Great Fire of London

Great Fire of London

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The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration
Conflagration
A conflagration or a blaze is an uncontrolled burning that threatens human life, health, or property. A conflagration can be accidentally begun, naturally caused , or intentionally created . Arson can be accomplished for the purpose of sabotage or diversion, and also can be the consequence of...

 that swept through the central parts of the English city of London, from Sunday, 2 September to Wednesday, 5 September 1666. The fire gutted the medieval City of London
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

 inside the old Roman
Roman Britain
Roman Britain was the part of the island of Great Britain controlled by the Roman Empire from AD 43 until ca. AD 410.The Romans referred to the imperial province as Britannia, which eventually comprised all of the island of Great Britain south of the fluid frontier with Caledonia...

 City Wall
London Wall
London Wall was the defensive wall first built by the Romans around Londinium, their strategically important port town on the River Thames in what is now the United Kingdom, and subsequently maintained until the 18th century. It is now the name of a road in the City of London running along part of...

. It threatened, but did not reach, the aristocratic district of Westminster
City of Westminster
The City of Westminster is a London borough occupying much of the central area of London, England, including most of the West End. It is located to the west of and adjoining the ancient City of London, directly to the east of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and its southern boundary...

, Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

's Palace of Whitehall
Palace of Whitehall
The Palace of Whitehall was the main residence of the English monarchs in London from 1530 until 1698 when all except Inigo Jones's 1622 Banqueting House was destroyed by fire...

, and most of the suburban slum
Slum
A slum, as defined by United Nations agency UN-HABITAT, is a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing and squalor and lacking in tenure security. According to the United Nations, the percentage of urban dwellers living in slums decreased from 47 percent to 37 percent in the...

s. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St. Paul's Cathedral, and most of the buildings of the City authorities. It is estimated that it destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City's 80,000 inhabitants. The death toll from the fire is unknown and is traditionally thought to have been small, as only six verified deaths were recorded. This reasoning has recently been challenged on the grounds that the deaths of poor and middle-class people were not recorded anywhere, and that the heat of the fire may have cremated many victims, leaving no recognisable remains.

The Great Fire started at the bakery of Thomas Farriner (or Farynor) on Pudding Lane
Pudding Lane
Pudding Lane is a street in London, formerly the location of Thomas Farriner's bakehouse where the Great Fire of London began in 1666. It is off Eastcheap in the City of London, near London Bridge. The nearest tube station is Monument, a short distance to the west...

, shortly after midnight on Sunday, 2 September, and it spread rapidly west across the City of London. The use of the major firefighting technique of the time, the creation of firebreak
Firebreak
A firebreak is a gap in vegetation or other combustible material that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a bushfire or wildfire. A firebreak may occur naturally where there is a lack of vegetation or "fuel", such as a river, lake or canyon...

s by means of demolition, was critically delayed owing to the indecisiveness of the Lord Mayor of London
Lord Mayor of London
The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of London is the legal title for the Mayor of the City of London Corporation. The Lord Mayor of London is to be distinguished from the Mayor of London; the former is an officer only of the City of London, while the Mayor of London is the Mayor of Greater London and...

, Sir Thomas Bloodworth
Thomas Bloodworth
Sir Thomas Bloodworth was Lord Mayor of London from October 1665 to October 1666. His inaction during the early stages of the Great Fire of London was widely criticized as one of the causes for the great extent of the damage to the city.Prior to his time as mayor, Bloodworth was a wealthy...

. By the time large-scale demolitions were ordered on Sunday night, the wind had already fanned the bakery fire into a firestorm
Firestorm
A firestorm is a conflagration which attains such intensity that it creates and sustains its own wind system. It is most commonly a natural phenomenon, created during some of the largest bushfires, forest fires, and wildfires...

 which defeated such measures. The fire pushed north on Monday into the heart of the City. Order in the streets broke down as rumours arose of suspicious foreigners setting fires. The fears of the homeless focused on the French and Dutch, England's enemies in the ongoing Second Anglo-Dutch War
Second Anglo-Dutch War
The Second Anglo–Dutch War was part of a series of four Anglo–Dutch Wars fought between the English and the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries for control over the seas and trade routes....

; these substantial immigrant groups became victims of lynching
Lynching
Lynching is an extrajudicial execution carried out by a mob, often by hanging, but also by burning at the stake or shooting, in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate, control, or otherwise manipulate a population of people. It is related to other means of social control that...

s and street violence. On Tuesday, the fire spread over most of the City, destroying St. Paul's Cathedral and leaping the River Fleet
River Fleet
The River Fleet is the largest of London's subterranean rivers. Its two headwaters are two streams on Hampstead Heath; each is now dammed into a series of ponds made in the 18th century, the Hampstead Ponds and the Highgate Ponds. At the south edge of Hampstead Heath these two streams flow...

 to threaten Charles II's court at Whitehall
Whitehall
Whitehall is a road in Westminster, in London, England. It is the main artery running north from Parliament Square, towards Charing Cross at the southern end of Trafalgar Square...

, while coordinated firefighting efforts were simultaneously mobilising. The battle to quench the fire is considered to have been won by two factors: the strong east winds died down, and the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

 garrison used gunpowder
Gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 to create effective firebreaks to halt further spread eastward.

The social and economic problems created by the disaster were overwhelming. Evacuation from London and resettlement elsewhere were strongly encouraged by Charles II, who feared a London rebellion amongst the dispossessed refugees. Despite numerous radical proposals, London was reconstructed on essentially the same street plan used before the fire.

London in the 1660s



By the 1660s, London was by far the largest city in Britain, estimated at half a million inhabitants, which was more than the next fifty towns in England combined. Comparing London to the Baroque
Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

 magnificence of Paris, John Evelyn
John Evelyn
John Evelyn was an English writer, gardener and diarist.Evelyn's diaries or Memoirs are largely contemporaneous with those of the other noted diarist of the time, Samuel Pepys, and cast considerable light on the art, culture and politics of the time John Evelyn (31 October 1620 – 27 February...

 called it a "wooden, northern, and inartificial congestion of Houses," and expressed alarm about the fire hazard posed by the wood and about the congestion. By "inartificial", Evelyn meant unplanned and makeshift, the result of organic growth and unregulated urban sprawl
Urban sprawl
Urban sprawl, also known as suburban sprawl, is a multifaceted concept, which includes the spreading outwards of a city and its suburbs to its outskirts to low-density and auto-dependent development on rural land, high segregation of uses Urban sprawl, also known as suburban sprawl, is a...

. A Roman settlement for four centuries, London had become progressively more overcrowded inside its defensive City wall
London Wall
London Wall was the defensive wall first built by the Romans around Londinium, their strategically important port town on the River Thames in what is now the United Kingdom, and subsequently maintained until the 18th century. It is now the name of a road in the City of London running along part of...

. It had also pushed outwards beyond the wall into squalid extramural slum
Slum
A slum, as defined by United Nations agency UN-HABITAT, is a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing and squalor and lacking in tenure security. According to the United Nations, the percentage of urban dwellers living in slums decreased from 47 percent to 37 percent in the...

s such as Shoreditch
Shoreditch
Shoreditch is an area of London within the London Borough of Hackney in England. It is a built-up part of the inner city immediately to the north of the City of London, located east-northeast of Charing Cross.-Etymology:...

, Holborn
Holborn
Holborn is an area of Central London. Holborn is also the name of the area's principal east-west street, running as High Holborn from St Giles's High Street to Gray's Inn Road and then on to Holborn Viaduct...

, and Southwark
Southwark
Southwark is a district of south London, England, and the administrative headquarters of the London Borough of Southwark. Situated east of Charing Cross, it forms one of the oldest parts of London and fronts the River Thames to the north...

 and had reached far enough to include the independent City of Westminster
City of Westminster
The City of Westminster is a London borough occupying much of the central area of London, England, including most of the West End. It is located to the west of and adjoining the ancient City of London, directly to the east of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and its southern boundary...

.

By the late 17th century, the City proper—the area bounded by the City wall and the River Thames—was only a part of London, covering some 700 acre (2.8 km²; 1.1 sq mi), and home to about 80,000 people, or one sixth of London's inhabitants. The City was surrounded by a ring of inner suburbs, where most Londoners lived. The City was then as now the commercial heart of the capital, and was the largest market and busiest port in England, dominated by the trading and manufacturing classes. The aristocracy
Aristocracy
Aristocracy , is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best". In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy...

 shunned the City and lived either in the countryside beyond the slum suburbs, or in the exclusive Westminster district (the modern West End
West End of London
The West End of London is an area of central London, containing many of the city's major tourist attractions, shops, businesses, government buildings, and entertainment . Use of the term began in the early 19th century to describe fashionable areas to the west of Charing Cross...

), the site of Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

's court at Whitehall. Wealthy people preferred to live at a convenient distance from the traffic-clogged, polluted, unhealthy City, especially after it was hit by a devastating outbreak of bubonic plague
Bubonic plague
Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis, named after the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. Primarily carried by rodents and spread to humans via fleas, the disease is notorious throughout history, due to the unrivaled scale of death...

 in the Plague Year
Great Plague of London
The Great Plague was a massive outbreak of disease in the Kingdom of England that killed an estimated 100,000 people, 20% of London's population. The disease is identified as bubonic plague, an infection by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, transmitted through a flea vector...

 of 1665.

The relationship between the City and the Crown was very tense. During the Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

, 1642–1651, the City of London had been a stronghold of Republicanism
Republicanism
Republicanism is the ideology of governing a nation as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity, often elections. The exact meaning of republicanism varies depending on the cultural and historical context...

, and the wealthy and economically dynamic capital still had the potential to be a threat to Charles II, as had been demonstrated by several Republican uprisings in London in the early 1660s. The City magistrates were of the generation that had fought in the Civil War, and could remember how Charles I's grab for absolute power
Absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy is a monarchical form of government in which the monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government, his or her power not being limited by a constitution or by the law. An absolute monarch thus wields unrestricted political power over the...

 had led to that national trauma. They were determined to thwart any similar tendencies of his son, and when the Great Fire threatened the City, they refused the offers Charles made of soldiers and other resources. Even in such an emergency, the idea of having the unpopular Royal troops ordered into the City was political dynamite. By the time Charles took over command from the ineffectual Lord Mayor, the fire was already out of control.

Fire hazards in the City



The City was essentially medieval in its street plan, an overcrowded warren of narrow, winding, cobbled alleys. It had experienced several major fires before 1666, the most recent in 1632. Building with wood and roofing with thatch had been prohibited for centuries, but these cheap materials continued to be used. The only major stone-built area was the wealthy centre of the City, where the mansions of the merchants and brokers stood on spacious lots, surrounded by an inner ring of overcrowded poorer parishes whose every inch of building space was used to accommodate the rapidly growing population. These parishes contained workplaces, many of which were fire hazards—foundries
Foundry
A foundry is a factory that produces metal castings. Metals are cast into shapes by melting them into a liquid, pouring the metal in a mold, and removing the mold material or casting after the metal has solidified as it cools. The most common metals processed are aluminum and cast iron...

, smithies
Forge
A forge is a hearth used for forging. The term "forge" can also refer to the workplace of a smith or a blacksmith, although the term smithy is then more commonly used.The basic smithy contains a forge, also known as a hearth, for heating metals...

, glazier
Glazier
A Glazier is a construction professional who selects, cuts, installs, replaces, and removes residential, commercial, and artistic glass. Glaziers also install aluminum storefront frames and entrances, glass handrails and balustrades, shower enclosures, curtain wall framing and glass and mirror...

s'—which were theoretically illegal in the City, but tolerated in practice. The human habitations intermingled with these sources of heat, sparks, and pollution were crowded to bursting point and their construction increased the fire risk: the typical six- or seven-storey timbered London tenement
Tenement
A tenement is, in most English-speaking areas, a substandard multi-family dwelling, usually old, occupied by the poor.-History:Originally the term tenement referred to tenancy and therefore to any rented accommodation...

 houses had "jetties
Jettying
Jettying is a building technique used in medieval timber frame buildings in which an upper floor projects beyond the dimensions of the floor below. This has the advantage of increasing the available space in the building without obstructing the street...

" (projecting upper floors): they had a narrow footprint at ground level, but would maximise their use of land by "encroaching", as a contemporary observer put it, on the street with the gradually increasing size of their upper storeys. The fire hazard posed when the top jetties all but met across the narrow alleys was well perceived—"as it does facilitate a conflagration, so does it also hinder the remedy", wrote one observer—but "the covetousness of the citizens and connivancy [that is, the corruption] of Magistrates" worked in favour of jetties. In 1661, Charles II issued a proclamation forbidding overhanging windows and jetties, but this was largely ignored by the local government. Charles' next, sharper, message in 1665 warned of the risk of fire from the narrowness of the streets and authorised both imprisonment of recalcitrant builders and demolition of dangerous buildings. It too had little impact.

The river front was important in the development of the Great Fire. The Thames offered water for firefighting and the chance of escape by boat, but the poorer districts along the riverfront had stores and cellars of combustibles which increased the fire risk. All along the wharves, the rickety wooden tenements and tar paper
Tar paper
Tar paper is a heavy-duty paper used in construction. Tar paper is made by impregnating paper with tar, producing a waterproof material useful for roof construction. It can be distinguished from Roofing felt:Asphalt-saturated felt. Roofing felt has been in use for over a hundred years...

 shacks of the poor were shoehorned amongst "old paper buildings and the most combustible matter of Tar
Tar
Tar is modified pitch produced primarily from the wood and roots of pine by destructive distillation under pyrolysis. Production and trade in tar was a major contributor in the economies of Northern Europe and Colonial America. Its main use was in preserving wooden vessels against rot. The largest...

r, Pitch
Pitch (resin)
Pitch is the name for any of a number of viscoelastic, solid polymers. Pitch can be made from petroleum products or plants. Petroleum-derived pitch is also called bitumen. Pitch produced from plants is also known as resin. Products made from plant resin are also known as rosin.Pitch was...

, Hemp
Hemp
Hemp is mostly used as a name for low tetrahydrocannabinol strains of the plant Cannabis sativa, of fiber and/or oilseed varieties. In modern times, hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel with modest...

, Rosen
Resin
Resin in the most specific use of the term is a hydrocarbon secretion of many plants, particularly coniferous trees. Resins are valued for their chemical properties and associated uses, such as the production of varnishes, adhesives, and food glazing agents; as an important source of raw materials...

, and Flax
Flax
Flax is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent...

 which was all layd up thereabouts." London was also full of black powder, especially along the river front. Much of it was left in the homes of private citizens from the days of the English Civil War, as the former members of Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

's New Model Army
New Model Army
The New Model Army of England was formed in 1645 by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, and was disbanded in 1660 after the Restoration...

 still retained their muskets and the powder with which to load them. Five to six hundred tons of powder were stored in the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

 at the north end of London Bridge
London Bridge
London Bridge is a bridge over the River Thames, connecting the City of London and Southwark, in central London. Situated between Cannon Street Railway Bridge and Tower Bridge, it forms the western end of the Pool of London...

. The ship chandler
Ship chandler
A ship chandler is a retail dealer in special supplies or equipment for ships.For traditional sailing ships items that could be found in a chandler might include: rosin, turpentine, tar, pitch , linseed oil, whale oil, tallow, lard, varnish, twine, rope and cordage, hemp, oakum, tools A ship...

s along the wharves also held large stocks, stored in wooden barrels.

17th century firefighting


Fires were common in the crowded wood-built city with its open fireplaces, candles, ovens, and stores of combustibles. There was no police or fire department to call, but London's local militia
Militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

, known as the Trained Bands, was at least in principle available for general emergencies, and watching for fire was one of the jobs of the watch, a thousand watchmen or "bellmen" who patrolled the streets at night. Self-reliant community procedures for dealing with fires were in place, and were usually effective. Public-spirited citizens would be alerted to a dangerous house fire by muffled peals on the church bells, and would congregate hastily to fight the fire. The methods available for this relied on demolition and water. By law, the tower of every parish church had to hold equipment for these efforts: long ladders, leather buckets, axes, and "firehooks" for pulling down buildings (see illustration right). Sometimes taller buildings were levelled to the ground quickly and effectively by means of controlled gunpowder explosions. This drastic method of creating firebreaks was increasingly used towards the end of the Great Fire, and modern historians believe it was what finally won the struggle.

Failures in fighting the fire


London Bridge, the only physical connection between the City and the south side of the river Thames, was itself covered with houses and had been noted as a deathtrap in the fire of 1632. By dawn on Sunday these houses were burning, and Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys FRS, MP, JP, was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament who is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man...

, observing the conflagration from the Tower of London, recorded great concern for friends living on the bridge. There were fears that the flames would cross London Bridge to threaten the borough
Borough
A borough is an administrative division in various countries. In principle, the term borough designates a self-governing township although, in practice, official use of the term varies widely....

 of Southwark
Southwark
Southwark is a district of south London, England, and the administrative headquarters of the London Borough of Southwark. Situated east of Charing Cross, it forms one of the oldest parts of London and fronts the River Thames to the north...

 on the south bank, but this danger was averted by an open space between buildings on the bridge which acted as a firebreak
Firebreak
A firebreak is a gap in vegetation or other combustible material that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a bushfire or wildfire. A firebreak may occur naturally where there is a lack of vegetation or "fuel", such as a river, lake or canyon...

.
The 18 foot (5.5 m) high Roman wall enclosing the City put the fleeing homeless at risk of being shut into the inferno. Once the river front was on fire and the escape route by boat cut off, the only exits were the eight gates in the wall. During the first couple of days, few people had any notion of fleeing the burning City altogether: they would remove what they could carry of their belongings to the nearest "safe house", in many cases the parish church, or the precincts of St. Paul's Cathedral, only to have to move again hours later. Some moved their belongings and themselves "four and five times" in a single day. The perception of a need to get beyond the walls only took root late on the Monday, and then there were near-panic scenes at the narrow gates as distraught refugees tried to get out with their bundles, carts, horses, and wagons.

The crucial factor which frustrated firefighting efforts was the narrowness of the streets. Even under normal circumstances, the mix of carts, wagons, and pedestrians in the undersized alleys was subject to frequent traffic jams and gridlock. During the fire, the passages were additionally blocked by refugees camping in them amongst their rescued belongings, or escaping outwards, away from the centre of destruction, as demolition teams and fire engine crews struggled in vain to move in towards it.

Demolishing the houses downwind of a dangerous fire by means of firehooks or explosives was often an effective way of containing the destruction. This time, however, demolition was fatally delayed for hours by the Lord Mayor's lack of leadership and failure to give the necessary orders. By the time orders came directly from the King to "spare no houses", the fire had devoured many more houses, and the demolition workers could no longer get through the crowded streets.

The use of water to extinguish the fire was also frustrated. In principle, water was available from a system of elm
Elm
Elms are deciduous and semi-deciduous trees comprising the genus Ulmus in the plant family Ulmaceae. The dozens of species are found in temperate and tropical-montane regions of North America and Eurasia, ranging southward into Indonesia. Elms are components of many kinds of natural forests...

 pipes which supplied 30,000 houses via a high water tower
Water tower
A water tower or elevated water tower is a large elevated drinking water storage container constructed to hold a water supply at a height sufficient to pressurize a water distribution system....

 at Cornhill, filled from the river at high tide, and also via a reservoir of Hertfordshire spring water in Islington
Islington
Islington is a neighbourhood in Greater London, England and forms the central district of the London Borough of Islington. It is a district of Inner London, spanning from Islington High Street to Highbury Fields, encompassing the area around the busy Upper Street...

. It was often possible to open a pipe near a burning building and connect it to a hose to play on a fire, or fill buckets. Further, Pudding Lane was close to the river. Theoretically, all the lanes from the river up to the bakery and adjoining buildings should have been manned with double rows of firefighters passing full buckets up to the fire and empty buckets back down to the river. This did not happen, or at least was no longer happening by the time Pepys viewed the fire from the river at mid-morning on the Sunday. Pepys comments in his diary that nobody was trying to put it out, but instead they fled from it in fear, hurrying "to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire." The flames crept towards the river front with little interference from the overwhelmed community and soon torched the flammable warehouses along the wharves. The resulting conflagration not only cut off the firefighters from the immediate water supply from the river, but also set alight the water wheel
Water wheel
A water wheel is a machine for converting the energy of free-flowing or falling water into useful forms of power. A water wheel consists of a large wooden or metal wheel, with a number of blades or buckets arranged on the outside rim forming the driving surface...

s under London Bridge which pumped water to the Cornhill water tower; the direct access to the river and the supply of piped water failed together.

London possessed advanced fire-fighting technology in the form of fire engines, which had been used in earlier large-scale fires. However, unlike the useful firehooks, these large pumps had rarely proved flexible or functional enough to make much difference. Only some of them had wheels, others were mounted on wheelless sleds. They had to be brought a long way, tended to arrive too late, and, with spouts but no delivery hoses, had limited reach. On this occasion an unknown number of fire engines were either wheeled or dragged through the streets, some from across the City. The piped water that they were designed to use had already failed, but parts of the river bank could still be reached. As gangs of men tried desperately to manoeuvre the engines right up to the river to fill their reservoirs, several of the engines toppled into the Thames. The heat from the flames was by then too great for the remaining engines to get within a useful distance; they could not even get into Pudding Lane.

Development of the fire


The personal experiences of many Londoners during the fire are glimpsed in letters and memoirs. The two most famous diarists of the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

, Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys FRS, MP, JP, was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament who is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man...

 (1633–1703) and John Evelyn
John Evelyn
John Evelyn was an English writer, gardener and diarist.Evelyn's diaries or Memoirs are largely contemporaneous with those of the other noted diarist of the time, Samuel Pepys, and cast considerable light on the art, culture and politics of the time John Evelyn (31 October 1620 – 27 February...

 (1620–1706), recorded the events and their own reactions day by day, and made great efforts to keep themselves informed of what was happening all over the City and beyond. For example, they both travelled out to the Moorfields
Moorfields
In London, the Moorfields were one of the last pieces of open land in the City of London, near the Moorgate. The fields were divided into three areas, the Moorfields proper, just north of Bethlem Hospital, and inside the City boundaries, and Middle and Upper Moorfields to the north.After the Great...

 park area north of the City on the Wednesday—the fourth day—to view the mighty encampment of distressed refugees there, which shocked them. Their diaries are the most important sources for all modern retellings of the disaster. The most recent books on the fire, by Tinniswood (2003) and Hanson (2001), also rely on the brief memoirs of William Taswell (1651–82), who was a fourteen-year-old schoolboy at Westminster School
Westminster School
The Royal College of St. Peter in Westminster, almost always known as Westminster School, is one of Britain's leading independent schools, with the highest Oxford and Cambridge acceptance rate of any secondary school or college in Britain...

 in 1666.

After two rainy summers in 1664 and 1665, London had lain under an exceptional drought since November 1665, and the wooden buildings were tinder-dry after the long hot summer of 1666. The bakery fire in Pudding Lane spread at first due west, fanned by an eastern gale
Gale
A gale is a very strong wind. There are conflicting definitions of how strong a wind must be to be considered a gale. The U.S. government's National Weather Service defines a gale as 34–47 knots of sustained surface winds. Forecasters typically issue gale warnings when winds of this strength are...

.

Sunday




A fire broke out at Thomas Farriner's bakery in Pudding Lane a little after midnight on Sunday 2 September. The family was trapped upstairs, but managed to climb from an upstairs window to the house next door, except for a maidservant who was too frightened to try, and became the first victim. The neighbours tried to help douse the fire; after an hour the parish constable
Parish constable
Parish constable was a law enforcement officer, usually unpaid and part-time, serving a parish. In some parishes, the position was known as "high constable", e.g. the High Constable of Holborn....

s arrived and judged that the adjoining houses had better be demolished to prevent further spread. The householders protested, and the Lord Mayor
Lord Mayor
The Lord Mayor is the title of the Mayor of a major city, with special recognition.-Commonwealth of Nations:* In Australia it is a political position. Australian cities with Lord Mayors: Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Newcastle, Parramatta, Perth, Sydney, and Wollongong...

 Sir Thomas Bloodworth
Thomas Bloodworth
Sir Thomas Bloodworth was Lord Mayor of London from October 1665 to October 1666. His inaction during the early stages of the Great Fire of London was widely criticized as one of the causes for the great extent of the damage to the city.Prior to his time as mayor, Bloodworth was a wealthy...

, who alone had the authority to override their wishes, was summoned. When Bloodworth arrived, the flames were consuming the adjoining houses and creeping towards the paper warehouses and flammable stores on the river front. The more experienced firemen were clamouring for demolition, but Bloodworth refused, on the argument that most premises were rented and the owners could not be found. Bloodworth is generally thought to have been appointed to the office of Lord Mayor as a yes man, rather than for any of the needful capabilities for the job. He panicked when faced with a sudden emergency. Pressed, he made the often-quoted remark "Pish! A woman could piss it out", and left. After the City had been destroyed, Samuel Pepys, looking back on the events, wrote in his diary on 7 September 1666: "People do all the world over cry out of the simplicity [the stupidity] of my Lord Mayor in general; and more particularly in this business of the fire, laying it all upon him."

On Sunday morning, Pepys, who was a senior official in the Navy Office, ascended the Tower of London to view the fire from a turret
Turret
In architecture, a turret is a small tower that projects vertically from the wall of a building such as a medieval castle. Turrets were used to provide a projecting defensive position allowing covering fire to the adjacent wall in the days of military fortification...

, and recorded in his diary that the eastern gale had turned it into a conflagration. It had burned down several churches and, he estimated, 300 houses and reached the river front. The houses on London Bridge were burning. Taking a boat to inspect the destruction around Pudding Lane at close range, Pepys describes a "lamentable" fire, "everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters
Lighter (barge)
A lighter is a type of flat-bottomed barge used to transfer goods and passengers to and from moored ships. Lighters were traditionally unpowered and were moved and steered using long oars called "sweeps," with their motive power provided by water currents...

 that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another." Pepys continued westward on the river to the court at Whitehall
Whitehall
Whitehall is a road in Westminster, in London, England. It is the main artery running north from Parliament Square, towards Charing Cross at the southern end of Trafalgar Square...

, "where people come about me, and did give them an account dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King. So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of Yorke what I saw, and that unless His Majesty did command houses to be pulled down nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way." Charles' brother James, Duke of York
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...

, offered the use of the Royal Life Guards to help fight the fire.

A mile west of Pudding Lane, by Westminster Stairs, young William Taswell, a schoolboy who had bolted from the early morning service in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

, saw some refugees arrive in hired lighter boats, unclothed and covered only with blankets. The services of the lightermen had suddenly become extremely expensive, and only the luckiest refugees secured a place in a boat.

The fire spread quickly in the high wind. By mid-morning on Sunday, people abandoned attempts at extinguishing the fire and fled; the moving human mass and their bundles and carts made the lanes impassable for firemen and carriages. Pepys took a coach back into the city from Whitehall, but only reached St Paul's Cathedral before he had to get out and walk. Handcarts with goods and pedestrians were still on the move, away from the fire, heavily weighed down. The parish churches not directly threatened were filling up with furniture and valuables, which would soon have to be moved further afield. Pepys found Bloodworth trying to coordinate the fire fighting efforts and near to collapse, "like a fainting woman", crying out plaintively in response to the King's message that he was pulling down houses. "But the fire overtakes us faster then we can do it." Holding on to his civic dignity, he refused James's offer of soldiers and then went home to bed. King Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 sailed down from Whitehall in the Royal barge to inspect the scene. He found that houses were still not being pulled down, in spite of Bloodworth's assurances to Pepys, and daringly overrode the authority of Bloodworth to order wholesale demolitions west of the fire zone. The delay rendered these measures largely futile, as the fire was already out of control.

By Sunday afternoon, 18 hours after the alarm was raised in Pudding Lane, the fire had become a raging firestorm
Firestorm
A firestorm is a conflagration which attains such intensity that it creates and sustains its own wind system. It is most commonly a natural phenomenon, created during some of the largest bushfires, forest fires, and wildfires...

 which created its own weather. A tremendous uprush of hot air above the flames was driven by the chimney effect
Stack effect
Stack effect is the movement of air into and out of buildings, chimneys, flue gas stacks, or other containers, and is driven by buoyancy. Buoyancy occurs due to a difference in indoor-to-outdoor air density resulting from temperature and moisture differences. The result is either a positive or...

 wherever constrictions such as jettied buildings narrowed the air current and left a vacuum
Vacuum
In everyday usage, vacuum is a volume of space that is essentially empty of matter, such that its gaseous pressure is much less than atmospheric pressure. The word comes from the Latin term for "empty". A perfect vacuum would be one with no particles in it at all, which is impossible to achieve in...

 at ground level. The resulting strong inward winds did not tend to put the fire out, as might be thought: instead, they supplied fresh oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

 to the flames, and the turbulence
Turbulence
In fluid dynamics, turbulence or turbulent flow is a flow regime characterized by chaotic and stochastic property changes. This includes low momentum diffusion, high momentum convection, and rapid variation of pressure and velocity in space and time...

 created by the uprush made the wind veer erratically both north and south of the main, easterly, direction of the gale which was still blowing.

In the early evening, with his wife and some friends, Pepys went again on the river "and to the fire up and down, it still encreasing". They ordered the boatman to go "so near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one's face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops". When the "firedrops" became unbearable, the party went on to an alehouse
Public house
A public house, informally known as a pub, is a drinking establishment fundamental to the culture of Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. There are approximately 53,500 public houses in the United Kingdom. This number has been declining every year, so that nearly half of the smaller...

 on the South Bank and stayed there till darkness came and they could see the fire on London Bridge and across the river, "as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side of the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it". Pepys described this arch of fire as "a bow with God's arrow in it with a shining point".

Monday


By dawn on Monday, 3 September, the fire was principally expanding north and west, the turbulence of the fire storm pushing the flames both further south and further north than the day before. The spread to the south was in the main halted by the river, but had torched the houses on London Bridge, and was threatening to cross the bridge and endanger the borough of Southwark
Southwark
Southwark is a district of south London, England, and the administrative headquarters of the London Borough of Southwark. Situated east of Charing Cross, it forms one of the oldest parts of London and fronts the River Thames to the north...

 on the south bank of the river. Southwark was preserved by a pre-existent firebreak on the bridge, a long gap between the buildings which had saved the south side of the Thames in the fire of 1632 and now did so again; flying embers started a fire in Southwark but it was quickly stopped. The fire's spread to the north reached the financial heart of the City. The houses of the bankers in Lombard Street
Lombard Street, London
Lombard Street is a street in the City of London.It runs from the corner of the Bank of England at its north-west end, where it meets a major junction including Poultry, King William Street, and Threadneedle Street, south-east to Gracechurch Street....

 began to burn on Monday afternoon, prompting a rush to get their stacks of gold coins, so crucial to the wealth of the city and the nation, to safety before they melted away. Several observers emphasise the despair and helplessness which seemed to seize Londoners on this second day, and the lack of efforts to save the wealthy, fashionable districts which were now menaced by the flames, such as the Royal Exchange—combined bourse
Exchange (organized market)
An exchange is a highly organized market where tradable securities, commodities, foreign exchange, futures, and options contracts are sold and bought.-Description:...

 and shopping centre — and the opulent consumer goods shops in Cheapside
Cheapside
Cheapside is a street in the City of London that links Newgate Street with the junction of Queen Victoria Street and Mansion House Street. To the east is Mansion House, the Bank of England, and the major road junction above Bank tube station. To the west is St. Paul's Cathedral, St...

. The Royal Exchange caught fire in the late afternoon, and was a smoking shell within a few hours. John Evelyn, courtier and diarist, wrote:
Evelyn lived four miles (6 km) outside the City, in Deptford
Deptford
Deptford is a district of south London, England, located on the south bank of the River Thames. It is named after a ford of the River Ravensbourne, and from the mid 16th century to the late 19th was home to Deptford Dockyard, the first of the Royal Navy Dockyards.Deptford and the docks are...

, and so did not see the early stages of the disaster. On Monday, joining many other upper-class people, he went by coach to Southwark to see the view that Pepys had seen the day before, of the burning City across the river. The conflagration was much larger now: "the whole City in dreadful flames near the water-side; all the houses from the Bridge, all Thames-street, and upwards towards Cheapside, down to the Three Cranes, were now consumed". In the evening, Evelyn reported that the river was covered with barges and boats making their escape piled with goods. He observed a great exodus of carts and pedestrians through the bottleneck City gates, making for the open fields to the north and east, "which for many miles were strewed with moveables of all sorts, and tents erecting to shelter both people and what goods they could get away. Oh, the miserable and calamitous spectacle!"
Suspicion soon arose in the threatened city that the fire was no accident. The swirling winds carried sparks and burning flakes long distances to lodge on thatched roofs and in wooden gutters
Rain gutter
A rain gutter is a narrow channel, or trough, forming the component of a roof system which collects and diverts rainwater shed by the roof....

, causing seemingly unrelated house fires to break out far from their source and giving rise to rumours that fresh fires were being set on purpose. Foreigners were immediately suspects because of the current Second Anglo-Dutch War
Second Anglo-Dutch War
The Second Anglo–Dutch War was part of a series of four Anglo–Dutch Wars fought between the English and the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries for control over the seas and trade routes....

. As fear and suspicion hardened into certainty on the Monday, reports circulated of imminent invasion
Invasion
An invasion is a military offensive consisting of all, or large parts of the armed forces of one geopolitical entity aggressively entering territory controlled by another such entity, generally with the objective of either conquering, liberating or re-establishing control or authority over a...

, and of foreign undercover agents seen casting "fireballs" into houses, or caught with hand grenades or matches. There was a wave of street violence. William Taswell saw a mob loot the shop of a French painter and level it to the ground, and watched in horror as a blacksmith walked up to a Frenchman in the street and hit him over the head with an iron bar. The fears of terrorism received an extra boost from the disruption of communications and news as facilities were devoured by the fire. The General Letter Office in Threadneedle Street
Threadneedle Street
Threadneedle Street is a street in the City of London, leading from a junction with Poultry, Cornhill, King William Street and Lombard Street, to Bishopsgate....

, through which post for the entire country passed, burned down early on Monday morning. The London Gazette
London Gazette
The London Gazette is one of the official journals of record of the British government, and the most important among such official journals in the United Kingdom, in which certain statutory notices are required to be published...

just managed to put out its Monday issue before the printer's premises went up in flames (this issue contained mainly society gossip, with a small note about a fire that had broken out on Sunday morning and "which continues still with great violence"). The whole nation depended on these communications, and the void they left filled up with rumours. There were also religious alarms of renewed Gunpowder Plot
Gunpowder Plot
The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in earlier centuries often called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason, was a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby.The plan was to blow up the House of...

s. As suspicions rose to panic and collective paranoia on the Monday, both the Trained Bands and the Coldstream Guards focused less on fire fighting and more on rounding up foreigners, Catholics, and any odd-looking people, and arresting them or rescuing them from mobs, or both together.

The inhabitants, especially the upper class, were growing desperate to remove their belongings from the City. This provided a source of income for the able-bodied poor, who hired out as porters (sometimes simply making off with the goods), and especially for the owners of carts and boats. Hiring a cart had cost a couple of shilling
Shilling
The shilling is a unit of currency used in some current and former British Commonwealth countries. The word shilling comes from scilling, an accounting term that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times where it was deemed to be the value of a cow in Kent or a sheep elsewhere. The word is thought to derive...

s on the Saturday before the fire; on the Monday it rose to as much as £40, a fortune (equivalent to over £4000 in 2005). Seemingly every cart and boat owner within reach of London made their way towards the City to share in these opportunities, the carts jostling at the narrow gates with the panicked inhabitants trying to get out. The chaos at the gates was such that the magistrates ordered the gates shut on Monday afternoon, in the hope of turning the inhabitants' attention from safeguarding their own possessions to the fighting of the fire: "that, no hopes of saving any things left, they might have more desperately endeavoured the quenching of the fire." This headlong and unsuccessful measure was rescinded the next day.

Even as order in the streets broke down, especially at the gates, and the fire raged unchecked, Monday marked the beginning of organised action. Bloodworth, who as Lord Mayor was responsible for coordinating the fire-fighting, had apparently left the City; his name is not mentioned in any contemporary accounts of the Monday's events. In this state of emergency, Charles again overrode the City authorities and put his brother James, Duke of York
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...

, in charge of operations. James set up command posts round the perimeter of the fire, press-ganging
Impressment
Impressment, colloquially, "the Press", was the act of taking men into a navy by force and without notice. It was used by the Royal Navy, beginning in 1664 and during the 18th and early 19th centuries, in wartime, as a means of crewing warships, although legal sanction for the practice goes back to...

 any men of the lower classes found in the streets into teams of well-paid and well-fed firemen. Three courtiers were put in charge of each post, with authority from Charles himself to order demolitions. This visible gesture of solidarity from the Crown was intended to cut through the citizens' misgivings about being held financially responsible for pulling down houses. James and his life guards rode up and down the streets all Monday, rescuing foreigners from the mob and attempting to keep order. "The Duke of York hath won the hearts of the people with his continual and indefatigable pains day and night in helping to quench the Fire," wrote a witness in a letter on 8 September.

On the Monday evening, hopes were dashed that the massive stone walls of Baynard's Castle
Baynard's Castle
Baynard's Castle refers to buildings on two neighbouring sites in London, between where Blackfriars station and St Paul's Cathedral now stand. The first was a Norman fortification constructed by Ralph Baynard and demolished by King John in 1213. The second was a medieval palace built a short...

, Blackfriars, the western counterpart of the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

, would stay the course of the flames. This historic royal palace was completely consumed, burning all night.

A contemporary account said that, that day or later, King Charles in person worked manually to help to throw water on flames and to help to demolish buildings to make a firebreak
Firebreak
A firebreak is a gap in vegetation or other combustible material that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a bushfire or wildfire. A firebreak may occur naturally where there is a lack of vegetation or "fuel", such as a river, lake or canyon...

.

Tuesday


Tuesday, 4 September, was the day of greatest destruction. The Duke of York's command post at Temple Bar
Temple Bar, London
Temple Bar is the barrier marking the westernmost extent of the City of London on the road to Westminster, where Fleet Street becomes the Strand...

, where Strand
Strand, London
Strand is a street in the City of Westminster, London, England. The street is just over three-quarters of a mile long. It currently starts at Trafalgar Square and runs east to join Fleet Street at Temple Bar, which marks the boundary of the City of London at this point, though its historical length...

 meets Fleet Street
Fleet Street
Fleet Street is a street in central London, United Kingdom, named after the River Fleet, a stream that now flows underground. It was the home of the British press until the 1980s...

, was supposed to stop the fire's westward advance towards the Palace of Whitehall. Making a stand with his firemen from the Fleet Bridge and down to the Thames, James hoped that the River Fleet
River Fleet
The River Fleet is the largest of London's subterranean rivers. Its two headwaters are two streams on Hampstead Heath; each is now dammed into a series of ponds made in the 18th century, the Hampstead Ponds and the Highgate Ponds. At the south edge of Hampstead Heath these two streams flow...

 would form a natural firebreak. However, early on Tuesday morning, the flames jumped over the Fleet, driven by the unabated easterly gale, and outflanked them, forcing them to run for it. There was consternation at the palace as the fire continued implacably westward: "Oh, the confusion there was then at that court!" wrote Evelyn.

Working to a plan at last, James's firefighters had also created a large firebreak to the north of the conflagration. It contained the fire until late afternoon, when the flames leapt across and began to destroy the wide, affluent luxury shopping street of Cheapside
Cheapside
Cheapside is a street in the City of London that links Newgate Street with the junction of Queen Victoria Street and Mansion House Street. To the east is Mansion House, the Bank of England, and the major road junction above Bank tube station. To the west is St. Paul's Cathedral, St...

.

Everybody had thought St. Paul's Cathedral
Old St Paul's Cathedral
Old St Paul's Cathedral is a name used to refer to the medieval cathedral of the City of London which until 1666 stood on the site of the present St Paul's Cathedral. Built between 1087 and 1314 and dedicated to St Paul, the cathedral was the fourth church on the site at Ludgate Hill...

 a safe refuge, with its thick stone walls and natural firebreak in the form of a wide, empty surrounding plaza. It had been crammed full of rescued goods and its crypt
Crypt
In architecture, a crypt is a stone chamber or vault beneath the floor of a burial vault possibly containing sarcophagi, coffins or relics....

 filled with the tightly packed stocks of the printers and booksellers in adjoining Paternoster Row
Paternoster Row
Paternoster Row was a London street in which clergy of the medieval St Paul's Cathedral would walk, chanting the Lord's Prayer . It was devastated by aerial bombardment in The Blitz during World War II. Prior to this destruction the area had been a centre of the London publishing trade , with...

. However an enormous stroke of bad luck meant that the building was covered in wooden scaffolding, undergoing piecemeal restoration by a then relatively unknown Christopher Wren
Christopher Wren
Sir Christopher Wren FRS is one of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history.He used to be accorded responsibility for rebuilding 51 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, including his masterpiece, St. Paul's Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill, completed in 1710...

. The scaffolding caught fire on Tuesday night. Leaving school, young William Taswell stood on Westminster Stairs a mile away and watched as the flames crept round the cathedral and the burning scaffolding ignited the timbered roof beams. Within half an hour, the lead roof was melting, and the books and papers in the crypt caught with a roar. "The stones of Paul's flew like grenados
Grenade
A grenade is a small explosive device that is projected a safe distance away by its user. Soldiers called grenadiers specialize in the use of grenades. The term hand grenade refers any grenade designed to be hand thrown. Grenade Launchers are firearms designed to fire explosive projectile grenades...

, the melting lead running down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements glowing with fiery redness, so as no horse, nor man, was able to tread on them", reported Evelyn in his diary. The cathedral was quickly a ruin.

During the day, the flames began to move eastward from the neighbourhood of Pudding Lane, straight against the prevailing east wind towards Pepys's home on Seething Lane and the Tower of London with its gunpowder stores. After waiting all day for requested help from James's official firemen, who were busy in the west, the garrison at the Tower took matters into their own hands and created firebreaks by blowing up houses in the vicinity on a large scale, halting the advance of the fire.

Wednesday


The wind dropped on Tuesday evening, and the firebreaks created by the garrison finally began to take effect on Wednesday 5 September. Pepys walked all over the smouldering city, getting his feet hot, and climbed the steeple
Steeple (architecture)
A steeple, in architecture, is a tall tower on a building, often topped by a spire. Steeples are very common on Christian churches and cathedrals and the use of the term generally connotes a religious structure...

 of Barking Church
All Hallows-by-the-Tower
All Hallows-by-the-Tower, also previously dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, is an ancient Anglican church located in Byward Street in the City of London, overlooking the Tower of London.-History:...

, from which he viewed the destroyed City, "the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw." There were many separate fires still burning themselves out, but the Great Fire was over. Pepys visited Moorfields
Moorfields
In London, the Moorfields were one of the last pieces of open land in the City of London, near the Moorgate. The fields were divided into three areas, the Moorfields proper, just north of Bethlem Hospital, and inside the City boundaries, and Middle and Upper Moorfields to the north.After the Great...

, a large public park immediately north of the City, and saw a great encampment of homeless refugees, "poor wretches carrying their good there, and every body keeping his goods together by themselves", and noted that the price of bread in the environs of the park had doubled. Evelyn also went out to Moorfields, which was turning into the main point of assembly for the homeless, and was horrified at the numbers of distressed people filling it, some under tents, others in makeshift shacks: "Many [were] without a rag or any necessary utensils, bed or board... reduced to extremest misery and poverty." Evelyn was impressed by the pride of these distressed Londoners, "tho' ready to perish for hunger and destitution, yet not asking one pennie for relief."

Fears of foreign terrorists and of a French and Dutch invasion were as high as ever among the traumatised fire victims, and on Wednesday night there was an outbreak of general panic in the encampments at Parliament Hill
Parliament Hill, London
Parliament Hill is an area of open parkland in the south-east corner of Hampstead Heath in north-west London. The hill, which is high, is notable for its excellent views of the capital's skyline...

, Moorfields and Islington
Islington
Islington is a neighbourhood in Greater London, England and forms the central district of the London Borough of Islington. It is a district of Inner London, spanning from Islington High Street to Highbury Fields, encompassing the area around the busy Upper Street...

. A light in the sky over Fleet Street started a story that 50,000 French and Dutch immigrants, widely rumoured to have started the fire, had risen and were marching towards Moorfields to finish what the fire had begun: to cut the men's throats, rape the women, and steal their few possessions. Surging into the streets, the frightened mob fell on any foreigners they happened to encounter, and were, according to Evelyn, only "with infinite pains and great difficulty" appeased and pushed back into the fields by the Trained Bands, troops of Life Guards, and members of the court. The mood was now so volatile that Charles feared a full-scale London rebellion against the monarchy. Food production and distribution had been disrupted to the point of non-existence; Charles announced that supplies of bread would be brought into the City every day, and safe markets set up round the perimeter. These markets were for buying and selling; there was no question of distributing emergency aid.

Deaths and destruction


Only a few deaths from the fire are officially recorded, and deaths are traditionally believed to have been few. Porter gives the figure as eight and Tinniswood as "in single figures", although he adds that some deaths must have gone unrecorded and that, besides direct deaths from burning and smoke inhalation
Smoke inhalation
Smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death in victims of indoor fires.Smoke inhalation injury refers to injury due to inhalation or exposure to hot gaseous products of combustion. This can cause serious respiratory complications....

, refugees also perished in the impromptu camps. Hanson takes issue with the idea that there were only a few deaths, enumerating known deaths from hunger and exposure
Hypothermia
Hypothermia is a condition in which core temperature drops below the required temperature for normal metabolism and body functions which is defined as . Body temperature is usually maintained near a constant level of through biologic homeostasis or thermoregulation...

 among survivors of the holocaust, "huddled in shacks or living among the ruins that had once been their homes" in the cold winter that followed, including, for instance, the dramatist James Shirley
James Shirley
James Shirley was an English dramatist.He belonged to the great period of English dramatic literature, but, in Lamb's words, he "claims a place among the worthies of this period, not so much for any transcendent genius in himself, as that he was the last of a great race, all of whom spoke nearly...

 and his wife. Hanson also maintains that "it stretches credulity to believe that the only papist
Papist
Papist is a term or an anti-Catholic slur, referring to the Roman Catholic Church, its teachings, practices, or adherents. The term was coined during the English Reformation to denote a person whose loyalties were to the Pope, rather than to the Church of England...

s or foreigners being beaten to death or lynched were the ones rescued by the Duke of York", that official figures say very little about the fate of the undocumented poor, and that the heat at the heart of the firestorms, far hotter than an ordinary house fire, was enough to consume bodies fully, or leave only a few skull fragments. The fire, fed not merely by wood, fabrics, and thatch, but also by the oil, pitch, coal, tallow, fats, sugar, alcohol, turpentine, and gunpowder stored in the riverside district, melted the imported steel lying along the wharves (melting point
Melting point
The melting point of a solid is the temperature at which it changes state from solid to liquid. At the melting point the solid and liquid phase exist in equilibrium. The melting point of a substance depends on pressure and is usually specified at standard atmospheric pressure...

 between 1,250 °C (2,300 F) and 1,480 °C (2,700 F)) and the great iron chains and locks on the City gates (melting point between 1,100 °C (2,000 F) and 1,650 °C (3000 F)). Nor would anonymous bone fragments have been of much interest to the hungry people sifting through the tens of thousands of tons of rubble and debris after the fire, looking for valuables, or to the workmen clearing away the rubble later during the rebuilding. Appealing to common sense and "the experience of every other major urban fire down the centuries", Hanson emphasises that the fire attacked the rotting tenements of the poor with furious speed, surely trapping at the very least "the old, the very young, the halt and the lame" and burying the dust and ashes of their bones under the rubble of cellars; making for a death toll not of four or eight, but of "several hundred and quite possibly several thousand."

The material destruction has been computed at 13,500 houses, 87 parish churches, 44 Company
Livery Company
The Livery Companies are 108 trade associations in the City of London, almost all of which are known as the "Worshipful Company of" the relevant trade, craft or profession. The medieval Companies originally developed as guilds and were responsible for the regulation of their trades, controlling,...

 Halls, the Royal Exchange
Royal Exchange (London)
The Royal Exchange in the City of London was founded in 1565 by Sir Thomas Gresham to act as a centre of commerce for the city. The site was provided by the City of London Corporation and the Worshipful Company of Mercers, and is trapezoidal, flanked by the converging streets of Cornhill and...

, the Custom House
Custom House
A custom house or customs house was a building housing the offices for the government officials who processed the paperwork for the import and export of goods into and out of a country. Customs officials also collected customs duty on imported goods....

, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Bridewell Palace
Bridewell Palace
Bridewell Palace in London, originally a residence of King Henry VIII, later became a poorhouse and prison. The name "Bridewell" subsequently became synonymous with police stations and detention facilities in England and in Ireland...

 and other City prisons, the General Letter Office, and the three western city gates, Ludgate
Ludgate
Ludgate was the westernmost gate in London Wall. The name survives in Ludgate Hill, an eastward continuation of Fleet Street, and Ludgate Circus.-Etymology:...

, Newgate
Newgate
Newgate at the west end of Newgate Street was one of the historic seven gates of London Wall round the City of London and one of the six which date back to Roman times. From it a Roman road led west to Silchester...

, and Aldersgate
Aldersgate
Aldersgate was a gate in the London Wall in the City of London, which has given its name to a ward and Aldersgate Street, a road leading north from the site of the gate, towards Clerkenwell in the London Borough of Islington.-History:...

. The monetary value of the loss, first estimated at £100,000,000 in the currency of the time, was later reduced to an uncertain £10,000,000 (over £1 billion in 2005 pounds). Evelyn believed that he saw as many as "200,000 people of all ranks and stations dispersed, and lying along their heaps of what they could save" in the fields towards Islington
Islington
Islington is a neighbourhood in Greater London, England and forms the central district of the London Borough of Islington. It is a district of Inner London, spanning from Islington High Street to Highbury Fields, encompassing the area around the busy Upper Street...

 and Highgate
Highgate
Highgate is an area of North London on the north-eastern corner of Hampstead Heath.Highgate is one of the most expensive London suburbs in which to live. It has an active conservation body, the Highgate Society, to protect its character....

.

Aftermath




An example of the urge to identify scapegoat
Scapegoat
Scapegoating is the practice of singling out any party for unmerited negative treatment or blame. Scapegoating may be conducted by individuals against individuals , individuals against groups , groups against individuals , and groups against groups Scapegoating is the practice of singling out any...

s for the fire is the acceptance of the confession of a simple-minded French watchmaker, Robert Hubert
Robert Hubert
Robert Hubert was a watchmaker from Rouen, France, who was executed following his false confession of starting the Great Fire of London.-Great Fire of London:...

, who claimed he was an agent of the Pope and had started the Great Fire in Westminster. He later changed his story to say that he had started the fire at the bakery in Pudding Lane. Hubert was convicted, despite some misgivings about his fitness to plead
Fitness to plead
In the law of England and Wales, fitness to plead is the capacity of a defendant in criminal proceedings to comprehend the course of those proceedings. The concept of fitness to plead also applies in Scots law. Its United States equivalent is competence to stand.-Test:If the issue of fitness to...

, and hanged at Tyburn
Tyburn, London
Tyburn was a village in the county of Middlesex close to the current location of Marble Arch in present-day London. It took its name from the Tyburn or Teo Bourne 'boundary stream', a tributary of the River Thames which is now completely covered over between its source and its outfall into the...

 on 28 September 1666. After his death, it became apparent that he had not arrived in London until two days after the fire started. These allegations that Catholics had started the fire were exploited as powerful political propaganda by opponents of pro-Catholic Charles II's court, mostly during the Popish Plot
Popish Plot
The Popish Plot was a fictitious conspiracy concocted by Titus Oates that gripped England, Wales and Scotland in Anti-Catholic hysteria between 1678 and 1681. Oates alleged that there existed an extensive Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II, accusations that led to the execution of at...

 and the exclusion crisis later in his reign.

Abroad in the Netherlands the Great Fire of London was seen as a divine retribution for Holmes's Bonfire
Holmes's Bonfire
Holmes's Bonfire was a raid on the Vlie estuary in the Netherlands, executed by the Royal Navy during the Second Anglo-Dutch War on 19 and 20 August 1666 . The attack, named after the commander of the landing force, Rear-Admiral Robert Holmes, was successful in destroying by fire a large merchant...

, the burning by the English of a Dutch town during the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

In the chaos and unrest after the fire, Charles II feared another London rebellion. He encouraged the homeless to move away from London and settle elsewhere, immediately issuing a proclamation that "all Cities and Towns whatsoever shall without any contradiction receive the said distressed persons and permit them the free exercise of their manual trades." A special Fire Court was set up to deal with disputes between tenants and landlords and decide who should rebuild, based on ability to pay. The Court was in session from February 1667 to September 1672. Cases were heard and a verdict usually given within a day, and without the Fire Court, lengthy legal wrangles would have seriously delayed the rebuilding which was so necessary if London was to recover.
Encouraged by Charles, radical rebuilding schemes for the gutted City poured in. If it had been rebuilt under some of these plans, London would have rivalled Paris in Baroque
Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

 magnificence (see Evelyn's plan on the right). The Crown and the City authorities attempted to establish "to whom all the houses and ground did in truth belong" in order to negotiate with their owners about compensation for the large-scale remodelling that these plans entailed, but that unrealistic idea had to be abandoned. Exhortations to bring workmen and measure the plots on which the houses had stood were mostly ignored by people worried about day-to-day survival, as well as by those who had left the capital; for one thing, with the shortage of labour following the fire, it was impossible to secure workmen for the purpose. Apart from Wren and Evelyn, it is known that Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke FRS was an English natural philosopher, architect and polymath.His adult life comprised three distinct periods: as a scientific inquirer lacking money; achieving great wealth and standing through his reputation for hard work and scrupulous honesty following the great fire of 1666, but...

, Valentine Knight and Richard Newcourt proposed rebuilding plans.

With the complexities of ownership unresolved, none of the grand Baroque schemes for a City of piazzas and avenues could be realised; there was nobody to negotiate with, and no means of calculating how much compensation should be paid. Instead, much of the old street plan was recreated in the new City, with improvements in hygiene and fire safety: wider streets, open and accessible wharves along the length of the Thames, with no houses obstructing access to the river, and, most importantly, buildings constructed of brick and stone, not wood. New public buildings were created on their predecessors' sites; perhaps the most famous is St. Paul's Cathedral and its smaller cousins, Christopher Wren's 50 new churches.

On Charles' initiative, a Monument to the Great Fire of London
Monument to the Great Fire of London
The Monument to the Great Fire of London, more commonly known as The monument, is a 202 ft tall stone Roman Doric column in the City of London, England, near the northern end of London Bridge. It stands at the junction of Monument Street and Panda Bear Hill, 202 ft from where the Great...

, designed by Christopher Wren
Christopher Wren
Sir Christopher Wren FRS is one of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history.He used to be accorded responsibility for rebuilding 51 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, including his masterpiece, St. Paul's Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill, completed in 1710...

 and Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke FRS was an English natural philosopher, architect and polymath.His adult life comprised three distinct periods: as a scientific inquirer lacking money; achieving great wealth and standing through his reputation for hard work and scrupulous honesty following the great fire of 1666, but...

, was erected near Pudding Lane. Standing 61 metres tall and known simply as "The Monument", it is a familiar London landmark which has given its name to a tube station
Bank and Monument stations
Bank and Monument are interlinked London Underground and Docklands Light Railway stations that form a public transport complex spanning the length of King William Street in the City of London. Bank station, named after the Bank of England, opened in 1900 and is served by the Central, Northern and...

. In 1668 accusations against the Catholics were added to the inscription on the Monument which read, in part:
Aside from the four years of James II
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...

's rule from 1685 to 1689, the inscription remained in place until 1830 and the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act.

Another monument, the Golden Boy of Pye Corner
Golden Boy of Pye Corner
The Golden Boy of Pye Corner is a small monument located on the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane in Smithfield, London.It was erected where the Great Fire of London stopped and it bears the following inscription:...

 in Smithfield
Smithfield, London
Smithfield is an area of the City of London, in the ward of Farringdon Without. It is located in the north-west part of the City, and is mostly known for its centuries-old meat market, today the last surviving historical wholesale market in Central London...

, marks the spot where the fire stopped. According to the inscription, the fact that the fire started at Pudding Lane and stopped at Pye Corner was an indication that the Fire was evidence of God's wrath on the City of London for the sin of gluttony
Gluttony
Gluttony, derived from the Latin gluttire meaning to gulp down or swallow, means over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, intoxicants or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste...

.

The Great Plague
Great Plague of London
The Great Plague was a massive outbreak of disease in the Kingdom of England that killed an estimated 100,000 people, 20% of London's population. The disease is identified as bubonic plague, an infection by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, transmitted through a flea vector...

 epidemic of 1665 is believed to have killed a sixth of London's inhabitants, or 80,000 people, and it is sometimes suggested, as plague epidemics did not recur in London after the fire, that the fire saved lives in the long run by burning down so much unsanitary housing with their rat
Rat
Rats are various medium-sized, long-tailed rodents of the superfamily Muroidea. "True rats" are members of the genus Rattus, the most important of which to humans are the black rat, Rattus rattus, and the brown rat, Rattus norvegicus...

s and their flea
Flea
Flea is the common name for insects of the order Siphonaptera which are wingless insects with mouthparts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood...

s which transmitted the plague. Historians disagree as to whether the fire played a part in preventing subsequent major outbreaks. The Museum of London
Museum of London
The Museum of London documents the history of London from the Prehistoric to the present day. The museum is located close to the Barbican Centre, as part of the striking Barbican complex of buildings created in the 1960s and 70s as an innovative approach to re-development within a bomb damaged...

 website claims that there was a connection, while historian Roy Porter
Roy Porter
Roy Sydney Porter was a British historian noted for his prolific work on the history of medicine.-Life:...

 points out that the fire left the most insalubrious parts of London, the slum suburbs, untouched. Alternative epidemiological
Epidemiology
Epidemiology is the study of health-event, health-characteristic, or health-determinant patterns in a population. It is the cornerstone method of public health research, and helps inform policy decisions and evidence-based medicine by identifying risk factors for disease and targets for preventive...

 explanations have been put forward, along with the observation that the disease disappeared from almost every other European city around the same time.

Following the Fire, the thoroughfares of Queen Street
Queen Street, London
Queen Street is a street in the City of London, which runs from Upper Thames Street north to Cheapside. The thoroughfares of Queen Street and King Street were newly laid out, cutting across more ancient thoroughfares in the City, following the Great Fire of London of 1666; they were the only...

 and King Street were newly laid out, cutting across more ancient thoroughfares in the City, creating a new route up from the Thames to the Guildhall
Guildhall, London
The Guildhall is a building in the City of London, off Gresham and Basinghall streets, in the wards of Bassishaw and Cheap. It has been used as a town hall for several hundred years, and is still the ceremonial and administrative centre of the City of London and its Corporation...

; they were the only notable new streets following the fire's destruction of much of the City.

See also


  • Great Plague of London
    Great Plague of London
    The Great Plague was a massive outbreak of disease in the Kingdom of England that killed an estimated 100,000 people, 20% of London's population. The disease is identified as bubonic plague, an infection by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, transmitted through a flea vector...

  • Thomas Vincent
    Thomas Vincent
    Thomas Vincent was an English Puritan minister and author.-Life:Both his father and brother were prominent ministers. He was the second son of John Vincent and elder brother of Nathaniel Vincent, born at Hertford in May 1634...

     – a Puritan
    Puritan
    The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

     minister's eyewitness account

External links


  • BBC history site
  • Museum of London answers questions
  • Channel 4 animation of the spread of the fire
  • Child-friendly Great Fire of London site
  • Fire of London website produced by the Museum of London
    Museum of London
    The Museum of London documents the history of London from the Prehistoric to the present day. The museum is located close to the Barbican Centre, as part of the striking Barbican complex of buildings created in the 1960s and 70s as an innovative approach to re-development within a bomb damaged...

    , The National Archives, the National Portrait Gallery, London Fire Brigade Museum
    London Fire Brigade Museum
    The London Fire Brigade Museum covers the history of firefighting since 1666 . The museum houses old fire appliances and other equipment. It is also possible to see fire brigade recruits training....

     and London Metropolitan Archives
    London Metropolitan Archives
    The London Metropolitan Archives are the main archives for the Greater London area. Established in 1997, having previously been known as the Greater London Record Office, they are financed by the City of London Corporation....

     for Key Stage 1
    Key Stage 1
    Key Stage 1 is the legal term for the two years of schooling in maintained schools in England and Wales normally known as Year 1 and Year 2, when pupils are aged between 5 and 7. This Key Stage normally covers pupils during infant school, although in some cases this might form part of a first or...

    pupils (ages 5–7) and teachers