London is on fire! This is the scene that artist David Best desired to create when he came up with the idea dubbed ‘London 1666’. This is not the first time that David has created something that he would later burn but it is definitely the first in making a creation of such huge proportion. To bring to life the London 1666 project, and having enlisted the help of volunteers, David oversaw the construction of wooden structures that represent various buildings in London in the 17th century. The huge sculpture was not supposed to give a visual of how London looked like at the time, but to provide an image of the skyline. 2017 marked the 350th anniversary since the Great Fire of London and David Best has done his part in remembering the tragedy.
This expression, although not in words, told the story of the historic event. When you imagine the loss that was incurred by thousands of people then, what David is burning does not even come close to comparison. According to historical records, the fire consumed 13,200 houses, 44 livery halls, 87 churches and 400 streets. The wooden recreation was 120-metre long and comprised of 190 miniature buildings. Observers could see structures of churches, factories, homes and schools that were mounted on barges before being set ablaze to burn away as drifted the course of the Thames river.
In 2017, the anniversary of the great fire was commemorated on September 4th. While the fire is deliberate this time, it is a reminder to everyone that lived through the tragedy, heard stories from relatives who did or was witness to the devastation in the aftermath that such cannot happen again. The 1666 fire began on Pudding Lane from Thomas Farriner’s bakery and it is rather ironic that a place where people went for comfort and solace would be the result of misery, to the effect of plunging 65,000 people to homelessness.
David has offered up the work to volunteers. Over months of hard work and commitment, scores of young people from various locations in London have been involved in hard work for the project. Within various placements and workshops, the structures to be used have taken shape and gained validity for use in the anniversary event. Such a historic event would not be complete with a great audience and to make that happen, it was directed by Tim van Someren and presented by Lauren Lavern, familiar faces for those who watched the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.
Wenceslaus Hollar’s “Prospect of the Citty of London, As It Appeared, In The Time of Its Flames” shows the Great Fire of London as seen from across the river, in Southwark.
HULTON ARCHIVE / GETTY IMAGES
London 1666, Replica of 17th-century London, River Thames, London
London 1666, Work In Progress, designed by David Best
Video interview with David Best