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The Great Fire of London

The Great Fire of London

The Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed an area of one and a half miles by half a mile including 87 churches and 13,200 houses. In all this destruction, it is amazing that only 6 people are definitely known to have been killed. However, it seems likely that the actual death toll was much higher. The fire started in the house and shop of Thomas Farynor, baker to Charles II, in Pudding Lane (the site of Farynor's house is marked today by the Monument). Farynor forgot to douse the fire in his oven on the previous night and embers set light to the firewood stacked nearby. This piece of timber was charred during the Great Fire of London.

Unknown, 1666
© National Maritime Museum, London


The 'Princess Alice' disaster

The 'Princess Alice' disaster

The collision of the passenger paddle steamer the 'Princess Alice' with the collier the 'Bywell Castle', remains the worst ever river disaster on the Thames. The 'Princess Alice' sank in Galleons Reach on 3 September 1878 with the loss of an estimated 640 lives. Her commander, Captain Grinstead, perished in disaster and was blamed for the collision. He inexplicably changed the course of the 'Princess Alice' directly into the path of the oncoming collier. The 'Bywell Castle' reversed her engines, but it was too late and she struck the 'Princess Alice' splitting the paddle steamer in two. She sank in four minutes. Very few passengers would have been killed by the collision, but hundreds were either thrown into the polluted Thames on impact or trapped inside the sinking ship. This print shows the remains of the passenger boat being brought ashore at Woolwich through a crowd of onlookers.

Illustrated London News, 21 September 1878
© Newham Archives and Local Studies Library Collection.


The HMS 'Albion' launch disaster

The HMS 'Albion' launch disaster

The 'Albion' was a first-class battleship commissioned by the Admiralty at the height of the Anglo-German naval arms race. On 21 June 1898 30,000 eager spectators crammed into the shipyard to watch her launch by the Duchess of York. Two hundred of these people had squeezed onto the temporary slipway bridge to get a better view. When the enormous 119m long ship hit the water it created a wave so powerful that the bridge was swept away drowning many of the onlookers. It took 10 minutes for the shipyard authorities and launch party to realise that an accident had occurred.

Unknown, 1898
© Newham Archives and Local Studies Library Collection.


The Silvertown TNT factory explosion

The Silvertown TNT factory explosion

The explosion at the Silvertown factory on the 19th January 1917 killed 73 people and flattened the surrounding area. It started when a small fire broke out in the Silvertown TNT plant. The fire quickly spread and ignited the stored explosives at 7pm. A large part of the factory was instantly destroyed together with several nearby streets. The explosion was so great that red-hot lumps of metal rained down on the surrounding area and started fires for miles around. The glare from these fires could be seen as far away as Maidstone in Kent and Guildford in Surrey. The explosion caused £250,000 worth of damage to surrounding property, a huge sum of money at that time.

Unknown, January 1917
© Newham Archives and Local Studies Library Collection.


The Blitz

The Blitz

The Blitz was the name given to the constant bombing of London between September 1940 and May 1941. More than 20,000 Londoners were killed in the Blitz. The docks were chosen as the main target and over 25,000 bombs fell on Docklands. The Luftwaffe (the German airforce) hoped to paralyse the commercial life of the capital by bombing the docks, warehouses, wharves, railway lines, factories and power stations of the East End. This meant that people living in East London were especially vulnerable. In this photograph the Royal Naval College stands silhouetted against the glowing sky, lit up by the myriad fires caused by the bombing of the docks. This remarkable photograph was taken from the grounds of the National Maritime Museum on 15 October 1940 at the height of the Blitz.

Unknown, 15 October 1940
© National Maritime Museum, London



National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund