Flames, Firsts and Friends

30 September 2016

What a month! Sparks flew as stamps and graphic novels collided, and two rock legends’ albums converged thanks to our friends at the Smithsonian…

The presentation pack for The Great Fire of London stamp issue, depicting six issued stamps on a burning background.

The Great Fire of London, Presentation Pack, 2016

This September marked 350 years since The Great Fire of London, an event which Royal Mail acknowledged through its first ever graphic-novel-style stamps. 

Six different designs take you through the timeline of the ‘Great Fire’, with each stamp narrating events as they happened at the locations where they took place. A more traditional graphic novel of the fire can be found in the Presentation Pack, as you can see below:

The illustrated graphic novel within the Presentation Pack that documents the fire.

The inside of the Presentation Pack, The Great Fire of London, 2016

Sunday 2 September 1966.

The Fire broke out in Pudding Lane at the bakery of Thomas Farriner. The city was hot and dry, which encouraged the blaze, and by the early morning 300 houses had been destroyed. The close proximity of the houses acted like a domino effect, spreading the blaze.

It was at this point that Samuel Pepys, famous historic diarist, took to the river to see the fire reach London Bridge. It was Pepys’ idea to pull down houses in front of the fire to produce fire breaks in the hope of stopping the progression of the blaze. They were continuously too slow for its speed, however.

A £1.05 stamp depicting men pulling down houses to act as fire brakes in the hope of stopping the fire.

£1.05, Pulling down Houses, The Great Fire of London, 2016

Monday 3 September.

Charles II took to the streets to encourage the fire fighters pulling down houses as they fought the blaze. Due to the unknown source of the fire people began to speculate; rumours circulated that it was a Catholic plot.

The King brought in the militia to deal with crowd control on the streets and prevent looting. The fire continued to spread, and by the Monday evening it was 300 yards from the Tower of London and extra fire engines were sent to defend the tower.

A £1.05 stamp that depicts people watching St Paul's burn down during the fire.

£1.05, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Great Fire of London, 2016

Tuesday 4 September.

Continuing to keep up morale, Charles II gave out guineas to the fire fighters as a token for their continued effort. For their safety, prisoners were moved from Newgate to Southwark, but many escaped during the journey.  It was on this day that one of our most iconic London landmarks burnt down: St Paul’s Cathedral.

The cathedral was under renovation and covered in wooden scaffolding which ignited. It was believed that due to its stone structure it wouldn’t burn down, and many people had left their possessions within.

A Miniature Sheet consisting of four stamps that make up a unified image of the inside of St Paul's Cathedral.

St Paul’s Miniature Sheet, Cathedrals, 2008

Wednesday 5 to 13 September.

Refugees congregate in the fields around the capital. Charles orders more food supplies to be sent and temporary food markets to be set up. The last fire is put out in Bishopgate and the city begins to reflect. Charles announces the disaster was an accident, though a man called Robert Hubert would later wrongly confess responsibility and be hanged for the crime.

Christopher Wren puts in his plans to rebuild London, culminating in the new St Paul’s Cathedral, as you can see in the Miniature Sheet above.

Two stamps both with the value £1.52 that depict food markets and Sir Christopher Wren's plans for a new city.

The two designs for the £1.52 stamps, The Great Fire of London, 2016


The Great Fire of London was a catastrophic event that would reshape the capital. The people of London had just got through an outbreak of the plague, only to then face the loss of their homes and city.

This new stamp issue really brings to life the events of the fire in a new and innovative way that everyone can understand. I can see this as an exciting new way of remembering and educating people of their country’s history through the medium of stamps.
 
Speaking of storytelling through stamps, September had another powerful combination in store: we exhibited with our friends from the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Washington at Stampex, the British Stamp Show.
 

A photo of the both the teams involved in the exhibition from The Smithsonian and The Postal Museum.

The National Postal Museum, Washington and The Postal Museum, London by our joint exhibit

On display from 14-17 September were two stamp albums with very famous owners. We brought along Freddie Mercury’s boyhood album and the team from The Smithsonian provided John Lennon’s.
 

The display case at Stampex with both the John Lennon and Freddie Mercury stamp albums within.

Boyhood stamp albums belonging to John Lennon (left) and Freddie Mercury (right)

They saw some excellent interest from a wide range of music fans, stamps enthusiasts and those who just wanted to see something a little different!
 
-Georgina Tomlinson, Assistant Curator (Philately) and Rhea Harvey, Fundraising Officer (Events)