It’s 350 years since London was struck by an infamous disaster. A not so ‘great’ fire, burning over 4 days before being tamed, destroying a huge swathe of London in its wake. Starting on Sunday 2nd December, it went on until Wednesday 5th September. This excellent exhibition explores the fire, the aftermath and the rebuild of London, incorporating numerous different interactives alongside objects ranging from letters to an early fire fighting machine.
The exhibition starts with a brief introduction of London in 1066. The introductory panels are written in a really interesting and accessible manner. Poem like, with one key piece of information on each line, it is easy to read and take in the information quickly. This style is not used throughout the exhibition, but instead appears to have been chosen to give an overview of each of the main sections. Another example of a temporary exhibition that used this style throughout was the Animals Inside Out exhibition at the Centre for Life in Newcastle.
The initial layout is like a narrow street at night, setting the scene for the start of the fire. Shadows of figures move in windows and there is an excellent animation of the fire starting – the style of which is replicated throughout the exhibition and appears to be a stylised version of the final document in the exhibition, a prospect of London and Westminster by William Morgan. The simplicity of this design, using simple black and white for building outlines and incorporating bold bright reds, yellows and oranges of flames, is used throughout the exhibition, giving excellent continuity.
The timeline of the fire was explained in a brilliant way, in a darkened room with bread hanging from the ceiling, a map of London was projected down onto a giant bread-shaped slap. Admittedly the amount of bread references sounds weird, but it does all fit in since the fire started in bakery in Pudding Lane. As the days pass, the map of London starts to burn up, showing the spread of the fire over time.
You move from this small space into a larger area. With a soundscape of crackling fire and, if I’m not mistaken, the smell of fire too, it incorporates all the senses. The objects presented were excellent fits to the story that was being told, from documents that made reference to the fire to singed items with backstories implying their part in the fire. At the end of the room was a projection of an animated London with flames spreading, in front of which was a circular stand of dressing up and early fire-fighting equipment so you could fight the imaginary flames.
The interactive elements were varied and numerous. From flip boards, to letters with audio to listen to, dressing up and also an opportunity to rebuild London. My favourite was a game, in the same animated style as presented throughout the exhibition, which allows you to choose fire-fighting equipment that was available at the time to try and put out an animated fire.
The next part of the exhibition covered the aftermath of the fire. From the darkened rooms representing the fire itself, you move into a lighter and brighter space. There was a really impressive very early fire engine; more a pump action bucket, that has had replica fittings added and an animation alongside it, to clearly show how it would have worked. I also enjoyed the story alongside a large plaque that was put up as a marker to where the fire started; it had to be taken down due to the congestion of onlookers that it caused in the street. There was also the opportunity to see the x-rays of a number of rusted over items from the fire, obviously looking like misshapen lumps now, it is amazing the clarity that can be seen of the original object when it is x-rayed.
Its really thorough and thoughtful design, layout, object choices and interactives makes this temporary exhibition really successful, interesting and enjoyable.
The Fire Fire exhibition is on at the Museum of London from 23rd July 2016 – 17 April 2017.