17th-century fire engine restoration marks Great Fire of London

museum of london, great fire of london
A restored 17th century fire engine arrives at the Museum of London in preparation for the vehicle going on display at the Museum's Fire! Fire! exhibition, which will open to the public from 23 July 2016 to 17 April 2017. Credit: Matt Alexander/PA Wire

Museum restores historic engine as part of its in-depth look at the Great Fire of London to mark its 350th anniversary.

museum of london, great fire of london
A restored 17th-century fire engine arrives at the Museum of London in preparation for the vehicle going on display at the Fire! Fire! exhibition Credit: Matt Alexander/PA Wire

A 17th-century fire engine has been restored to its original glory as part of its forthcoming exhibition, Fire! Fire!, which will commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London this September.

Built in London in the late 1670s by John Keeling, when the Museum of London acquired the fire engine in 1928, the only surviving part of the engine was the central barrel.

The restoration was modelled on a 19th-century photograph of the engine, which showed it still intact with its undercarriage, wheels, tow bar and pumping arms.

The museum worked with a team of long-established coachbuilders, Croford Coachbuilders in Kent, to reconstruct the fire engine as authentically as possible using traditional techniques and materials.

Exhibition curator, Meriel Jeater, said: “This fantastic reconstruction has revealed some incredible insight into how our fire engine would have worked. We now know that, with fixed wheels and a weight of over 500kg even without water, it would have been extremely difficult to manoeuvre around London’s narrow, cobbled streets.

“Also, the relatively crude pump mechanism was only able to squirt out about six pints of water over a rather short distance, so it would have been perilously close to the flames to have had any chance of putting them out. It was really hard for our visitors to imagine this object as a working fire engine when it was just a barrel and pump, so we’re really excited to unveil it in all its glory when we open our exhibition next month.”

Fire! Fire! runs from 23 July 2016 to 17 April 2017 at the Museum of London and will focus on life on the eve of the fire, the dramatic events that took place as the blaze burned through a quarter of the city in 1666, and how London recovered from the devastation.

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