A devastating fire swept through London from Sunday, 2 September to Thursday, 6 September 1666.
How did it happen?
- Back in the 1660s, people were not as aware of the dangers of fire as they are today. Buildings were made of flammable materials.
- About 350,000 people lived in London just before the Great Fire; it was one of the largest cities in Europe.
- Following a long, dry summer the city was suffering a drought. Water was scarce and the wooden houses had dried out, making them easier to burn.
- The Great Fire of London started on Sunday, 2 September 1666 in a baker’s shop on Pudding Lane belonging to Thomas Farynor.
- At first, few were concerned – fires were such a common occurrence at the time. However, the fire moved quickly down Pudding Lane and carried on down Fish Hill and towards the River Thames. It spread rapidly, helped by a strong wind from the east.
How did they put out the Great Fire of London?
- The Navy – which had been using gunpowder at the time – blew up houses in the path of the fire. The hope was that by doing this they would create a space to stop the fire spreading from house to house. The fire was mostly under control by Wednesday, 5 September 1666.
- However small fires continued to break out and the ground remained too hot to walk on for several days afterwards.
What happened after the fire?
- London had to be almost totally reconstructed. Temporary buildings were erected that were ill-equipped, disease spread easily, and many people died from this and the harsh winter that followed the fire.
- The death toll is unknown but was traditionally thought to have been small, as only six verified deaths were recorded. This reasoning has recently been challenged on the grounds that the deaths of poor and middle-class people were not recorded; moreover, the heat of the fire may have cremated many victims, leaving no recognizable remains.
- As well as loss of life, the financial costs were staggering. 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, The Royal Exchange, Guildhall and St. Paul’s Cathedral – built during the Middle Ages – was totally destroyed.
- The site where the fire first started is now marked by a 202-foot monument built between 1671 and 1677.