From the archives – 1666: Barristers hit by Great Fire of London

This week’s archive material comes not from The Lawyer but courtesy of the Museum of London, which will hold Fire! Fire!, an exhibition about the Great Fire of London, from 23 July this year.

It’s a letter from Robert Flatman to his brother Thomas, a barrister, written on 9 September 1666.

“I am not able to express without horror the great progress of the fire”, he writes.

“Your chamber in the Temple is down, but your books are safe.”

The Inns of Court were devastated by the Great Fire. Among the Inn buildings that survived are Middle Temple Hall, which was spared thanks to a change in wind direction. The Seven Stars pub, a favourite haunt of barristers located behind the Royal Courts of Justice which dates to 1602, also emerged unscathed.

However, many lawyers would have lost most of their work possessions: it was the summer recess and chambers would have been locked up and quiet. Thomas was fortunate to have had a brother nearby who was able to save his books.

Thomas himself appears not to have suffered too much as a result of the fire. In 1672 he married, “being smitten with a fair virgin, and more with her fortune,” and a published a book of songs and verse in 1674, before his eventual death in 1688, aged 55.

Fire! Fire! runs at the Museum of London, Barbican from 23 July 2016 to 17 April 2017. 

Letter written by Robert Flatman to his brother Thomas. (c) Museum of London. Click for full size.