A newly-uncovered document, possibly direct reportage from a parliamentary committee, could provide a vital insight into the investigation that followed the Great Fire Of London.
A hastily-scrawled document, littered with spelling mistakes, is possibly the only surviving reportage of the House of Commons probe into the fire that devastating London for four days in September 1666, 350 years ago.
Although now widely believed to be caused by an accident, the city was rife with paranoia and speculation about the origins – with many believing that the true spark was a Papist plot.
The unusual document, soon to go on show at the Museum of London, appears to be a verbal report to Sir Robert Brooks’ parliamentary investigation on January 22, 1667, listing 17 depositions, including that of Robert Hubert, the Frenchman who confessed to, and was ultimately hanged for, starting the fire on October 27, 1666.
It is not clear if Hubert, a presumed Catholic, did indeed start the fire and the judges at his trial doubted his guilt, thinking he might be mad.
Many unofficial printed versions of Brooks’ report, derived from handwritten notes, were distributed to feed people’s fascination with the calamity. This original manuscript, the phrasing of which differs from the printed versions in many places, is probably the only surviving handwritten copy of the Committee’s findings.
The statement “That this Monsyer Hubert, lived a Papest & died one: all though if ever given out ye He was a Huginet....” is not found in the published versions and appears to be unique to this scribed report.
Among the other depositions mentioned is that of Thomas Farriner, the owner of the bakery on Pudding Lane where the fire began.
Although the writer is unknown, the clumsy phrasing and a range of phonetic spellings including “Frinch” instead of “French” and “marchant” rather than “merchant” suggest to experts that they had a pronounced regional accent and were not particularly well schooled.
Hazel Forsyth, senior curator at the Museum Of London who researched the acquisition, said: “Every new piece of evidence enhances our understanding of the events before, during and after the Great Fire.
“This incredibly rare find is a fine addition to the Museum Of London’s world-leading collection of printed books and manuscripts relating to the Great Fire.”
Visitors to the Museum of London’s Fire! Fire! exhibition will be able to examine the document for themselves when it goes on show from Friday, October 21. Fire! Fire! runs until 17 April 16, 2017.