Museum News

The latest on exhibitions, acquisitions, and key decisions.

Identifying the first witness of the Great Fire of London

New research has identified the first witness to the Great Fire of London: Thomas Dagger, a journeyman baker in Thomas Farriner’s bakery on Pudding Lane, where the fire began on 2 September 1666.

Evidence about the Farriner family has long been known to historians, but it is only now that the baker’s ‘man’ (meaning servant or journeyman), who is described in a contemporary account as discovering the fire and raising the alarm, can be named.

Image: © Museum of London

The research was undertaken by Professor Kate Loveman of the University of Leicester for the Museum of London’s new site in Smithfield (opening in 2026; see CA 391), and will help to inform its galleries. Her study was funded by ‘Reimagining the Restoration’, a project that is working to develop new teaching resources on the Great Fire, and used information from letters, pamphlets, and legal and guild records conclusively to identify Thomas Dagger.

Kate said: ’It was fascinating to find out more about what happened on that famous night… Unlike the Farriners, [Dagger’s] name didn’t become associated with the fire at the time. Soon after the disaster, he merges back into the usual records of Restoration life, having children and setting up his own bakery. His is a story about the fire, but also about how Londoners recovered.’

For more information about the research, visit the website https://pepyshistory.le.ac.uk/who-discovered-the-great-fire.

New exhibition explores Cambridge’s links with colonialism

A major new exhibition currently running at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge explores not only how the trade in enslaved people transformed the commercial and cultural landscape of Britain, but how it shaped the museum’s destiny too.

Black Atlantic: power, people, resistance begins with the story of the museum’s founder, Viscount Richard FitzWilliam (1745-1816). His family’s money stemmed in part from the South Sea Company and the East India Company, and the galleries in which the exhibition is being staged were themselves built using profits from enslavement and exploitation.

Exploring both very local and global narratives, the displays feature significant national and international loans, as well as items from across the University of Cambridge’s museums, libraries, and colleges. They comprise objects made in Europe, West Africa, South America, and the Caribbean, and include both historical objects and creations by contemporary black artists.

Key themes include the history and diverse cultures of pre-Colonial Africa and the Caribbean; the rise of the trade in enslaved peoples; how this industry brought fashionable new luxury goods to Britain, harvested by enslaved labour; and stories of resistance and self-liberation (such as the Maroon communities of Suriname).

Image: © Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge

The exhibition runs until 7 January 2024; for more details, see http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/visit-us/exhibitions/black-atlantic-power-people-resistance.

New Exhibitions

Railways United, National Waterfront Museum, Swansea
Until 25 February 2024

Rising Tide:  art and environment in Oceania, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
Until 14 April 2024
http://www.nms.ac.uk/exhibitions-events/exhibitions/ national-museum-of-scotland/rising-tide

Last chance to see

To the Roar of the Crowd, Segedunum Roman Fort, Wallsend
Until 29 October 2023
http://www.segedunumromanfort.org.uk/ whats-on/roman-games

The Daily Grind: the industrial workers of the Ironbridge Gorge, Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, Telford
Until 5 November 2023 

Salisbury on Camera:  50 years of the Salisbury Journal archive, Salisbury Museum
Until 29 October 2023

Wessex Airscapes: elevating Wiltshire, Wiltshire Museum, Devizes
Until 15 October 2023