Ten Facts About The Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London was a huge fire that raged for three nights in September 1666 and destroyed much of medieval London. A combination of events enabled the fire to get out of control quickly and spread across the city rapidly: London had had a long dry summer, there were strong winds blowing, buildings were situated closely together and were mostly built out of wood. Here are ten facts about the Great Fire of London.
There was a bit of a foody theme going on regarding The Great Fire of London. It began in a bakery on Pudding Lane just after midnight on Sunday 2nd September 1666. It was said to be extinguised on Wednesday 5th September at Pie Corner (or Pye Corner) in Smithfield. Over 100 years earlier in 1559, London's destruction by a “consuming fire” had been predicted by a concerned person. His name? Daniel Baker.
The Golden Boy of Pye Corner is a gold-plated wooden monument situated on the corner of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street. An inscription states “This boy is in memory put up for the late Fire of London occasioned by The Sin of Gluttony, 1666” It was originally built into the front of a pub called The Fortune of War which was demolished in 1910.
The most famous building destroyed by the fire was St Paul's Cathedral. After the fire, its ruins were demolished. Work to rebuild it began in 1675 based on designs by Sir Christopher Wren. The result is the St Paul's Cathedral that now stands in London with its famous dome.
Ironically, Sir Christopher Wren had suggested that the cathedral should be demolished before the fire. He had been commisioned to redesign it following years of neglect and mistreatment. These plans were opposed, and wooden scaffolding was constructed around the cathedral to allow it to be redeveloped without demolition. As the fire reached St Paul's Cathedral, the wooden scaffolding surrounding it would have contributed to the extent of its destruction.
Only six deaths were officially recorded as a result of the Great Fire of London, with the first death being a maid of the baker's family in Pudding Lane. There were likely many more, as deaths of working class people weren't recorded and it is possible that many bodies were cremated in the fire.
The Great Fire of London coincided with the time that the last major outbreak of the bubonic plague in London ended. In 1665, the year before the fire, it is thought that 100,000 people, 15% of London's population, were killed by the plague. Some people believed that the fire in 1666 killed the rats and fleas that carried the disease and helped to rid the city of it. However, it is now thought that the disease had already been on the decline beforehand. In other European cities, the bubonic plague appeared to die out at the same time, without the assistance of accidental great fires.
The Great Fire of London wasn't the only fire to affect London. Earlier fires were frequent and had devastated the area a number of times beforehand. A fire in 1087 destroyed an earlier St Paul's Cathedral, with major fires following in 1135 and 1212. Measures to prevent the rapid spreading of future fires, such as banning wooden buildings and thatched roofs were already in place by the time of the Great Fire of London. The ban on thatching is still in place today and special permission had to be granted for The Globe Theatre to have a thatched roof. The Globe Theatre is a modern-day replica of Shakespeare's original Globe theatre, and opened in 1997.
As we're talking about fires, the Globe Theatre of Shakespeare's time was destroyed in 1612 after a cannon misfired and set fire to its thatching. It was rebuilt the following year but closed down in 1642 and was demolished in 1644.
Putting out a fire in the Seventeenth Century wasn't an easy task. Water wasn't freely available to be pumped onto a fire. Instead, one of the most common methods of fire fighting was to demolish buildings to create gaps to prevent it from spreading. Unfortunately, the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, refused to give the order to demolish houses near the bakery in Pudding Lane as he didn't want to foot the bill to rebuild them. In fact, he didn't take the fire seriously at all, stating that “A woman might piss it out”! Apologies for the language kids. This is history so it's kind of allowed.
At the time, it was thought that the fire was an act of foreign terrorism as retalliation for the English setting fire to a fleet of 140 ships and the town of West Tershelling in The Netherlands in August 1666. There are records of persecution of foreigners in London after the Great Fire. One French man, Robert Hubert, claimed that he had started the fire. He initially claimed he had started it in Westminster, then said he had started it in Pudding Lane. Despite his story not corresponding properly with events, he was tried, found guilty and hanged. After his death, it was discovered that Hubert wasn't even in London when the fire started. He arrived two days into it!
The Monument is a 202 feet high (61 metres) column situated 202 feet away from the site of the bakery in Pudding Lane where the fire began. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren to commemorate the Great Fire of London and to celebrate the rebirth of the city after the fire. A spiral staircase of 311 steps inside the Monument allows you to access a viewing platform near the top, giving you a panaromic view of London. The nearest tube station to the site is also known as Monument.
An apology for starting the fire was made by members of the Worshipful Company of Bakers to the Lord Mayor of London. This apology came in 1986, 320 years after the event!