The Royal Mint has launched (June 15) its Great Fire £2 coins, available in a Piedfort silver Proof strike and a 22 karat gold Proof edition. The coins mark the solemn anniversary of an event that changed the city of London in profound ways still felt three and a half centuries later. The fire that burned out of control from September 2-5, 1666, began in Pudding Lane in a baker’s shop after a maid failed to adequately put out the fire under an oven at the end of the night.
The year before the disaster, Charles II departed London and relocated in order to avoid succumbing to disease and the ravages of the plague. Although many of his subjects would have liked to have done the same, few criticized the King for leaving for the countryside. In September of 1666, however, Charles was in London and is remembered for heroically taking charge of the operation to save the city. He ordered those fighting the fire to create fire-breaks which required knocking down perfectly good buildings to starve the fire of the wood it needed to burn. Charles II also ordered that navy rations stored in the docks in the East End should be given to those who had fled the city.
Remarkably, the number of casualties from this Great Fire was small, with possibly only 5 people dying, including the maid who had failed to extinguish the oven fires. However, the toll of those who eventually died from various ailments and exposure to the elements as a result of losing their homes and other indirect causes was considerably higher. In total, more than 13,200 houses were lost in the three days the fire burned, including 87 parish churches, the Royal Exchange, Guildhall, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, built during the Middle Ages — all totally destroyed or eventually knocked down and re-built.
The Great Fire of London is still remembered for bringing two pivotal changes to London. First and foremost, it swept away much of the old structures constructed in wood, many of which were dilapidated and dangerous in their own right. Their destruction prompted mandates that future buildings in the immediate city be constructed from brick and concrete to ensure that another such fire would be averted. Second, and perhaps more poignant to the survival of its inhabitants: the fire swept away the plague, the disease responsible for decimating much of Europe’s population in repeated waves of epidemic. The fleas which transmitted the disease from person to person traveled on rats and in the cramped and unsanitary conditions in which many city dwellers lived. The parasite flourished with ease, transmitting in its wake the deadly malady which it was said could kill its victim in a matter of hours. With the destruction of the slums, the disease was also gone.
After the fire, the city’s municipal service made the crucial addition of fire brigades, which were formed by insurance companies as a way of recouping the costs of extinguishing fires. Ultimately, Sir Christopher Wren, one of the most highly acclaimed English architects, was named to plan the new city, which would take the better part of 30 years to complete. Today, the site where the fire first started is now marked by a 202-foot orb monument, which was built between 1671 and 1677.
The coin, designed by Royal Mint artist Aaron West, depicts the moment 350 years ago when devastation hit London and its inhabitants were forced to “leave all to the fire.” This dramatic event brought about destruction that would go on to shape the iconic skyline of the London we know today. London’s 17th century skyline is seen from the perspective of one of the Londoners seeking sanctuary on higher ground across the Thames. The obverse includes the fifth effigy of HM Queen Elizabeth II as designed by Royal Mint engraver Jody Clark, which has been used since 2015.
|2 Pounds||.925 silver||12 grams||28.4 mm||Proof||10,500 pieces|
|2 Pounds||.925 silver||24 grams||28.4 mm.||Proof||5000 pieces|
|2 Pounds||.916.7 gold||15.97 grams||28.4 mm.||Proof||1000 pieces|
The base metal BU version of this commemorative coin was issued earlier this year in a presentation folder. The precious metal versions are now available from the Royal Mint. Of the 10,500 silver Proof pieces produced, a total of 7,500 are available as separate boxed presentation. The Piedfort silver pieces are available in 3,500 separate presentation pieces and the gold strikes are available to 800 separate presentation pieces. For more information on these and other coins offered by the Royal Mint, please visit their Web site. International sales will be dispatched where applicable.