Amongst the cranes and tall buildings of the City of London stands the Monument, erected not far from the infamous Pudding Lane. The monument stands there as a reminder of the devastating fire which started there 350 years ago today.
“On the second of September, 1666, this dismal fire broke out at a baker’s shop in Pudding-lane by Fish-street, in the lower part of the city, near Thames-street, (among rotten wooden houses ready to take fire, and full of combustible goods) in Billingsgate-ward; which ward n a few hours was laid in ashes.” [Dr. Harvey The City Remembrancer vol. II 914.21/LND/HAR/II]
By the end of the following day approximately 50% of the City of London had been destroyed. Fanned by high winds the fire raged for 5 days, however smoke from some of the cellars which were still smoldering could be seen 6 months later.
In total some 13,200 houses and 89 parish churches were destroyed along with several civic buildings, leaving 80% of the population homeless. It has been estimated the population of the City of London was around 100,000 at the time of the fire.
At the height of the fire both the King (Charles II) and his brother (the Duke of York) took charge of the efforts to bring about an end to the fire and prevent further destruction. This can be seen in the copies of the Calender of State Papers (Domestic) held on our shelves. Instructions and proclamations issued by the King and the government on fighting the fire are recorded alongside some of the actions taken by those involved as well as other more day-to-day items.
You can also find various accounts of the fire and the aftermath written by Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn and Dr Gideon Harvey. The City Remembrancer, published in 1769, contains a narrative of the disaster taken from Dr Gideon Harvey’s notes along with other first hand accounts and reports on the fire.
The items also contain accounts of what was done for those affected by the fire. Many people fled the city with whatever they could carry and headed towards the safety of Islington and Highgate. John Evelyn wrote there were “people of all ranks and degrees dispersed and lying along by their heaps of what they could save from the fire, deploring their loss; and, though ready to perish for hunger and destitution, yet not asking one penny for relief, which to me appeared a stranger sight than any I had yet beheld.” [John Evelyn Diary and Correspondence of John Evelyn, F.R.S. 92/EVE/II] Orders were given to provide food and security for those affected. Temporary markets were set up to replace those destroyed and feed those displaced.
It could, however, have been worse. At the time the fire broke there were some 600,000 lbs of gunpowder being stored at the Tower of London and a huge effort was made to remove as much of it as possible to prevent and even greater tragedy. Thankfully the fire didn’t quite reach the Tower itself, stopping just outside the gates, and most of the gunpowder was removed out of harms way.
Following the fire, the authorities had to come up with the best way to rebuild the city and ensure that another disaster could not occur. Several plans were put forward to completely redesign the layout of the city, one of these plans was by Sir Christopher Wren. In the end, however, it was deemed to difficult and costly to rebuild the city to a new design. Instead measures were taken to widen the streets and put restrictions on the materials which could be used to rebuild what had once been there.
Sir Christopher Wren played a key part in designing and rebuilding many of the churches which had succumbed to the flames, including the work he is most well-known for today – St. Paul’s Cathedral. There are several items about Wren and his work, many of which include wonderful reproductions of his designs, on our shelves as well as other book on London which cover the capital’s rich and fascinating history.
Further Reading Includes;
John Bell: The Great Fire of London in 1666: 914.21/LND/BEL
Charles Welch: History of the Monument: 914.21/LND/WEL
Samuel Pepys: Diary and Correspondence of Samuel Pepys, F.R.S.: 92/PEP/III
Sir Christopher Wren A.D. 1632-1723: 92/WRE
James Elmes: Memoirs f the Life and Works of Sire Christopher Wren: 92/WRE
For More Information;