As you enter the church of St Magnus the Martyr, just to the east of London Bridge, you would be forgiven for missing this strange wooden contraption to the right. What is it? Not a mobile pop up food stall. It’s a very early fire engine. How appropriate it should be in this church as a reminder of the dangers of fire, particularly in medieval London.
St Magnus was the second church to be destroyed in the Great Fire of London – the Monument being built on the site of the first – St Margaret’s New Fish Street. This engine was developed in the late 17th/early 18th century – so just after the Great Fire of London. It originally belonged to St Michael Crooked Lane (now part of the parish of St Magnus) which was demolished in 1831 to make way for the creation of one of the few non-medieval roads in the City, King William Street, built as the approach to the new London Bridge.
The Great Fire of London started very early on the morning of Sunday 2nd September 1666 in a bakery in Pudding Lane, just to the east of the Monument. Over 4 days it led to one of the greatest disasters in the history of the City of London – over 80% of it was destroyed in the fire.
Why did it cause so much devastation? No fire brigade existed. People relied mainly on leather buckets and squirts (basically small hand pumps). There were some fire engines but not as “sophisticated” as the one in St Magnus – they had no hoses, were large, unwieldy and pretty useless, being very difficult to manoeuvre and use in the narrow streets crowded with panicking people trying to escape the flames.
Come on one of our Great Fire of London walks to find out more about the damage the fire wreaked, how it affected the people and the whole look of the City and changed fire prevention/control. Private tours also available, including school group.