The Great London Fire

On of the biggest fires in history began in a baker’s shop on September 2, 1666 and lasted for several days. The Great London Fire started on Pudding Lane in London, England, one block north of London Bridge. The medieval city was built with homes practically on top of each other and constructed mainly of dry wood, making it a virtual tinder box. The family living above the bakery escaped through windows, although a housemaid became the first of very few fatalities. In fact, after burning for four days and destroying 13,000 structures, the official death toll was in the single digits.

One of the major firefighting techniques of the time was to isolate a fire by demolishing nearby buildings, but the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, refused to give the order. The King overruled the Mayor’s order to delay, but by that time the chance to contain the flames was gone. Local firefighters, who were volunteers trying to protect their neighbor’s homes as well as their own, were left to simply watch the wind press the fire ever north and east from Pudding Lane. The Tower of London, just west of the bakery, was left untouched.

When rumors started circulating about the flames being deliberately set by foreign powers, looting and violence broke out across the city. Mob rule ensued as a huge part of London burned to the ground. Greatest of all the material destruction, which was accounted at approximately £10 million at the time, was the ruin of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Customs House, city prisons and three of the city gates were also burnt to the ground, as well as the Royal Exchange.

Rebuilding programs utilized stone in place of wood and Queen and King Street in the city were laid out in a new fashion. Two monuments stand to commemorate the fire: a large tower near Pudding Lane designed by Christopher Wren (architect of St. Paul’s) and Robert Hooke and a golden statue of a boy that marks the place where the fire stopped on Pye Corner.

Two interesting things are associated with the Great Fire of London. First, the Lord Mayor Bloodworth is quoted as saying, “Pish! A woman could piss it out,” upon first seeing the flames and his inaction is widely blamed for the subsequent destruction of London. Second, the fire is credited with stopping the spread of the plague, a uniquely positive consequence of one of the biggest fires in world history.

 

 

 

 

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