On this day: The Great Theatre Royal Fire

The burnt out Theatre Royal of 1887

The Theatre Royal after the fire. 1887.

On the 5th of September 1887, the Theatre Royal in Exeter, England burnt down, killing 186 people.

The first Theatre Royal that was destroyed in 1885..

The Theatre Royal that burnt in 1885

It was not the first time the theatre burnt down. After earlier versions were also destroyed by fire, the most recent disaster had been only two years earlier, in 1885.

The 1887 fire broke out backstage during a performance of Romany Rye, when gas lighting set gauze on fire. Panic and crowded exits meant that audience members were trapped.

Only 68 bodies were recovered.

Burnt programme for Romany Rye. Theatre Royal Exeter England. 1887.

A burnt scrap of a programme from the performance

A national campaign collected £20,763 for the victims’ families.

Emma Livry in the title role of the Taglioni-Schneitzhoeffer La Sylphide. Paris, 1862.

Emma Livry shortly before her death

Gas lighting was dangerous backstage in the nineteenth century theatre, and a particular danger for ballet dancers, who wore light, floaty fabrics that were highly flammable. Young French ballerina Emma Livry died a few years earlier after her costume caught on fire while she waited for her entrance.

Exeter theatre fire memorial England United Kingdom

The memorial to the victims

The new Theatre Royal had only been opened the year before the fire. The final version of the theatre was finally closed in 1962.

On this day: the Great Fire of London began

Great_Fire_LondonDetail of the Great Fire of London by an unknown painter, depicting the fire as it would have appeared on the evening of Tuesday, 4 September 1666.

A depiction of the fire as it was on the 4th of September, by an unknown painter.

The tallest flames surround St Paul’s.

Shortly after midnight on the second of September, 1666, a fire broke out in a bakery on Pudding Lane in the City of London (the part of London that falls in the Roman “Square Mile”). It quickly became out of control, and would go on to become the Great Fire, destroying the homes of 70 000 of the 80 000 inhabitants of the area, and wiping out the London of the Middle Ages.

Despite the size of the catastrophe, only six deaths were recorded. However, it is likely the deaths and disappearances of poorer people were never registered.

Copperplate_map_Bridewell Bridewell Palace London in the 1550s.

Bridewell Palace in the 1550s

Included in the destruction was St Paul’s Cathedral, as well as eighty-seven parish churches, the Royal Exchange, Bridewell Palace (which at the time was operating as a prison), and a number of city gates.

Old St Paul's Cathedral in London

Old St Paul’s

The fire burnt until the fifth of September.

On this day: Great Britain adopts the Gregorian calendar

On the 2nd of September, 1752, Great Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar. Most of Western Europe had adopted the calendar some two centuries earlier, changing from the Julian calendar.

Included in this reform was the British Empire, including parts of what is now the United States.

The Julian calendar is still used alongside the Gregorian calendar in some parts of the world, which is the reason some countries in the east of Europe celebrate Easter and Christmas on different dates.

The Gregorian Calendar

On this day: the last passenger pigeon

On the 1st of September, 1914, the world’s last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in the United States.

Martha the last passenger pigeon. 1912.

Martha circa 1912

A female, named Martha, the pigeon was part of a species that was native to North America, and once one of the most populous in the world. The passenger pigeon once accounted for one in every four birds in North America.

Albert Cooper, a trapper who used decoy pigeons to trap hundreds of wild birds (c. 1870)Decoy_Passenger_Pigeon

Albert Cooper, circa 1870. He trapped hundreds of wild birds using decoy pigeons.

Hunting, the sale of pigeon meat, and the loss of habitat meant that the passenger pigeon died out.

ThePassengerPigeon1T. Phillips' Store, a typical game store of the 1870s.

US game shop circa 1870

Conservationists made many attempts to save the birds, but the laws were not enforced.

Woman in Cooktown, Queensland, 1880-1890.

This is one of my favourite Victorian era photographs. This young Australian woman is so pretty, and it’s one of the few portraits from the era where there’s no fussy hairstyle (those hideous curls they used to do at the top of their heads!).

Taken in Queensland between 1880 and 1890.

The woman’s name is unknown.


Woman in Cooktown, Queensland, 1880-1890.