We are packed together on the banks of the Thames on the embankment near Blackfriars standing opposite the Oxo Tower on the other side of the river. The reason? A giant floating wooden model of the old City of London pre-1666 propped up from the river by two giant barges which we are about to watch burn.
As ever with these set piece spectacles in London, it attracts a huge crowd lining the banks at either side. Everyone straining to get a view or at least trying to get a view through the viewfinder of a smartphone. The wooden frame of the medieval city is huge, 120ft in total and featuring a packed landscape of houses and churches. There’s even a giant replica of old St.Pauls.
The burning was part of the commemorations of the Great Fire of London in 1666. The fire had such an impact on the city that it shaped modern London, it was the start of modern London. It might have all but destroyed the medieval city but it gave birth to the London we know today.
It marked the culmination of a weekend of events with a number of set piece interactive displays taking place around the city. These were some of the big hitting artistic displays but things don’t end there, you can still find more longer lasting exhibitions at various locations all around London. Inspiring City even created a self-guided tour of all the buildings which survived the fire itself. There aren’t many of them around but you can still see them and get to explore the city at the same time.
The artist behind the 120ft giant replica is David Best probably best known for his work at the Burning Man festival. He has been working with people from around the surrounding boroughs to create the piece. It is even more remarkable an artwork for the fact that many of the people taking part in the creation of the actual model had no previous experience of carpentry or woodwork.
And then it goes up in smoke! Starting at the western end of the sculpture small incendiary’s were detonated to start small fires at timed intervals. Soon they weren’t needed as the fire caught on with giant plumes of flame and smoke reaching into the sky. The cheers from the crowd would coincide with the collapse of a building, a church spire and then when it got to the giant replica of old St. Pauls itself, that great forerunner, the biggest cheer yet but now accompanied by gasps of awe.
London does know how to put on an artistic spectacle. This is the latest in a long line of them, it seems that any chance to have a celebration and London will more than step up to the mark. Remember lumiere and the poppies at the tower to name but two? There’s also Sculpture in the City going on at the moment, all great celebrations of public art.
Londons Burning took place over the 1-4 September 2016 and was a commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. The burning of the replica took place on the Blackfriars embankment opposite the Oxo Tower.
London’s Burning Gallery