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The Great Fire of London

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The Great Fire of London

The Great Fire of London 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 inside the old Roman city wall, threatening but not reaching the aristocratic district of Westminster, Charles II's Palace of Whitehall, and most of the suburban slums.

It destroyed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul's Cathedral, and most of the buildings of the City authorities. It is estimated to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City's 80,000 inhabitants. The death toll is unknown but thought to have been small, as only six verified deaths were recorded. This figure has recently been challenged on the grounds that the deaths of poor and middle-class people were not recorded, while the heat of the fire may have cremated many victims, leaving no recognisable remains. The first death was that of a maid of the baker's family in Pudding Lane.

The Great Fire started at the bakery of Thomas Farriner (or Farynor) on Pudding Lane shortly after midnight on Sunday, 2 September and spread rapidly west across the City of London. The major fire-fighting technique of the time was to create firebreaks by means of demolition. However this was critically delayed owing to the indecisiveness of Lord Mayor of London Sir Thomas Bloodworth. By the time that large-scale demolitions were ordered on Sunday night, the wind had already fanned the bakery fire into a firestorm. 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.

On Tuesday, the fire spread over most of the City, destroying St Paul's Cathedral and leaping the River Fleet to threaten Charles II's court at Whitehall, 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 garrison used gunpowder to create effective firebreaks to halt further spread eastward.

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 1666, with the burnt area shown in pink.


//* The Monument (right) is a 202 feet high (61 metres) column situated 202 feet away from the site of the bakery in Pudding Lane where the fire began. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren to commemorate the Great Fire of London and to celebrate the rebirth of the city after the fire. A spiral staircase of 311 steps inside the Monument allows you to access a viewing platform near the top, giving you a panaromic view of London. The nearest tube station to the site is also known as Monument.

  • The most famous building destroyed by the fire was St Paul's Cathedral. After the fire, its ruins were demolished. Work to rebuild it began in 1675 based on designs by Sir Christopher Wren.

Sir Christopher Wren had suggested that the cathedral be demolished before the fire. He had been commissioned to redesign it following years of neglect and mistreatment. These plans were opposed, and wooden scaffolding was constructed around the cathedral to allow it to be redeveloped without demolition. As the fire reached St Paul's Cathedral, the wooden scaffolding surrounding it would have contributed to the extent of its destruction.

  • The Great Fire of London coincided with the time that the last major outbreak of the bubonic plague in London ended. In 1665, the year before the fire, it is thought that 100,000 people, 15% of London's population, were killed by the plague. Some people believed that the fire in 1666 killed the rats and fleas that carried the disease and helped to rid the city of it. However, it is now thought that the disease had already been on the decline beforehand. In other European cities, the bubonic plague appeared to die out at the same time, without the assistance of accidental great fires.
  • Thatched roofs were banned in London after the fire as they were believed to be one of the main reasons that it was able to spread so rapidly throughout the city. The ban is still in place today and special permission had to be granted for The Globe Theatre to have a thatched roof. The Globe Theatre is a modern-day replica of Shakespeare's original Globe theatre, and opened in 1997.
  • It was thought at the time that the fire was an act of foreign terrorism as retaliation for the English setting fire to a fleet of 140 ships and the town of West Tershelling in The Netherlands in August 1666.


There are records of persecution of foreigners in London after the Great Fire. One French man, '''Robert Hubert''', claimed that he had started the fire. He initially claimed he had started it in Westminster, then said he had started it in Pudding Lane. Despite his story not corresponding properly with events, he was tried, found guilty and hanged. After his death, it was discovered that Hubert wasn't even in London when the fire started. He arrived two days into it.
  • In 1986, 320 years after the event, an apology for starting the fire was made by members of the Worshipful Company of Bakers to the Lord Mayor of London.
  • The Golden Boy of Pye Corner is a gold-plated wooden monument situated on the corner of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street. An inscription states "This boy is in memory put up for the late Fire of London occasioned by The Sin of Gluttony, 1666" It was originally built into the front of a pub called The Fortune of War which was demolished in 1910.

The main inscription, approximately 10 ft below the boy, reads as follows:

The boy at 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 and the Boy was
made prodigiously fat to
enforce the moral he was
originally built into the
front of a public-house
Called The Fortune of War
Which used to occupy
This site and was pulled
Down in 1910
'The Fortune of War' was
The chief house of call
North of the River for
Resurrectionists in body
snatching days years ago
The landlord used to show
The room where on benches
Round the walls the bodies
Were placed labelled
With the snatchers'
names waiting till the
Surgeons at Saint
Bartholomew's could run
Round and appraise them
WIKI The Golden Boy of Pye Corner

Royal Mail Commemorative stamps


Only six deaths were officially recorded as a result of the Great Fire of London, with the first death being a maid of the baker's family in Pudding Lane. There were likely many more, as deaths of working class people weren't recorded and it is possible that many bodies were cremated in the fire.

Further Reading // Main Reference WIKI Great Fire of London - Information shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License - see Creative Commons Licenses
// this project is in History Link