WestEndExtra

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Christopher Wren knew a bit about fire safety

24 August, 2017

• IN today’s fire safety debate we should go back to 1669 and Charles II’s instructions to Christopher Wren.

The King asked him to compose rules for rebuilding London so fires could never jump from one building to another, as they had done among the timber frames of the city.

Wren laid down rules for 3ft fire breaks between windows, horizontally and vertically. The timber window frames were to be set back from the façade, and timber roofs built behind parapets of brick. These rules dictated the Queen Anne and Georgian streets we now know.

Wren’s London building acts were enforced by district surveyors. Later “means of escape” regulations were introduced.

Because of the new power of the water pumps on the fire engines in the 1920s and 1930s, so-called “waivers” could be granted for the reduction of the dimensions of fire breaks down to as little as nine inches.

All these regulations were to change when Margaret Thatcher abolished the district surveyors in the 1980s and introduced the concept of self-regulation.

This concept has led short-cuts and catastrophe. And there has been a reduction of the authority of the fire brigade, and even closure of some fire stations. Hence the dangerous mess we are in today.

NICHOLAS WOOD, NW3

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