Great Fire of London

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The Great Fire of London, September 1666. Painted by an unknown artist.

The Great Fire Of London was a tragedy that happened in London, England in 1666[1]. The fire lasted for four days, from 2 September until 5 September.

It threatened the aristocratic district of Westminster (the modern West End), Charles II's Palace of Whitehall, and most of the suburban slums. However, it did not reach these districts.[2] It burned down 13,200 houses, 87 churches, St. Paul's Cathedral, and most of the government buildings. It is believed that it destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the 80,000 people that lived in the city.[3] It is not known how many people died in the fire. Only a few deaths are certain, but for many of the victims there were no records. Also, the fire may have cremated many, leaving no recognisable remains.

The fire started at the bakery of Thomas Farriner (or Farynor) in Pudding Lane. It began just after midnight on Sunday, September 2 and grew very fast. Firefighters of the time usually made firebreaks by destroying buildings around the fire so it could not spread. This did not happen soon enough because the Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, was not certain what to do. By the time he ordered such measures, it was too late.

The fire pushed north on Monday into the center of the city. Some people thought that foreigners were setting the fires. They believed it was the French and Dutch. Both countries were England's enemies in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, a war that was happening at that time. On Thursday, the fire spread over most of the City, destroying St. Paul's Cathedral and crossed over the River Fleet. It was close to setting fire to Charles II's court at Whitehall.

The attempt to put out the fire is believed to have been successful because of two things:

  • The strong east winds slowed down. These winds were causing the fire to spread.
  • The Tower of London guard used gunpowder to make good firebreaks that stopped the fire from spreading to the east.

The social and economic problems created by the disaster were very big. Leaving London to go and live elsewhere was strongly encouraged by Charles II. He feared a London rebellion amongst the refugees who had lost their property. Despite numerous radical proposals, London was reconstructed on essentially the same street plan used before the fire.[4]

The fire is said to have also helped to get rid of the Great Plague which had hit London in 1665, and killed about 70,000 of the 90,000 population.

Notes[change | edit source]

  1. All dates are given according to the New Style.
  2. Porter, 69–80.
  3. Tinniswood, 4, 101.
  4. Reddaway, 27.

References[change | edit source]

  • Porter, Roy (1994). London: A Social History. Cambridge: Harvard.
  • Reddaway, T. F. (1940). The Rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. London: Jonathan Cape.
  • Tinniswood, Adrian (2003). By Permission of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire of London. London: Jonathan Cape.

Other websites[change | edit source]