The Great Fire Bonfire….

4 September 2016
Ben Pentreath

I was planning to blog about the Melplash show, and Charlie’s dahlias, this week – but that is going to have to wait a night or two. Tonight – an extraordinary display of a different kind!

We’d had Mum & Dad staying with us this weekend, and earlier today we took a walk down to the River to marvel at the spectacle of the huge, 120 metre long model that has been made to commemorate the Great Fire of London – 350 years ago today – and which was to be burned tonight.

I guess this is pretty much every architect’s dream.  A huge city made out of balsa wood models.
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Above a huddle of Elizabethan houses of Old London, rises the great church of St. Paul’s, with Blackfriars Bridge beyond…P1040839

And the Shard rising above…P1040840 P1040852 P1040853It was a thing of incredible beauty, and we all felt a bit distressed at its imminent destruction.  Designed by the artist David Best, and produced by the amazing company, Artichoke, it had taken months to build.

At the end of a lovely two days, Mum and Dad went back home this afternoon; and Charlie (and Mavis) sadly had to go back to Dorset for the kittens’ next appointment at the vet very early tomorrow morning. So I was home alone. I wasn’t quite sure if I had the energy to head down to the river again, but I suddenly decided it would be interesting.

I wasn’t the only one with the idea. Massive crowds had gathered on the Embankment.P1040864 P1040866 There was a fantastic, happy atmosphere…

At 8.30, as the sky had gone completely dark, the first flicker of flames lit up the model.

The fire spread within minutes, revealing the delicate beauty of the construction… gasps from the crowd as each building began to burn.P1040892 P1040901 P1040902 P1040908 P1040913Soon the fire was really taking hold. The heat was intense, and great clouds of smoke and embers soared across the city.
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It turned out I wasn’t the only one taking photos….P1040927 P1040928 P1040931

After some time, the great St. Paul’s began to catch alight, and was soon completely enveloped.P1040932 P1040936Fire started to rage at the other end of the barge….

It was a completely brilliant, breathtaking sight – and smell, and sound… the horrific crackling as the wood burned was as intense as the flames.P1040941 Just for a second or two, I believe we were all transported to September, 1666.
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The glass windows of the OXO tower reflected the great fire… watched by many diners.  I was glad, though, that I was in the crowds on the banks of the river. More real!P1040972 P1040978 P1040980 P1040981 We watched, and cheered, and stood amazed in appreciation, until at last only three remaining houses stood on the barge, burning fiercely…
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And then they too were gone.P1040996 P1040997

The fireboats came in and slowly doused the burning ruins.P1050005 P1050006 P1050007 P1050008 P1050010

Perhaps the most mesmeric 45 minutes I have ever witnessed: an incredible, fantastic, majestic, poignant way to remember the huge destruction of the great City of London three hundred and fifty years ago. Charlie watched the live stream on the internet, and we chatted on the phone… almost as good as if you had been here.

A brilliant, brilliant night – and never could there be a truer example of what this blog is really meant to be all about: Inspiration.

25 comments on this post

[…] By the way, if you want to see more of the Fire 350 commemorations, Ben Pentreath’s excellent photos of the burning of the miniature wooden city in the Thames this week are here. […]

Patricia Luxon Fastsays:

Was in the U.K. Last summer but didn’t get to London. I have to say the photography is fantastic, so kudos to him. Amazing pictures. Will share with my London Friends here in the U.S.!!!

Diane Keanesays:

WOW! All I can say is…Wow! And thank you!


What an event to witness and your photos of the buildings ablaze are strangely tragic in their beauty. Why was there some laughing and cheering? No one even knows how many people died during the course of the Great Fire. On the plus side: no more plague and Christopher Wren. Best, Nicola

Jo Gibsonsays:

Brilliant photos as always – I wish I’d been there to see this, especially as the woodwork of the model was so amazing. Thank you for sharing.
Jo x


A couple of your photos – where the skeletal outline of the model is highlighted by the balsa model – are very artistic. I share your amazement that something that has taken so long to plan and construct ends up as ashes. Similarly here during royal funerals, immense structures are built, taking up to one year with no decorative detail left out, and costing millions, (in whichever currency), are burned along with the mortal remains, which have been preserved over the intervening period, allowing for the attainment of nirvana.


Fantastic as ever. Thank you x

Jan Fawkesays:

OMG!! I would have loved to have seen that…. I just adore London, and travel back as often as I can from Sydney. I was there over this last summer. Wish I could have stayed for this..



Pierre B.says:

These photos surpass any video we could find on the net. Still I wonder how London will, soon or later, commemore the Blitz…

Deby (in Canada)says:

Oh Ben
We are all so lucky you found the energy to go back down to the Thames last night! Thank you for your pictures and words to bring it to life for us too far away to go…




Yeah. Bring on the fire. Brits do fiery stuff really well, do you think it’s our pagan roots? Meanwhile on this side of the Atlantic the Man was being burnt out in the desert.

mlle paradissays:

Mad! Great photos. Though the model is so beautiful, it seems a terrible shame to destroy it. Thanks for sharing! Better pics than in the newspapers!

Liza Vandermeersays:

Back in the 1970s, in Toronto, wehad a high school history teacher from Devon who used to have her classes construct models of the pre-Great Fire buildings of London. (The models would have been much more crude than the Artichoke creations…) There would be a Great Fire in the schoolyard when all the models were ready. She was an inspired teacher, and great fun!


Great shots – thanks for showing – I would have loved to see this as I also did a post about the Great Fire of London on my blog this week.


I have to say, I don’t understand celebrating such an awful incident. That model was beautiful and so much work went into it. Between this and Guy Fawkes Day I’m beginning to believe you Brits are pyromaniacs


THANK YOU!!!!!!! Just awesome !!!!!!!!

From across the pond,


Wonderful images, Ben. I almost felt myself there!

A little snippet about the fire: it started, as most people know, in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane. He was, in fact, a King’s Baker, which does not mean that he baked bread for the king. A King’s Baker was appointed to make ship’s biscuits for the sailors of the Royal Navy. I made some once to a recipe on the National Maritime Museum website. The were hard as rocks, but devoured with relish by Molly, next door’s Labrador.


Thanks so much for sharing these, looks absolutely stunning, sorry to have missed it – I was driving back from Dorset!

PS: note for your diary, to lure you back to Purbeck out of season, you’ve probably been before but Smedmore House in Kimmeridge has a rare open afternoon on Sunday 18th, and Margaret Green Animal Rescue centre in Church Knowle are having a fair with dog agility and all sorts of fun things on Sun 25th – Church Knowle is a lovely village, with an interesting church & Barnston Manor is Dorset’s longest continuously occupied building apparently, worth a potter about. The Purbeck villages are lovely out of season, well worth exploring, (there’s a tiny museum dedicated to the history in an old coachhouse in Langton) & of course the legendary Square & Compass pub is a must, an Augustus John is screwed to the wall, a fossil room and home-made cider, I could go on!


It was an amazing sight to see, a truly spectacular, unique happening. Some great shots of the event there, thanks for posting them!

Sidney Sayre IIIsays:

Ben- Your photographs always bring visual excitement-and your amazing writing draws my mind further in to them. Thank you for sharing- inspirational as always!

David Sanderssays:

Thanks Ben. There is also some quite good video coverage, with commentary, of this event on YouTube. I have a bit of a connection to The Great Fire of London, through my ancestor John Evelyn, who witnessed the fire and wrote a description of it in his diary. Later he submitted a plan for the reconstruction of London; one of four different plans, I think. Christopher Wren of course, had the winning plan.

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Wow Ben. Great photos – so good to see the models before the fire, too. Thank you. Nx

robin wiresays:

I’m sooo annoyed with myself for missing this – I returned to london at about 7pm last night and was meant to go down and watch, but totally forgot. Sooo I’m very happy to see your photos, as now i didn’t miss out.
thank you

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