On Sunday morning, the 2nd September 1666, the
destruction of medieval London began
Accidental fires were common in 17th-century
London. Open fires burned in houses, shops and workshops, sellers
kindled them in braziers in the streets. Timber was the most common
building material, and straw was laid on floors and stored in stables
In the early hours of the morning of Sunday,
2 September, fire broke out ? in the king's own bakery in Pudding Lane
in the City. Pudding Lane was a narrow street of timbered buildings,
many of them housing cook shops. It backed on to Fish Street Hill, which
led to London Bridge, itself lined with buildings made of plaster and
wood. Once fire took hold in Thomas Farryner's bakery kitchen that
night, it spread swiftly.
A journeyman living above the bakery raised the
alarm. The household jumped to safety from the roof, except for one maid,
who became the fire's first victim. Fanned by a stiff east wind, the fire
burned fiercely, spreading to buildings in Thames Street in the south, St
Botolph's Lane in the east and Fish Street Hill. Many of the buildings
housed storerooms full of combustible materials such as oil, pitch, hemp and
tar. These fuelled the fire, and the heat was so intense that no one could
get close enough to fight the flames.
The standard procedure to stop a fire from spreading had always been to
destroy the houses on the path of the flames, creating ?fire-breaks?, to
deprive a fire from fuel. Lord Mayor Bludworth, however, was hesitant,
worrying about the cost of rebuilding. By the time a Royal command came
down, carried by Samuel Pepys, the fire was too out of control to stop.
The Trained Bands of London were called in to
demolish houses by gunpowder, but often the rubble was too much to be
cleared before the fire was at hand, and only eased the fire's way onward.
The fire blazed unchecked for another three days, until it halted near
Temple Church. Then, it suddenly sprang to life again, continuing towards
The Duke of York had the presence of mind to
order the Paper House demolished to create a fire break, and the fire
finally died down.
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