Wednesday 17 August 2016

Fire! Fire!, Museum of London

The Museum of London's immersive new exhibition on the Great Fire of London opened last month to mark 350 years since the disastrous event took place. The exhibition space is darkly lit, a fake London street has been partly constructed, genuine artifacts adding to the authenticity. Fire! Fire! has been designed to appeal to all ages with plentiful activities throughout and simple questions to help children engage with the topic. They have the balance right - it may be accessible for young visitors but it does not feel like a children's exhibition, having plenty to offer adult guests. The layout is logical, taking you through how the fire started, what happened while attempts were made to put it out, and finally the aftermath. It leads the visitor to ask questions that are answered later in the exhibition, a solid technique.

The enormity of the fire is really brought home as you walk through the space. The timeline detailing the major events in the spread and curtailment of the fire and the map of London being consumed by (virtual) flames evokes the seriousness and horror of the inferno. The firefighting equipment on display highlights their ineffectiveness against such a blaze when all conditions aligned perfectly for its rapid spread. The section designed as a camp for the tens of thousands made homeless feels claustrophobic, the devastation it wrought on those who were in the most part without homes for eight years is palpable.

Overall a very well put together exhibition which successfully takes such a well known event and adds to it, dispelling many a myth along the way. There are items on display that were salvaged from the wreckage with x-rays to give a clearer view, but a highlight for me were the designs proposed for a new London. The rebuild was controversial for its dedication to the original road layout -  a topic that continues to be hotly debated by historians today.

Atmospheric, original, and informative, this is definitely worth a visit. Fire! Fire! will be at the Museum of London until 17th April 2017.

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