Chubby cherub blamed

As any fireman will tell you there are a myriad of causes attributable to the origin of a fire and in the aftermath of The Great Fire of London dozens of theories were put forward. We blamed the French – as always – in the guise of a deranged silversmith, Robert Hubert, who confessed and was promptly executed, it was discovered afterwards that he had arrived in the country two days after the conflagration.

[W]illiam Lilly, a famous astrologer, was next in the frame having predicted a major fire in the previous year; he only just managed to save his neck by persuading a special committee of the House of Commons of his innocence. Next the Catholics were accused, they were always a popular whipping boy since the Reformation, and no doubt the Jews were also held to blame.

Now we have strayed into the blaming culture for one simple reason, this week, based on around 20 years of historic data, a study published in The Lancet claims that by 2030 as many as 48 per cent of British men could be obese. Why you might ask has this anything to do with a fire nearly 350 years ago? Well bear with me on that one.

As you might imagine the City Fathers thought long and hard about the fire’s cause and the destruction of their city and decided to erect in Cock Lane, which it was claimed was at the western limit of the fire’s destruction, this little statute. The Boy on Pye Corner was deliberately made fat (although by modern standards he appears just a little chubby) to add emphasis to its inscription:

The Boy on Pye Corner was erected to commemorate the staying of the Great Fire which beginning at Pudding Lane was ascribed to the sin of gluttony when not attributed to the Papists as on the Monument.

So there you have it, junk food was to blame.

Curiously the original building on this site, which was demolished in 1910, upon which the Boy was placed, was a pub called The Fortunes of War and was favoured by the resurrection men who sold corpses to the anatomists at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital opposite. The corpses fresh from road, river, grave and hangman’s noose or just murdered were exhibited in an upstairs room by the landlord, labelled with the finder’s name and presumably with a suitable price attached.

The name of the alley – Cock Lane – was first recorded in 1200, and probably signified a lane where fighting cocks were reared and sold. In the late Middle Ages Cock Lane was the only place north of the Thames were brothels were legally sanctioned, handy is your cabbie refuses to go south of the River.

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