Stuarts‎ > ‎

The Great Fire of London

The Great Fire of London started in the early hours of Sunday 2nd September 1666 when a fire broke out in the house of Thomas Farrinor, a baker in Pudding Lane. Farrinor and his family escaped through an upstairs window but their maidservant refused to jump and so burned to death. She was the first casualty of the fire.

Firefighters of the time usually made firebreaks by destroying buildings around a fire so it could not spread. This did not happen soon enough because the owners of the buildings weren't there and the Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, was worried that they would get angry. By the time he ordered such measures, it was too late and the fire kept overtaking them.

Great Fire of London

Following a long, hot summer many of the buildings were bone dry. A strong east wind blew sparks from the fire into neighbouring streets where cellars and warehouses were filled with goods which quickly caught alight.

Equipment to fight the fire was very basic - people used small hand pumps called squirts and long hooks to pull the thatch off the houses.

By the morning of Monday 3rd September, the fire continued to spread and the streets were jammed with people pushing barrows piled high with their belongings as they tried to escape. Even the river was covered with barges and boats carrying people to safety. Poor people made money by hiring out these carts and boats at high prices - hiring a cart had cost a couple of shillings on the Saturday but had now risen to as much as £40 (about £4,000 today).

Whilst the fire quickly spread westwards and managed to avoid the Tower of London, it did burn down the massive stone walls of its counterpart, Baynard's Castle and torched the old houses on London Bridge.

When the Lord Mayor himself fled the burning city, King Charles II and his brother James then took command of the fire-fighting. They stood up to their ankles in water to help the chains of men pass buckets of water from hand to hand. 

On the Tuesday, the fire spread over most of the City and crossed over the River Fleet. The largest Church in Europe, St. Paul's Cathedral - which happened to be under restoration work at the time and covered in wooden scaffolding - was destroyed.

8 The Great Fire of London 1666

As the winds slowed down and the firebreaks began to work, the fire eventually burnt itself out by the early evening on Thursday 6th September.

It had burned down: 13,200 houses, 87 churches and most of the government buildings. Estimates suggest that only six people died and some believe that the fire actually saved lives in the long run by burning down so much unhealthy housing with their rats and fleas which had helped to spread the Great Plague the previous year.

Great fire of london map

A refugee camp for homeless people was set up in Moorfields, a large public park to the north of the city.

People believed seemingly unrelated fires (which had likely just been started by sparks blown from the fire) had been set on purpose by French and Dutch terrorists. These rumours led to riots at one point with mobs of people attacking any foreigners they happened to encounter.

A simple-minded French watchmaker, Robert Hubert, confessed to starting the fire and was hung, although it was later discovered that he didn't arrive in London until two days after the fire had started.

To make London more fireproof, King Charles II ordered it to be rebuilt using brick and stone and with wider streets and no houses obstructing access to the river. Designs for a new city with long avenues and big piazzas (squares) were made but they were never followed as people wanted their houses building exactly where they had been before.

Christopher Wren by Godfrey Kneller 1711

The architect Sir Christopher Wren built at least 50 new churches and a tall column called the Monument to mark the spot where the fire began. He also rebuilt St Paul's cathedral with one of the highest domes in the world.

Cathédrale St-Paul - entrée principale     

Gifts were given to people to reward them for fighting the fire, such as silver tankards (big drinking cups).