Flames, Firsts and Friends
What a month! Sparks flew as stamps and graphic novels collided, and two rock legends' albums converged thanks to our friends at the Smithsonian...
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)