10 sites commemorating the Great Fire of London – 9. A memorial to a fire prevention breakthrough (erected on the Great Fire’s 110th)…

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

What’s in a name?…Putney…

PutneyThis south-west London Thames-side district (and the bridge named after it), traces the origin of its name back to Saxon times.

Putney2Recorded in the Domesday Book as Putelei and known in the Middle Ages as Puttenhuthe, it apparently goes back to a Saxon named Puttan who lived in the area and the Old English word ‘hyp’, which means ‘landing place’. Hence, “Puttan’s landing place” (or Puttan’s wharf).

Putney has something of a storied history – it was the birthplace of Tudor heavyweight Thomas Cromwell, Georgian-era author Edward Gibbon and it was here, in the still-standing parish church of St Mary the Virgin (pictured), that the Putney Debates were held in 1647 among members of the New Model Army.

The first bridge was apparently built here in the first half of the 18th century and the present stone bridge in the 1880s.

Today a sought-after riverside residential district, Putney boasts a sizeable high street, great riverside pubs and eateries and is particularly popular every April when The Boat Race is held between Oxford and Cambridge universities thanks to the starting point being just upstream of Putney Bridge.

The area also is home to the 400 acre Putney Heath (which adjoins Wimbledon Common), a popular site for duels in the 18th century, and also home to a stone and brick obelisk, erected in 1770 to mark the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London (more on that in an upcoming post).

10 small (and fascinating) museums in London…4. The Wimbledon Windmill Museum

A tiny museum located in an 1817 windmill standing in the middle of Wimbledon Common, the Wimbledon Windmill Museum provides an interesting insight into the work and lives of the millers who once occupied it and the thousands of other windmills around the UK.

Displays are located over three levels – the last reached by a steep climb up a ladder – and range from the tools and machinery used by the millers to a room packed with models of different types of windmills (all of which turn when you press a button) through to a room set up as the mill was in the 1870s when it was divided into homes for six families.

As well as the more static displays, there’s also a chance for the kids to make their own flour and a video playing on a loop which goes into considerable detail on the history and function of windmills in the UK.

There are tearooms located next door (and, if you happen to visit when it’s snowing, there’s a great toboggan run located nearby!).

The windmill itself has some interesting historic connections – it was in the miller’s cottage behind the windmill (now much enlarged) that Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell was staying when he wrote Scouting for Boys in 1907.

While this mill dates from 1817, there is a record of millers being on the common as far back as the 17th century. As well as making flour, the miller also served as the common’s constable.

This job entailed keeping an eye out for robbers operating on the common as well as illegal duelists (Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath were apparently popular spots for this).

Indeed, history records that Thomas Dann – the first miller about whom there is a record – and his wife witnessed an infamous duel between Lord Cardigan and Captain Tuckett from the windmill’s roof. Tuckett was wounded during the second round of shots and subsequently taken into the windmill for treatment of his injuries while Dann took Lord Cardigan into custody (he was eventually acquitted after a trial in the House of Lords).

This is certainly a small museum but, with an entry price of only a couple of pounds, well worth spending a little time to look through.

WHERE: The Wimbledon Windmill Museum, Wimbeldon Common (nearest Tube stations are Wimbledon, Wimbledon Park and Southfields); WHEN: 2pm to 5pm Saturdays, 11am to 5pm Sundays (and Bank Holiday Mondays) until October 30th; COST: £2 adults/£1 concessions and children/£5 families (two adults and up to four children); WEBSITE: www.wimbledonwindmill.org.uk.