This Day in London's History
Best stay at home today. 16 October seems to be a date of doom and/or gloom for the capital. (And, incidentally, it's also Davina MaCall's birthday.)
1834: Disastrous fire at Westminster. What Guy Fawkes et al. had failed to do 200 years earlier, a bundle of old tally sticks managed in 1834. The outmoded accounting tools were set for disposal. Dickens sums up what happened next:
It came to pass that they were burned in a stove in the House of Lords. The stove, overgorged with these preposterous sticks, set fire to the panelling; the panelling set fire to the House of Commons; the two houses were reduced to ashes; architects were called in to build others; and we are now in the second million of the cost thereof.
Only a few nuggets survived the immolation, including the ancient Westminster Hall and the nearby Jewel Tower. Today, the destruction might be viewed as something of a blessing, as Charles Barry's replacement building is one of the finest and most famous structures in the world. Imagine London without Big Ben.
1987: The Great Storm batters the south of England. Nineteen years ago, England suffered its greatest natural disaster since storms in 1703. Eighteen people were killed and over a £billion of damage was caused by Mother Nature's angry huffing and puffing. Millions of trees were uprooted in the region, including a third of the specimens at Kew Gardens. Six of the seven famous trees in Sevenoaks were blown root-over-bough (the tree equivalent of arse-over-tit). And many a fallen tree can still be found in places such as Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park.
London Fact of the Week
So how did the 1987 storm compare with the 1703 bluster? Well, measurements were obviously less accurate back then, but the rise of journalism at the time left enough reports that some comparisons can be made. Figures are for the whole of England, not just London.
Number of deaths: >8000, 18
Top wind speeds: 120 mph, 87 mph
Pressure: <950 millibars; 958 millbars
Scapegoat: Crying sins of this nation, Michael Fish
London Persons of the Week
Footbal club Chelsea for: (a) managing to win against Reading despite having a possibly unprecedented two goalkeepers knocked out; (b) fielding John Terry in goal as a result; and (c) having a third-choice goalkeeper whose name will lead to tabloid hell, should he fumble.
One Thing To Do in London
This week's hot tickets both involve former power stations: the Chinese art exhibition at Battersea, and those cool slides at the Tate Modern. Coming soon, the Sellafield Gallery of Surrealist Art (lots of melting clocks and mutant forms).