Parliament Burns: A Family Affair

Today is the 180th anniversary of the 1834 fire at Parliament, and I’m delighted that this year has seen the collision of political and family history in the story.  When giving a talk about The Day Parliament Burned Down earlier this year in Saffron Walden, Essex, I was approached afterwards by Michael Furlong and his wife Lesley with amazing angle on the fire.  They had traced Michael’s family history back to his Great-Great-Grandfather.  He was an Irish labourer who was living in Westminster in the 1830s, and, searching the web for any further information had come across a Patrick Furlong mentioned in relation to my book.  Reading it, they had discovered his part in starting the most momentous blaze in England between the Blitz and 1666.  It was brilliant to meet them and hear about Patrick’s personal story.  I knew the official side – that he was a contract paviour at Westminster, a good steady man with sound references, living in the nearby slum with his family who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on 16 Oct 1834.  Now the present day Furlongs filled in his story – particularly that he was a first generation Irish immigrant (b. 1796) who had walked from Liverpool to London to find a job after leaving Ireland, and that he stayed in the immediate area of Westminster with his family after the disaster, dying in 1866 with a large family, still in the slum area of the Devil’s Acre, 81 Great Peter St.  Incredible!

You can follow a real-time tweet of the fire, including Patrick Furlong’s role in it, at @parliamentburns throughout today, and there is still time to book on a guided walk as well.

 

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Michael Furlong, Great-Great Grandson of Patrick Furlong, one of the labourers who set the old Houses of Parliament alight in 1834.