On the night of 30-31 October 1841 fire broke out within an overhead flue in the Bowyer Tower, north of the Tower of London. The flames spread to the neighbouring Armoury building, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and constructed between 1685 and 1692. On 1 November, the ‘Morning Post’ reported: ‘It is with feelings of the deepest regret that we have to record the total destruction of the small armoury in the Tower of London, a loss which is a national one.’ The items destroyed also included the wheel of Nelson’s warship ‘HMS Victory’.
Artist William Oliver must have been close by on the evening when the fire took hold, because he was probably the only artist to arrive in time to sketch the enormous flames that lapped around the building. Printseller Colnaghi & Puckle took advantage of public interest in the event by issuing a lithograph after Oliver’s sketch on 3 November, just three days after the fire was extinguished. Further lithographs, showing the full extent of the damage to the buildings, made after drawings by J. Cater, ‘a gentleman of the Ordnance’, and worked up by Oliver, were published by Colnaghi & Puckle in December, under the title ‘Six Views taken after the Great Fire at the Tower of London’.
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