Great Fire

Posted by Ian McDiarmid, City of London Tour Guide on Thursday, June 10, 2021 Under: Great Fire of London

Great Fire

The Great Fire of 1666 was devastating, destroying around four-fifths of the City of London. The main reason it was so destructive was the wind which was blowing from the south-east, and which was particularly fierce. The Dutch and English fleets vying for a fight in the Channel the night before the fire broke out had been unable to join the battle because the winds were so strong. 


The direction of the wind was important as it helped usher the flames away from the river which might in other circumstances have acted as a fire-break. You can trace the course of fire in the modern in landscape of the City, as it was only the north-eastern corner that escaped from the path of the wind and so the flames, and it is only here that you can find pre-fire churches like St Andrew Undershaft, St Katharine Cree and St Helen’s Bishopsgate. The fire was also devastating because the summer had been hot and therefore the wooden buildings were particularly dry. 


Contemporaries and more recent historians have also pointed to structural weaknesses, making the capital vulnerable to calamity. A major cause is thought to have been the largely wooden construction of London, and after it was all over building regulations were put in place to rebuild the city in stone. There were also plans, only implemented to a limited degree, for wider streets. The  ‘primitive’ nature of fire-fighting equipment is also frequently highlighted. Parish churches were required to maintain equipment such as buckets, ladders and long hooks for pulling down timber-framed buildings to create fire-breaks. They also had ‘squirts’ which were like large syringes for throwing water at the flames. In addition, a couple of parishes maintained larger squirts mounted on carts. One of these can be seen in St Magnus Martyr. 


Most of these methods probably did have only limited effect, and the larger cart-mounted squirts struggled in particular with London’s narrower streets. The hooks were an exception and might have been useful if they had been employed earlier on.


However, a good question to ask is not so much why the fire happened, but why it had not happened before if London was so vulnerable to disaster. The last big fire had been in 1212, suggesting that the wooden city was in general reasonably well prepared for the threat of fire. Small fires occurred all the time. Contemporaries in 1666 were quick to blame the Lord Mayor, Thomas Bloodworth. Pepys claims that he was woken up to be told about the outbreak and after issuing his famous judgement, ‘Pish, a woman might piss it out’ turned over and went back to sleep. He got it tragically wrong, but his response probably reflects a familiarity with the occurrence of localised fires. It was the unusual winds on top of a long dry spell that really did for London in 1666.


To find out more about the Great Fire, listen to our podcast Episode 20 The Great Fire of London: How it Began

In : Great Fire of London 


Tags: great fire  1666  city of london 
comments powered by Disqus
 

Tags

"online bookings' cpd #earthrise 17th 1830s 18thcentury 1930s 20th 50th a abbey adele afternoon afternoon tea age ages alastair ancient and animals annie anniversary apps architecture arsenal art arts attack autumn awards baker bank bankside barbican barrier bathhouses battersea bazalgette bear beasts becket bells bexley bishopsgate black blackfriars blitz bloomsbury bombers book books borough bowie breakfast brewery brick bridge britain british bronze bronze age brunch buckingham burger burlesque buses cab cabaret cake canal canary captain carl carol caroline carols cathedral cemetery cenotaph century chapman charles charlton cheap cheapside cheese childhood chips chiswick chocolate christmas church city city of london clapham clerkenwell cocktails coffee coffeehouses common company concert corporate covent covent garden covid-19 cream crime cross crown cruise crystal danson david davy day december deptford dick dickens dinner dinosaurs do dock dockland museum dragons dreamtime druitt earth east eat eating eats ecommerce edward edwardians edwin egypt elizabethan end engineering ernst event events exhibition exhibitions facebook fairytale fall family fantastic farringdon fashion february festival film finance fire first fiscus florence folklore food for francis free friars gallery galliard garden george georgian georgians german germany gibb gift globe grade great greenhithe greenwich group guided guides gun half hall halsk handel harle harry potter hats havering havering hoard hawksmoor hazel heroes hidden highbury hill hilton history holloway homes hot hotel house housing how humphry i ian ianmcd ice ice cream icelandic ii iii in india inigo isaac islington italian iv jack jack the ripper jack's james jenny jewels john johns jones joseph katharines kelly kenneth kew gardens kids kidstours killer kim king kings kingston lambeth lane lewis lights limestone literature liverpool locations londinium london london bridge london's londoners londonhistory lunch lutyens macaulay magnus management maritime market markets martyr mary matilda maufe mayfair mcdiarmid measure medical medieval memorial middle military millennium mock-tudor modern modernist montague month monument moorgate mosaic murder murderers museum museum of london docklands music musicals mystery n7 national gallery national history museum ned new newcomen news newton nhs nichols night nightingale nurse of old street oliver open opera paddington palace palaces pancakes pandemic panoramic park parties path pauls people philip photo photograhy photography photos pizza places plague plantation plays plumstead podcast poetry pokemon polly poor pop poplar port prince priory private tours pub public pubs purbeck qe2 queen queenhithe quirky recording regency reid religion rembrandt renaissance restoration ripper river road rob roman romans roundhouse royal saga saints salute saxon school. science sculpture scupture seacole second serial servants sewers shakespeare shoreditch siemens sir slave slavery small smartphone smith smithfield smithfields soap soho somme south southbank southwark spitalfields spy squirrels ss st statue stories stow street stuart stuarts studios subscription suffragettes sugar summer susan sydenham tate taxi tea ten term terror thames thamesmeade the theatre thiepval things things to do thrifty thriftytheatre to tour tours tower trade travel truman tudor tudors tumblety twelfth twentieth twist und underground update v&a ve victims victoria victorian victorian london victorians viking virtual vouchers wales walk walking walks wall war water werner west wharf wheeler whitechapel wilde wildlife willelm william windrush wine winter women wood woodland woolwich world wyatt york zachary 1666 1888 2019 2020

LONDON GUIDED WALKS:

LEARN MORE:

CONNECT WITH US:

USEFUL LINKS:

Site by Hazel  |  Photographs by Hazel or Ian