This exhibition recalls a forgotten disaster when regulators called upon ceramics to protect the citizens of London from fire.
On 11th July 1212 a fire started in Southwark which burned for 10 days. After razing the church on the present day site of Southwark Cathedral, the inferno crossed the river to burn the City. Mayor Henry Fitz Ailwin, London's first Mayor, said that the 'fire, to our greatest dismay, utterly destroyed London Bridge and many other splendid buildings and sent innumerable men and women to their graves'. Later chroniclers set the death toll at 1,000 ̶ 3,000 Londoners, at a time when the population was about 20,000.
What is known of this catastrophe comes from just three sources: a sentence written in the Liber de Antiquis Legibus, 1274 (the chronicles of the mayors and sheriffs of London of the time); a photograph of burnt stones in Southwark Cathedral, and the medieval building regulations set down by Mayor Fitz Ailwin after the blaze.
Two days after the fire the Mayor decreed a ban on thatch roofs to 'protect against fire' and 'pacify the angry citizenry'. Existing roofs were to be plastered or pulled down and replaced with clay tiles or other non-flammables. Residents had 8 days to comply. With new protections in place it would be another 400 years before London suffered a fire of this scale.
The pieces on show are made of clay excavated from the same Thames-side seam as that dug for the new roof tiles demanded by Mayor Fitz Ailwin. The artworks have been kiln-fired then burnt in wood and straw, the building materials held responsible for the Great Fire of 1212.