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Archive for September 7th, 2016

….could there have been a more terrifying way to waken, on what was perhaps a chilly autumn morning, that day, September 2nd, 1666 than to the words of Fire! Fire!! London’s Burning

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autumn

– except perhaps to the news that the French were invading…..or was it the Roman Catholics….

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The French

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or perhaps Roman Catholics

“The ignorant and deluded mob, who upon the occasion were hurried away with a kind of frenzy, vented forth their rage against the Roman Catholics and Frenchmen, imagining these incendiaries (as they thought) has thrown red hot balls into the houses.” William Taswell.

…..they weren’t; it was just a rumour!

In the early hours of September 2nd, on Pudding Lane, at the premises of the Baker to the King; Thomas Farriner, an untended coal flared up…perhaps teased by a whisper of a breeze, just enough to kindle the embers of the bakers oven.

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Pudding Lane

Within a few hours the fire had built and all too soon, while Londoner’s and foreigner’s slumbered still, the flames jumped and ran….

From the Diary of Samuel Pepys – Sunday 2nd September 1666

About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was and further off. By and by our Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all fish-street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge. So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King’s baker’s house in Pudding-lane, and that it hath burned St Magnus’s Church and most part of Fish-street already. So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another.

A trivial beginning that soon turned into a raging inferno, the city was soon ablaze and word went out that London was burning. The Mayor of London, one (fairly dimwitted) Thomas Bloodworth was unperturbed and reckoned ‘a woman could piss it out’….his words came back to bite (burn) him in the bum and by the time the hapless creature realised the extent of the inferno, it was too late to save the city!

Samuel Pepys climbed the steeple of Barking Church (All Hallows by the Tower) to view the fire.

“There was the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw. Everywhere great fires. Oyle-cellars and brimstone and other things burning. I became afeared to stay there long, and therefore down again as fast I could.” Samuel Pepys.

Alerted by Samuel Pepys as to the extent of the disaster unfolding, by 3pm on that fateful day, King Charles II, accompanied by his brother, James, Duke of York, sailed down the Thames to observe the fire, and immediately gave orders to “pull down buildings to create a fire break.”imag9178

From that luckless Sunday till the following Thursday the flames leapt and bound from dark narrow lanes to streets and courts,

“The streets full of nothing but people and horses and carts loaden with goods, ready to run over one another, and removing goods from one burned house to another.” Samuel Pepys, describing the city on the Sunday evening.20160904_151911

fanned by an east wind….torching wooden houses and stone buildings.

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John Evelyn; 3 September 1666

And as it burned the flames destroyed 13,200 houses, 44 Livery Halls, numerous warehouses along the banks of the Thames crammed with combustible materials; coal, tar, pitch, hemp, rosen and flax (ropes), Baynard’s Castle, the Great Conduit

and four bridges within the city as well as razing 87 medieval parish churches to the ground. Weirdly, the house of Samuel Pepys in Seething Lane remained standing….

Much terrified in the nights nowadays, with dreams of fire and falling down of houses. Samuel Pepys.
copyright John Yabbacome

Samuel Pepys’s house perchance? copyright belongs to John Y

Even that most holy of churches was not left unscathed, and St Paul’s, which had stood at the heart of London life for over 500 hundred years, the 4th cathedral to stand on this spot since 604AD,

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Old St Paul’s Cathedral – the medieval church destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666

was consumed in the inferno, it’s roof melting in the heat,imag7697 causing molten lead, “glowing with fiery redness” to run in streams down Ludgate Hill. On Tuesday, September 4th, a combination of factors caused the building to burn with great ferocity; which catastrophic blaze consumed the cathedral….

copyright John Yabbacome

Old St Paul’s Cathedral – copyright belongs to John Y.

“Thus lay in ashes that most venerab[l]e Church, one of the [antientest] Pieces of early Piety in the Christian world, beside neere 100 more.” from the Diary of John Evelyn; September 7th 1666

….little did he know it then, but up and coming architect, Christopher Wren was just about to be given the biggest opportunity of his life….the rebuilding of the City of London churches, and St Paul’s Cathedral, his masterpiece that took 35 years to build!

 

The fire burned for just under five days, devastating the City, from Tower Hill in the East to Chancery Lane in the north, it swept westwards as far as Inner Temple Hall on the 4th day, which burned to the ground, and by some miracle it burned out before consuming Temple Church.

 

From the diary of John Evelyn – Tuesday September 4th, 1666

The burning still rages, and it was now gotten as far as the Inner Temple; all Fleet-street, the Old Bailey, Ludgate Hill, Warwick lane, Newgate, Paul’s chain, Watling street, now flaming, and most of it reduced to ashes; the stones of St Paul’s flew like (grenades), the melting lead running down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements glowing with redness, so as no horse nor man was able to tread on them, and the demolition had stopped all the passages, so that no help could be applied. The eastern wind still more impetuously driving the flames forward. Nothing but the almighty power of God was able to stop them, for vain was the help of man.
copyright John Yaddacome

London’s Burning

Lost to the inferno were countless treasures; art, books and documents, many of which were held in the Livery Companies Halls – 44 of which were completely destroyed; amongst which were the Cutlers Hall, Mercers Hall, Merchant Taylors Hall, Saddlers Hall, Brewers Hall, Coopers Hall, Drapers Hall, Dyers Hall, Fishmongers Hall, Innholders Hall, Pewterers Hall, Stationers and Newspaper Makers Hall, Tallow Chandlers Hall

and to add a touch of irony; the Bakers Hall!! city-of-london-livery-companies-bakers-hall-2
“We walked and walked and found nothing but heaps of stones and cellars still full of planks and smouldering beams.” Francisco de Rapicani.

Only 8 Livery Company Halls survived the fire; Armourers, Bricklayers, Carpenters, Cooks, Glovers, Ironmongers, Leather-sellers, and the Upholsterers…..others were partially damaged or destroyed by the fire and some were rebuilt, only to be destroyed during WW1 and WW2.

 

After the 6 centuries over which the Medieval city of London had slowly built up, and just five days after a small fire which began in that bakery on Pudding Lane,

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Pudding Lane

the City of London stood in ruins, almost completely destroyed, and as he explored the ruined streets of London, John Evelyn described how the ground was still almost too hot to walk upon, how water in fountains still boiled, and how the iron bars and gates of prisons had melted.

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The Medieval City of London – Agas map

6 months later, on March 16th, 1667 – Pepys recorded “I did see smoke remaining, coming out of some cellars from the late great fire now about six months since “.

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Great Fire of London 1666

By 1680 London’s first Fire Brigade came into existence, funded by the insurance companies, and the first publicly funded fire service was created in 1861, following the Tooley Street fire.imag7849

The Great Fire of 1666 was not by any means the first fire to rage through the streets of London, it was however the most devastating, and has perhaps the most detailed recordings by way of the diaries of Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn and others.

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Great Fire of London 1666

copyright John Yabbacome

1666 – 2016 The Great Fire of London 350th anniversay

Below is a map showing the extent of the Great Fire of London 1666the-photo-at-the-top-of-this-article-is-by-ben-sutherland-used-under-creative-commons-2-0-license-attribution-it-is-a-map-prepared-by-the-museum-of-london

Footnote: The majority of the photos in this blog are mine. A young man, John Y, whom I met at the burning of the effigy on Sunday kindly sent me some copies of his photos…I have noted them as such. Furthermore, for the purposes of this blog I have ‘borrowed’ a couple of graphics and a map from google images.

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