• Kate Smith

A fourteen year old explores melted bells and falling masonry in Old St Paul's

Updated: Jan 14, 2018

Age 14, William Taswell had been having an eventful couple of years; in 1665 he was a witness of the Great Plague as it killed a third of London's population. The next year he was back at school during the outbreak of the Great Fire of London and a free agent in the burning town. He witnessed what many Londoners regarded as impossible: the destruction of the great medieval cathedral of St Paul's.

A model of the old cathedral sits in the medieval gallery of the Museum of London. Taswell's description of the still smouldering cathedral is gripping Boy's Own Adventure stuff, complete with scorchingly hot ground, melting bells, falling masonry and a half cremated body.

'And now let any person judge the violent emotion I was in when I perceived the metal belonging to the bells melting; the ruinous condition of its walls; whole heaps of stone of a large circumference tumbling down with a great noise just upon my feet, ready to crush me to death.'

It might seem strange to us that a child would be free to roam around in such dangerous circumstances. 17th century London was clearly a place where people had a different perception of risk, and viewed young teenagers as being able to fend for themselves.

Extract from a Youth Map of London - covering the lives of young people in London from pre-history to modern times. As well as covering collections in the Museum of London, it encouraged readers to explore collections across many smaller and often local London museums.

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