhibition room is well designed to add to the atmosphere:

Valiant efforts to extinguish the fire ranged from huge fire poles to pull down buildings, fire squirts (like a big metal syringe) , very small buckets filled with water and gunpowder used to create fire breaks to halt the spread of the fire. An interactive game gives you the chance to try these different methods and see which works best. 

Interactive fire fighting game!

Fire buckets far to small for the job
Fire buckets in use, but fairly useless!

Fire pole 

Fire squirt

The King, Charles ll, and his brother were busy helping the fight, having travelled from Whitehall into the scene of the fire - perhaps he had learned from his father's death that he needed to be seen to be involved in the people's problems! 

Luckily, the winds died down, changed direction and the fire-fighting efforts began to pay off and on Wednesday the fire was conquered, with that man Samuel Pepys in the thick of the action again on the Thursday, claiming the last fire!   Embers must have burned for days and can you imagine the smell of charred London? 

About a quarter of London was in ruins after the fire and tens of thousands of people were living in temporary camps, tents and sheds on the hills around the city.  The King sent money to buy them bread but their situation must have been desperate. Thoughts turned to how to rebuild this great city. Firstly however the blame game started and the 'usual suspects' were under suspicion: Catholics, and foreigners, particularly the French and the Dutch. Or was it an act of an angry God?  Sinful Londoners perhaps brought it on themselves? Pie Corner is a memorial to that theory. 

The inevitable crime wave followed and the King intervened to legislate that items stolen should be returned and we can read his proclamation against 'imbezzell'd' goods:

The good news was that surprisingly few people died, officially fewer than 10 but it is thought that others many have died and been buried in burned out buildings as record keeping was not good back then.

We learn about the rebuilding plans, including information that Sir Christopher Wren had, rather amazingly, completed a plan ready to show the King just 6 days after the fire. Now, that seems a bit quick to me or am I being too suspicious?  Much of the planned schemes did not happen as there was not enough money and the decisions took too long, so the new city grew up mostly around the old street layout albeit with wider roads in many places to reduce the fire risk. It took about 40 years for a new, largely brick city to emerge including a brand new St Paul's cathedral thanks to Wren.  London was ready to face its future:

One fun game before you leave, lets you design your own version of London after the Great Fire using a range of wooden blocks:

Build your own London 

For full information about opening hours and ticket prices check the Museum of London's website

Disclosure: as is customary in this industry, I was offered a complimentary ticket to see this exhibition. This has not influenced what I have said and I would happily pay my own money to see this show.  


2 August 2016

Check out 90 years of the Queen's style at Buckingham Palace

Where ever the Queen goes she is always a focus of attention, so whatever she wears is going to be talked about; remember the fuss over her rather bright green outfit at this year's Trooping the Colour?  When you visit Buckingham Palace this year, you can enjoy their special exhibition which traces her fashion choices during the 90 years of her life. 

Buckingham Palace, one of the great symbols of London, is open to the public each summer when the Queen goes to Scotland for her holidays. You can explore the many state rooms with their sumptuous decor, furnishings and works of art and learn about the history of this grand building.  Each year they put on a special exhibition and this year's is called: Fashioning a Reign:90 Years of Style from The Queen's Wardrobe, and I'm going to give you a peek inside!. 

We see her how her outfits have changed over the years to reflect fashion and the first room you visit has a piece from each of her decades including matching outfits that the Queen and her younger sister wore to the coronation of George Vl,  a dress worn when she met Marilyn Monroe (or rather the other way round!) and culminating in the wonderful pink dress worn for the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony and the film of her greeting James Bond and 'jumping' out of the helicopter.  This last dress illustrates the level of planning involved in working on the Queen's wardrobe as the video was made in March so the outfit had to be agreed back then for the event taking place at the end of July. What a memorable moment from London 2012. A second dress was made for the stunt jumper but we are assured this is the one worn by the Queen.

** Dresses and coronets  worm by the Queen and Princess Margaret to their father's coronation 1937

** A Norman Hartnell dress for the 1956 film premier with Marilyn Monroe

The 'Olympics' dress of 2012 by Angela Kelly  
In her younger years we would often see the Queen on horseback, riding side saddle in stylish military outfits, cut away from the waist to accommodate this strange riding position. She was the first female monarch to serve in the forces when in 1945 she served in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Army) and we can see her own uniform. It's hard to imagine Her Majesty doing car maintenance but those were tough times for the country and she wanted to do her bit. 

Queen's ATS battle dress

We see her wonderfully tailored jackets, one of which has a flexible beret which gives the option to change the plumage to reflect the regiment she was representing or inspecting. 

The Queen has kept faith with a few top couture designers, namely Normal Hartnell and Hardy Amies and has added Stewart Parvin and Angela Kelly among others . Her unswerving support for British fashion has helped promote London's place as a world fashion capital. This has included a small coterie of hat designers and a gallery of hats showcases a few of these. 

The famous Hartnell wedding dress from 1947 is on display with its 9 foot veil and shoes. It was a triumph as it needed to fit this historic occasion and yet Britain was still subject to rationing so care had to be taken to not overplay the luxury element - he succeeded! The theme was renewal in the post war period so springtime flowers can be seen in the embroidery. 

A wedding dress fit for a Queen
By the time of the coronation in 1953 Hartnell had a freer hand and his design looked back at the wedding dress but features much more elaborate embroidery with symbols of the 4 UK nations and the Dominion nations  The Queen was closely involved in its design and had considerable input through series of 8 reworked sketches. 

The coronation dress

Embroidery detail from the wedding dress

The Queen has many roles: head of state, head of the armed forces, head of the chivalry orders as well as a member of a family with lots of events and need outfits for each of these. Those worn on her state visits were really interesting as we saw how symbols of the country being visited were incorporated into day and evening wear. 

In this photo we can see a pink cherry blossom decorated dress worn to China next to a blue and cream dress with maple leaves along the colour join for a visit to Canada, and the yellow dress was worn to Australia giving a nod to their national colour. 

This dress was for Her Majesty's visit to the Olypmics in Montreal in 1976 so it incorporates the Olympic rings. 

What I really liked about this section was the chance to see the dress on the mannequin alongside a photo of the Queen wearing the dress during the official visit. Firstly you can see the outfit Her Majesty wore to Saudi Arabia in 1979, being sure to cover up to respect Saudi customs. 

Here the dress for the visit to Nigeria in 1956 features a neckline which echoes African tribal necklaces. 

And finally on our mini tour of the exhibition, the green outfit Her Majesty wore for the 2016 Trooping The Colour. It was not nearly as bright as it appeared on the TV. The Queen wears bright colours so that people can see her in a crowd, especially as she is quite short (just 5ft 4in) but this year's green must have been the brightest yet - not bad for a 90 year old. 

2016 by Stewart Parvin 

One more photo I couldn't resist showing you because it shows the Queen during various ages, always smiling and waving to the crowds who have come out to see her as she wants to make their day. 

There is a lot more to see in the full exhibition and of course there are the wonderful rooms of the Palace to enjoy.  Don't miss the cafe for good snacks and the shop 'where the corgis hang out' (!) and the wonderful gardens on the way to the exit. 

For more information about visiting Buckingham Palace and Fashioning a Reign, visit their website.

Photo credits: starred photos (**) are courtesy of Elizabth Hawksley for which many thanks