The Burning of London – The Great Fire of September 1666

Three hundred and fifty years ago, on September 2, 1666, a great conflagration started in London. The firestorm lasted until September 5, and when it was over, most of London had been burned to the ground. This was another traumatic, tragic occurrence for this city that had already withstood the civil wars, the Protectorate, the on-again, off-again wars with the Dutch, and the plague year of 1665.

We do have contemporary sources on this episode: the diary of Samuel Pepys records horrific scenes of burned pigeons falling to the ground, the ill being carried out on their beds, and the Thames filled with all manner of humanity; a fellow diarist – John Evelyn – details how St Paul’s Cathedral exploded like grenades from the intense heat and how its melted lead ran in the streets; and the London Gazette provides a one-page summary of this “sad and lamentable accident of fire”. We also have John Gideon’s City Remembrancer (1759) volume 2,  containing additional contemporary information on this fire, including an enumeration of the number of buildings lost (in excess of 13,000). In addition, this work also mentions the conspiracy theories that abounded at that time – that the fire was a Popish plot or it was started by foreigners. This can be seen in the 1679 work A narrative and impartial discovery of the horrid popish plot : carried on for the burning and destroying the cities of London and Westminster, with their suburbs…. This was not the case; it was started in the royal baker’s house.

This survey map of London from 1669 shows the extent of the damage and here is Christopher Wren’s plan for rebuilding the city that was eighty percent destroyed. In addition, there are numerous maps/plans detailing rebuilding of the city.

Secondary sites include: London’s Burning – the Great Fire (BBC); Lost in the Great Fire: which London buildings disappeared in the 1666 blaze? (The Guardian); and The Great Fire of London (Historic UK).

 

 

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