The Great Fire of London

The Monument - Sir Christopher Wren's column commemorating the starting place of the Great Fire

From Sunday 2 September to Wednesday 5 September 1666, one of the most infamous disasters struck London – the Great Fire. This catastrophe which started at the bakery of Thomas Farriner (or Farynor) on Pudding Lane shortly after midnight on Sunday, 2 September and spread rapidly west across the City of London. The major fire-fighting technique of the time was to create fire-breaks by means of demolition; this, however, was critically delayed owing to the indecisiveness of Lord Mayor of London Sir Thomas Bloodworth.

The fire pushed north on Monday into the heart of the City. Order in the streets broke down as rumours arose of suspicious foreigners setting fires. The City was essentially medieval in its street plan, an overcrowded warren of narrow, winding, cobbled alleys. It had experienced several major fires before 1666, the most recent in 1632. Building with wood and roofing with thatch had been prohibited for centuries, but these cheap materials continued to be used.

On Tuesday, the fire spread over most of the City, destroying St Paul's Cathedral. Pepys comments in his diary that nobody was trying to put it out, but instead, they fled from it in fear, hurrying "to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire." The flames crept towards the riverfront with little interference from the overwhelmed community and soon torched the flammable warehouses along the wharves. The resulting conflagration cut off the firefighters from the immediate water supply from the river and set alight the water wheels under London Bridge which pumped water to the Cornhill water tower; the direct access to the river and the supply of piped water failed together.

London Gazette of September 1666

London possessed advanced fire-fighting technology in the form of fire engines, which had been used in earlier large-scale fires. However, unlike the useful firehooks, these large pumps had rarely proved flexible or functional enough to make much difference. Only some of them had wheels; others were mounted on wheelless sleds.

The wind dropped on Tuesday evening, and the firebreaks created by the garrison finally began to take effect on Wednesday 5 September, with the fire reaching as far as Pie Corner, Guiltspur Street.

The Guilt Boy where the fire ended at Pie Corner with the inscription
“This Boy is in Memory Put up for the late FIRE of London Occasion’d by the Sin of Gluttony 1666”

London Time

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