The Great Fire of London (1666)
The Great Fire of London as the name implies, was a huge series of fires that swept through the central section of London in 1666.
The fire lasted for four days from September 2nd (Sunday) until September 5th (Wednesday) and destroyed a large part of the city before finally dying out.
Among the areas affected was the medieval City of London, which was located within the confines of the old Roman City Wall. There were fears that the fire would spread into the aristocratic Westminster district (what is now known as the West End), the Palace at Whitehall and the neighbouring suburban slum district although it did not.
When the fires cleared, it was found to have destroyed more than 13,000 houses, 87 parish churches and many of the city authorities' buildings. The fire also caused extensive damage to St. Paul's Cathedral. As records keeping practices among the poorer communities were inadequate in those days, only a few deaths were recorded and the official stance is that the death toll was relatively low. In actuality however, the death toll may have been significantly higher with many having been unreported and most of the victims probably having been cremated by the fire, reducing their remains to untraceable ashes.
The fire was thought to have started from the Pudding Lane bakery owned by Thomas Farriner (or Farynor according to some accounts) sometime after midnight on September 2 and it spread at an alarming rate.
In spite of the primitive nature of fire-fighting methods at the time, the creation of firebreaks was a somewhat effective measure that had been used to combat fires in the past. This procedure involved the demolition of certain key structures in order to contain the spread of the fire. At this critical moment however, the Lord Mayor of London Sir Thomas Bloodworth failed to act in a decisive manner and such fire preventing measures were delayed resulting in disastrous consequences. By the time the implementation of firebreaks were ordered on Sunday night, the fire had already developed into a massive firestorm that proved to be too much of a challenge for such marginal fire fighting measures.
By Monday morning the fire had begun to creep its way inwards into the city and chaos ensued. Public order broke down in the streets of London as rumours spread of fires being set by suspicious looking individuals of foreign origin. The besieged people of the community, now threatened by the prospect of impending homelessness turned their wrath upon the French and Dutch settlers in the area. France and the Netherlands were currently at war with England at this time and the unruly mob took out their anger on these hapless immigrants, subjecting them to lynching and savage attacks in the streets.
By Tuesday the fire had already destroyed most of the city and threatened to endanger the court of Charles II in Whitehall. It was at this time that the strong east winds died down and the fire was eventually extinguished with the use of gunpowder to create effective firebreaks.
Original Authors:Doods Pangburn
Edit Update Authors: M.A.Harris
Updated On: 25/07/2008