This rather unremarkable obelisk on Putney Heath actually commemorates the invention of ‘Fireproof House’ and was erected, not coincidentally, on the 110th anniversary of the great conflagration.

hartley-obeliskThe rather eccentric David Hartley, an inventor and MP, came up with the idea of sheathing joists under floorboards with thin layers of what were initially iron and later iron and copper plating to prevent the spread of fire in homes and ships and was granted a patent for his system in 1773.

Known as ‘Hartley’s Fire Plates’, he claimed in a pamphlet that a single fireplate might have prevented the Great Fire – a claim which got other MPs excited and led them to grant him cash – £2,500 – to continue his experiments as well as an extension on his patent, from the usual 15 to 31 years.

His experiments included building homes for the express purpose of setting them alight to test his invention, one of which he built on Wimbledon Common. Known as the ‘Fireproof House’, the property was repeatedly set alight in front of prominent witnesses.

These included MPs, the Lord Mayor of London and Aldermen of the City of London – who granted Hartley the Freedom of the City and encouraged fire plates to be included in all new buildings in London – and, of course, King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte. One of the tests was apparently carried out while the royal family was eating breakfast in an upstairs room inside (they survived unscathed – one hates to think of Hartley’s fate should they not have).

The house is now gone but the Hartley Memorial Obelisk, erected just off Wildcroft Road in what were formerly the grounds of Wildcroft Manor, remains.

The red brick and stone Grade II-listed structure was erected by the City of London Corporation in 1776, the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, to commemorate Hartley’s invention of fire plates. The first stone in the monument – which is attributed to George Dance – was laid by the then Lord Mayor, John Sawbridge.

PICTURE: David Antis/Geograph/CC BY-SA 2.0

The most notorious of London’s many prisons, Newgate remained in use for more than 700 years.

The prison – located on the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey on the site of what is now London’s Central Criminal Court (known as the Old Bailey thanks to its position on the street known as Old Bailey) – was apparently first constructed around the end of the 1100s on the orders of King Henry II at the site of one of the gates in the Roman wall (see picture).

It was enlarged and renovated several times over the ensuing centuries (including a complete rebuilding after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and another to the design of George Dance after the prison was badly damaged during the Gordon Riots of 1780, sparked by opposition to Catholic emancipation).

The prison, which was infamous for the squalid conditions in which prisoners were housed, was used for a range of purposes including housing debtors and the incarceration of people awaiting execution (by the 18th century, it’s said that more than 350 crimes had become punishable by death).

In 1783 public executions were moved from Tyburn, west of the city, to a site just outside the prison. In 1868, executions were no longer open to the public at large and the gallows moved inside. The prison closed in 1902 and was eventually demolished in 1904.

Famous prisoners who spent time in Newgate include Shakespeare’ contemporary Ben Jonson (for killing a man in a duel), 17th century author Daniel Defoe (for his authorship of political pamphlets), Captain William Kidd (for piracy), and William Penn, Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania (for contempt of court during a case brought after he was accused of having illegally preached ).

But perhaps the most infamous is the 18th century criminal Jack Sheppard, known for having escaped from the prison several times before finally being hanged at Tyburn (close to where Marble Arch now stands).

The only surviving part of the prison in its original location is part of the prison wall which can be seen in Amen Corner.

PICTURE: Wikipedia.com