On this very day, 350 years ago, The Great Fire of London began
"It made me weep to see it" Samuel PepysSamuel Pepys 1633-1704 painted by John Hayls in the year of the Great Fire
Old London Bridge by Claude de Jongh
Autumn 1665 was the start of an exceptional drought which continued throughout the winter, then spring, and into summer 1666. London's bridges, and timber framed buildings with their straw thatched roofs, were built very close together and all became tinder dry.
In the early hours of Sunday 2nd September 1666, Thomas Farynor of Pudding Lane, master baker to the King, was awoken by his workmen who could smell smoke. He had forgotten to put out the fire in his oven.
The family were trapped upstairs, the only escape route was by jumping through a window into the house next door. Their maid was too scared to make the leap and became the first casualty of The Great Fire.
Fire brigades were non existent so the locals had to fight the flames with the help of soldiers. Fire-hooks were used to pull the burning thatch from the roofs, and buckets of water were thrown at the flames. Eventually it was decided to demolish houses by blowing them up with gunpowder in order to create 'fire breaks'. It wasn't until the wind dropped on the third night that the fire began to loose its hold.
The Great Fire of London - Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg
The fire burned from the early hours of Sunday until late evening on the following Wednesday completely consuming the medieval City of London built within the Roman city walls. 13,200 houses were destroyed, 87 parish churches including St. Paul's Cathedral, and most of the buildings belonging to the City authorities.
Old St. Paul's in Flames - Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677
It is estimated that 70,000 of the City's 80,000 inhabitants lost their homes. It is recorded that only six people died but it is known that the deaths of poor people were never recorded. It is most likely that the heat from the fire would have cremated many victims leaving no recognisable remains. A melted piece of pottery discovered by archaeologists in Pudding Lane, and now housed in the Museum of London, shows that the temperature reached 1700℃.
During the C17th the Bubonic Plague was a recurring problem in London, and it is believed that the fire may have been largely responsible for eradicating the epidemic. As a result of the fire there was a great renaissance in both the arts and sciences in England.
St. Paul's Cathedral designed and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in the English Baroque style
Sir Christopher Wren painted by Godfrey Kneller in 1711
Altogether Christopher Wren designed 51 new city churches and was appointed surveyor of the royal works which effectively gave him control of all government buildings in the country.
The Monument an engraving by Sutton Nicholls C1750
Monument to The Great Fire commonly known simply as The Monument - Christopher Wren and colleague, Dr. Robert Hooke, provided a design for a colossal Doric column in the antique tradition. It is 61 metres high - the exact distance between it and the site in Pudding Lane where the fire began. Should you be visiting London it is possible to visit the Monument and climb up it's twisting stairway to get a great bird's eye view of London.
Eventually, like the Phoenix, a new city built of brick and stone emerged from the ashes to become the financial capital which many of us love today.