“Jane London history – the Great Fire“Jane London history – the Great Fire

“Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose and slipped on my nightgown, and went to her window…but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and back to sleep.”  These words, by famous writer Samuel Pepys, were written following one of the great tragedies in London history – the Great Fire of London. The Great Fire of London took place in 1666, and it brought death and destruction to the city. The Great Fire of London changed the history of London, and the ramifications of the fire are still influencing the city today.          It was on the evening of September 1, 1666, when Thomas Farriner, the king’s baker, failed to properly extinguish his oven. He went to bed and sometime around midnight sparks from smoldering ember ignited firewood lying beside the oven. And not to long after Farriner’s house went up in flames. Farriner had managed to escape with his family and a servant through an upstairs window, but his bakery assistant was the first victim of the fire (“Great fire of london begins”). The fire started on September 2nd in the King’s bakery in Pudding Lane near London Bridge (Johnson). Sparks from Farriner’s bakery leapt across the street and set fire to straw and fodder in the stables of the Star Inn (“Great Fire Of London Begins”).The fire continued to spread rapidly, helped by a strong wind from the east, when it reached the Thames it hit warehouses that were stocked with combustible products such as oil and tallow. Although the fire could not reach the south side of the river because of a previous blaze in 1633 that had already destroyed that part of the bridge ( The Great Fire Of London ).    Many stores lit aflame or exploded, turning the fire into an uncontrollable blaze. Bucket-bearing locals abandoned their futile efforts at fire fighting and rushed home to evacuate their families and save their valuables (“Great Fire Of London”). It was a hot, dry summer, and a strong wind further encouraged the flames. As the fire grew, city authorities used a fire hook but they struggled to tear down buildings and create a firebreak, but the flames repeatedly overtook them before they could complete their work (“The Great Fire Of London”). Many of the townspeople fled into the Thames River dragging their possessions, and the homeless took shelter in the hills on the outskirts of London. Light from the Great Fire could be seen 30 miles away. The Great Fire of London destroyed 13,000 houses, nearly 90 churches, and scores of public buildings (“Great Fire Of London”). The old St. Paul’s Cathedral was destroyed, as were many other historic landmarks.      The City of london is a forest of wood and highly flammable tar-paper, with houses leaning out into the incredibly narrow streets until they are close enough to kiss. The minimum street widths were routinely flouted; thatched roofs are illegal but common. Many houses were overcrowded too, subdivided and let out to however many families can squeeze in ( Davies ). A warm summer that had dried out the wood used to construct homes an area mile and a half wide along the River Thames was almost completely destroyed.   There were many fires in seventeenth century London. A fire in 1633 destroyed houses on London Bridge and in 1643 another fire caused 333,526 worth of damage. In 1650 seven barrels of gunpowder exploded in a fire in Tower Street that made 41 houses uninhabitable. People did not have house insurance and if their house was damaged by fire they had to rely on the charity of other people to replace their possessions ( The Stuarts ). As early as 1200 laws had been passed banning people from thatching their roofs. By 1600 most houses in London did not have thatched roofs. In 1620 a new order was made that new buildings should be made from brick or stone and that top floors should not jut out into the street. Suburbs were appointed with officers who inspected houses for fire hazards and fined owners if they did not remove the hazard. Householders were instructed to investigate any smell of smoke and raise the alarm if necessary. At night it was the night-watchman’s job to guard against fire and in hot weather householders were often told to leave buckets of water outside their doors in case of fire ( The Stuarts ). Much of the equipment used by seventeenth century fire-fighters is very similar to that used today. Fire Hooks, These were used to pull down roof tiles or even buildings to prevent the spread of fire. Fire Buckets, Made out of leather, these buckets, filled with water, were passed along a chain of people from the water supply to the fire ( The Stuarts ). Pick Axes,These were used to dig up water pipes which were cut open. Water Squirts, Hand-held water squirts were developed to allow the firefighter to aim the jet of water at the fire. Fire Engines, developed in the seventeenth century and were introduced in large cities from around 1625. These engines allowed a force of water to be directed at the heart of the fire. In order for any fire to be put out quickly and easily, a good supply of water was needed ( History On The Net ). Although the new fire engines had tanks that were filled with water, they were soon emptied. They were refilled with water from the river, passed in buckets along a chain of people from the river to the fire.    On a Wednesday morning Samuel Pepys visits Moorfields and sees “poor wretches carrying their goods there, and everybody keeping his goods together by themselves”. Many, says Evelyn, are “without a rag or any necessary utensils, bed or board…reduced to the extremest misery and poverty”. These refugees will be a huge political problem for the next year. In the meantime the price of bread and other food has since doubled (Great Fire Unfolded ). Wednesday also seen the worst of the mob violence. We don’t know how many people were killed in the fire. The army and the militia could  barely even keep control but eventually succeed in pushing the angry citizens back out into the fields. Over the next few days London, citizens are starving, panicked, and head toward total collapse. Fearing a huge revolt, Charles II deploys troops, sets up emergency markets, orders towns across the country to take in any refugee Londoners ( Dobbs ). John Evelyn gives a haunting description of those days: “I then went towards Islington, & high-gate, where one might have seene two hundred thousand people of all ranks and degrees, dispersed, & laying along by their heapes of what they could save from the Incendium, deploring their loss and though ready to perish for hunger and destitution, yet not asking one penny for relief, which to me appeared a stranger sight, than any I had yet beheld.” After the fire was put out a total of, 13,500 houses have burnt down; 87 churches, 44 company halls, St Paul’s and so many other landmarks ( National Geographic ). The loss of roughly costed 1.3bn in today’s money. Moreover, most of the records are gone; nobody knows who owns anything, who owes what. The domestic refugee crisis and the rebuilding of London dominate politics for the next few years. Many plans are proposed, but in the end the city is allowed to grow back organically, with some very beautiful new buildings. Pudding Lane is rebuilt, although it is not quite in the same place as the original.