If you belong to a noble family from England, Wales, Northern Ireland or the Commonwealth, your coat of arms and pedigree details will have been kept at the College of Arms in the heart of the City of London. So, your family will no doubt be very grateful to the London Fire Brigade, who brought a raging fire at the College under control in just a few hours on the 5th of February, 2009.
Crews came from Euston, Soho, Clerkenwell, Islington and Dowgate to the office in Queen Victoria Street, with eight engines and 40 firefighters tackling the blaze at its height. 35 people were evacuated from the building, and a further 100 evacuated from neighbouring buildings as a precaution.
Luckily, no historical documents have been reported lost or damaged in the fire, although the work of the heralds, the genealogical and heraldic specialists working at the college, is probably just beginning. All documents must be kept safe from the foam and water used to extinguish the fire, and the historic building itself will need restoration from the damage caused by flames and smoke.
It’s not the first time the College has burned down, however. The College moved to its current site in 1555, and in 1666 the offices were lost in the Great Fire of London. The College was rebuilt in the 1670s, and it is this ‘new’ building on fire that filled the City skyline with smoke today.
In an interesting twist, the fire engines that rushed to the scene probably drove over roads gritted with rock salt from the UK’s last salt mine, deep under Cheshire. The mining activity has left caverns deep in the earth that are at a constant temperature and humidity, which makes them ideal for storing – documents. At present, a few of worked-out sections of the salt mine holds thousands of police records, but the vast mine could easily find room for more aristocratic papers, no doubt!