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Take a deep breath and take in the evocative scenes of the Great Fire of London in this painting. It’s hard not to be swept up in the drama taking place on the streets of London. From what began as a tiny spark in the hush of night, the ‘story’ of the Great Fire is incredible. It even has a dramatic climax – with St Paul’s Cathedral, presumed safe from the flames, catching alight – and an inspirational finale that saw London rising as a though a phoenix from the ashes.
With such a series of events, it’s no surprise that countless paintings, novels and dramatisations have been inspired by the fire of 1666.
So now it was our turn! What could a poem inspired by the Great Fire look and sound like? And could our visitors help us shape it?
First, we needed an expert. We teamed up with award-winning performance poet Sara Hirsch, who was keen to tackle the subject of the fire:
“Fire is so dramatic and vivid; it lends itself to all sorts of metaphors. It’s so destructive and powerful. The Great Fire itself is was such a huge moment in our history. It really shaped this City and so it still feels relevant”.
Now onto content – Sara needed some help getting started, and who better to ask than the families visiting the museum? The Great Fire of London is a key topic in Key Stage 1 classrooms across the nation. Children and their families are exposed to the story, facts and figures of the Great Fire of London in a unique way, compared to many other visitors to the museum.
So one day during February half term 2017, Sara set up some drop-in poetry workshops in our City Gallery, setting families the task of thinking about the fire in a different way. How might you describe the fire if you were the sky that night? What would fire look like if it was an animal? What would it sound like if it was a piece of music?
“The families were so enthusiastic and generated loads of text and drawings from which I got so many ideas! Things people wrote made me see the fire in a whole new way and from that came the idea of a rumour and writing from the perspective of the fire itself. I am so grateful for everyone’s input in creating the finished piece.”
Inspired by the families’ work throughout the day, Sara then went away to craft her own response to the Great Fire of London, using loads of rhyming fire imagery and deciding how best to merge all those ideas into one poem.
After a fantastic performance of the first draft later that day, Sara’s final product is below for you all to enjoy.
The Fire! Fire! exhibition ended in April 2017.
Step inside the Fire! Fire! exhibition to get a backstage tour of the Great Fire with curator Meriel Jeater.
50 min watch
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