Town Guide

Fire of London

At 2am on 2nd September 1666, a worker at Farriner's Baking House in Pudding Lane woke to the smell of smoke. This was the start of what came to be known as the Great Fire of London.

Throughout its history London had long been prone to fire, mainly due to the narrow streets and the timber and thatch that many houses were constructed of. So over the previous years, numerous fires burnt down large parts of the city and many lives had been lost due to fire.

But it was this fire of 1666 that has always been remembered, quite simply because the likes of it had never been seen before, or since.

Initially nobody was too concerned about the fire in Pudding Lane. In fact when the then Lord Mayor Sir Thomas Bloodworth was woken up to be informed about the fire, he replied "Pish! A woman might piss it out!"

But strong winds fanned the flames and the fire spread quickly. Several attempts were made to halt the spread of the fire, but to no avail. In the event, the blaze lasted for four days and nights, by which time over 450 acres of London had been destroyed.

A massive 80% of the capital was affected - 89 churches had been razed to the ground, along with 44 livery halls and thousands of houses. Yet records showed that only 8 lives had been lost!

Several plans were put forward for the re-building of London, and it was the designs of Christopher Wren that were eventually chosen. As a result much of the architecture of London that you see today was built by Wren including more than 50 of the city's churches, most notably the mighty St Paul's Cathedral.

Wren also built the Monument, topped with a bronze urn filled with flames, that commemorates the fire. Interestingly enough the Monument is 212 feet high, and so if you laid it on its side it would reach from its position all the way to the exact spot in Pudding Lane where the fire started.

After the fire had ended rumours soon spread that it had been started as part of a Catholic plot. The Frenchman Robert Hubert subsequently confessed to being an agent of the pope and to starting the fire and he was later hanged at Tyburn Gallows.

After his execution the lines "but Popish frenzy, which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched" were added to the inscription on the Monument. They were eventually removed in 1831.

Although the fire was devastating, some good can be seen to have emerged from it. For example it provided an opportunity to rebuild the city, replacing the narrow, cluttered alleys with wider streets and improved housing. And, most importantly, the fire also halted the spread of the plague in London.

Another lasting legacy of the fire was a change in building practises, for example combustible materials such as timber and thatch were replaced with brick and stone. In fact the newly built replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre has the first thatched roof in London since 1666.

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