2nd September 1666. Fire! Fire!

 

St Pauls in background

Great Fire of London with Old St Paul’s in the background.

The Diarist, Samuel Pepys recorded in the summer of 1666: ‘it having been three of four days mighty hot weather’. He couldn’t have foreseen the disaster of a greater heat, which lay ahead.(1)

Painting by unknown artist of Fire of London. Note Southwark Cathedral on the right south bank.

Painting by unknown artist of the Fire of London.
Note Southwark Cathedral on the right, the south bank of the Thames.

The great Fire of London started Today in 1666, a little after midnight in Pudding Lane, after a long, hot July and August in particular.(2)

Staple Inn 1886.

Staple Inn 1886, much as it now is today after rebuilding.

 

The fire lasted four or five days and almost destroyed the city of Shakespeare with thousands losing their homes, but true figures for deaths is uncertain.

One of the most notable buildings to survive was the old Staple Inn of Court, in High Holborn. (3)

blitz

However Hitler’s bombs reduced it to rubble, but to later rise phoenix-like from the flames.

St Katherine Cree in Leadenhall Street, built in 1631, is one of few London churches to have survived the Great Fire, the Blitz, and IRA bombs of 1992-3.

Within days plans for rebuilding of the City, were being discussed between King Charles II Christopher Wren and John Evelyn.

Wren was to buy millions of tons of Portland limestone, which is easily quarried and worked, weathering to a beautiful silver-white, ideal for his new St Paul’s Cathedral.

However the vision of a model, planned city desired by Wren, soon faded, as the powerful London merchants and Corporation wanted the old narrow street lines retained, which they still follow to this day.

A second Rebuilding Act increased the duty on coal instituted three years earlier, for the major buildings, and for St. Paul’s and the City churches.

The City Corporation and the many powerful, merchant ‘Livery Companies’, had to find their own finance, as did individual citizens from any credit facilities of the time.

The map by Wenceslaus Hollar, drawn after the fire shows the area affected by the devastation.

Map by Emanual Bowen based on Hollar's map

Map by Emanual Bowen based on Hollar’s map.

Ten years later in 1676, came ‘the little fire of London’, this time south of the Thames, which devastated Southwark.

It destroyed Chaucer’s Old Tabard Inn in the High Street.

(1) Diary dated 20th June 1666. He also later commented that the fire was foreseen by the medieval ’seer’ Mother Shipton.

(2) The Public Record Office, London has the Hearth Tax for 1666 of Thomas Farynor, owner of a bakery, where the fire started.

(3) Many fine individual buildings survived including the churches of St. Andrew Undershaft and St. Helen’s Bishopsgate.

Ref: Pepys’ Diary.

Ref: london-fire.gov.uk/Painting image of Fire.

Ref: Wikipedia/Staple Inn Image.

Ref: Image of Fire/historythoughtsandinsights.blogspot.com.

Ref: oldmaps.co.uk/antique/london/Hollar Map Pic.

 

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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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