Robert Hooke Extremely Rare Signed Document with 1666 London Fire Associations Expected to Garner Over $50,000
An extremely rare document signed by British polymath Robert Hooke (1635-1703) as “Rob: Hooke” and pertaining to the Great Fire of London will cross the auction block at our upcoming June 24th sale. Bidding will start at $20,000.
Among collectors, the allure of this document is twofold: first, Hooke signatures are scarce, so any document signed by him is extremely valuable; and second, the document relates to one of the most frightening conflagrations of early modern Europe: the Great Fire of London of 1666.
Hooke is often called “England’s Leonardo” because of his outstanding contributions to many areas of study: philosophy, cartography, architecture, geometry, physics, chemistry, molecular biology, and geology, to name a few. So, we shouldn’t at all be surprised that Hooke took on yet another role beginning in the late 1660s, serving as one of three Surveyors to the City of London. Hooke and his fellow surveyors were responsible for determining the extent of the damage following the Great Fire of London, and for mediating subsequent property disputes. This document dated July 4, 1670 aimed to expedite the “Rebuilding [of] the City” following the “Late dreadfull fire.”
The document describes the details of a property dispute between Will Sanders, a draper or dry goods merchant, and John Rowley, a skinner or tanner. The pair had once cohabited a house and storefront on Ludgate Hill, only steps away from the future St. Paul’s Cathedral (construction of which began in 1675), and one of the areas completely leveled by the fire. Though the draper no longer wanted the skinner to occupy the second story of his residence, he agreed to allot him an alternative space next to the building. Robert Hooke and fellow surveyor John Oliver approved of this plan, signing the document at lower right.
The Great Fire of London ravaged England’s capital between September 2-September 6, 1666, initially sparked in a bakery on Pudding Lane in central London, and quickly spreading west. Modern firefighting techniques did not yet exist, so inhabitants mostly relied on the use of firebreaks—or demolished buildings that interrupted the fires. Historians estimate that the fire (or subsequent firebreaking) led to the destruction of over 13,000 houses, leaving 7 out of 8 Londoners homeless.
It’s estimated that Hooke was involved in at least half of the post-fire surveys of London. His diligence as a surveyor enhanced his overall reputation, legitimizing his future scientific work.