The Great Fire of London in the Year 1666
Coloured aquatintpublished 1 December 1792
About the work
To the left of this image of devastation, Ludgate (the western most gate in London Wall) is filled with flames during the Great Fire of London. The gate was destroyed by the fire and was later rebuilt, before being demolished in 1760. This aquatint illustrates the moment just after the walls adjacent to Ludgate fell. In the background stand the medieval St. Paul's Cathedral and the Norman church of St Mary-le-Bow, both of which were later destroyed by the fire. To the left of the foreground, families can be seen fleeing the city.
The Great Fire of London began on Sunday 2 September 1666 at a baker's shop in Pudding Lane, near London Bridge. It took less than a week for the fire to destroy 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Royal Exchange, the Custom House and numerous other business and municipal buildings. However, only eight deaths were recorded as a result of the fire. Many printed images illustrating the Great Fire have been published, recording this momentous event in London’s history.
About the artist
William Russell Birch was born in Warwickshire, the son of a surgeon. As a child he was taken in by a wealthy cousin in Birmingham, who apprenticed him to London jeweller and goldsmith Thomas Jeffreys. Six years later he began studying enamel painting under Henry Spicer. In 1775 he was living in Covent Galrden. By 1787, he had moved to Hampstead Heath and he exhibited Royal Academy from 1781 to 1794. He also began working as a printmaker. In 1794, he emigrated to Philadelphia with his son, Thomas (later a marine painter). Along with his son, he engraved two series of ‘Views in Philadelphia’ (1800) and ‘Country Seats...’ (1808), as well painting enamels and miniatures of prominent Americans. He died in Philadelphia, aged 79.