Friday 2 September 2016

Conflagration Anniversary

Yes, I do mean the Great Fire of London but I wanted an excuse to use the word conflagration. It rolls around the tongue in a most satisfying way. Today is the 350th anniversary of the fire which famously began in Pudding Lane, London.

When the alarm was first raised, the Lord Mayor of London was told of the news. His response was said to be,

"Pish! A woman might piss it out!"

He was wrong! It burned for four days, aided by the recent drought and tinder dry buildings. London houses in those days were closely packed together and many were made of wood and straw so, unsurprisingly, the fire quickly spread. Somewhere in the region of 13,200 houses were destroyed and about 80,000 people were made homeless.

People came from all around to help fight the fire. Even King Charles II joined the firefighters. What's more, the fire destroyed any last remnants of the plague which had still been killing so many people only a year earlier. The main records of the event are from diarists who had little interest in the poor people. Samuel Pepys talks of such essentials as making sure he had buried his Parmesan cheese to keep it safe from the fire. Little is known about the vast encampments outside the city where the homeless were forced to settle, for anything from months to years, until houses were rebuilt.

It would be interesting to know a bit more about what happened to them but, if this had been a current event, reporters would have zoomed in with their cameras on every painful detail of hardship and deprivation. I have said this before in an earlier blog, but it bears repetition. We expect to be informed about disasters, but there is a difference between reporting the news and being given a ghoulishly voyeuristic view of these events and their effects on the victims.

(steps onto soap box)  
Please, if you're a news reporter, back off from people's tears, broken bones and weeping wounds. They are not news. They are an invasion of privacy.