one of the many famous catastrophes in London"s history, the great Fire of 1666 ravaged the love of England"s capital, destroying more than 13,000 houses and also badly damaging landmarks including St Paul"s Cathedral and the imperial Exchange. Yet how much do you really know about the blaze? We bring you the facts...

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Rebecca Rideal, writer of 1666: Plague, War and also Hellfire, share 10 lesser-known facts around the great Fire of London…


On 5 September 1666, the 33-year-old Samuel Pepys climbed the steeple that the old church of every Hallows-by-the-Tower and was met through the “the saddest vision of desolation the I ever saw; everywhere good fires, oyle-cellars, and brimstone, and other points burning”. Leaving the church, the wandered follow me Gracechurch Street, Fenchurch Street and also Lombard Street towards the royal Exchange, i beg your pardon he discovered to be “a sad sight” through all the pillars and statues (except among Sir thomas Gresham) destroyed. The ground charred his feet and also he found nothing however dust, ash and also ruins. It was the fourth day the the an excellent Fire that London and, despite some components of the city would proceed to burn because that months, the worst of the devastation was ultimately over.


Thanks in part to Pepys’s lively diary entries, the story that the good Fire is fine known. Together the fortunes of Henry VIII’s wives, the battle of Britain and also the fate of man Fawkes, the forms component of a scattering of familiar islands in the muddy quagmire of brothers history. We all know, about speaking, what happened: throughout the beforehand hours the 2 September 1666, a fire broke out in cutting board Farriner’s bakehouse on Pudding Lane, i m sorry blazed and also spread through such ferocity and also speed the within a couple of days the old City of London was reduced to a burned ruin. An ext than 13,000 houses, 87 churches and also 44 livery halls to be destroyed, the historical city gateways were wrecked, and the Guildhall, St Paul’s Cathedral, Baynard’s Castle and the royal Exchange were severely damaged – in some cases, past repair.

Those with more than a passing knowledge of the an essential facts might be aware of account of King Charles II fighting the fire alongside his brother, the battle each other of York; that Samuel Pepys taking pains to ask his prized parmesan cheese; or that the French watchmaker Robert hobtration meeting his death at Tyburn ~ (falsely) declare to have actually started the blaze. Here are 10 an ext facts you might not know around the good Fire that London…


Thomas Farriner’s bakehouse to be not situated on Pudding lane proper. Hearth taxation records developed just prior to the fire place Farriner’s bakehouse on Fish Yard, a little enclave turn off Pudding Lane. His prompt neighbours had a waterbearer called Henry More, a sexton called Thomas Birt, the parish ‘clearke’, a plasterer called George Porter, one Alice Spencer, a widow called Mrs mary Whittacre, and also a turner named John Bibie.


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Billingsgate, London, pictured in 1598. Until boundary transforms in 2003, the ward included Pudding Lane. (Photo by society Club/Getty Images)
In 1627, the climate 10- or 11-year-old thomas Farriner was discovered by a city constable hike alone within the city walls, having actually run away from his understand . He was detained at Bridewell Prison, where the event was recorded in the publication of minutes.

During the 17th century, Bridewell (a previous Tudor palace) was a kind of proto-correctional facility where young waifs and strays would frequently be sent to receive a rudimentary education, many of them then cherry-picked to come to be apprentices to the prison’s patrons.

During the boy’s hearing, it transpired that he had attempted to run away indigenous his master three or four times previously. Farriner to be released, only to be detained once much more in 1628 because that the very same reason. A year later on he to be apprenticed as a baker under one thomas Dodson.


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Far indigenous levelling the city, the great Fire the London charred the skin and also flesh native the city’s structures – but their skeletons remained


The damages of many of London’s buildings had to it is in demolished before rebuilding work can begin. A lay out from 1673 by cutting board Wyck shows the extent of the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral that remained. John Evelyn defined the remaining stones as standing upright, fragile and also “calcined”.

What’s more, the burn lasted months, not days: Pepys tape-recorded that cellars to be still burn in march of the complying with year. V plenty of nooks and also crannies come commandeer, gangs operated among the ruins, pretending to sell travellers a ‘link’ (escorted passage) – just to rob them blind and also leave them for dead. Numerous of those who shed their homes and livelihood to the fire constructed temporary shacks top top the damages of their former homes and also shops till this was prohibited.


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Old St Paul’s Cathedral burn in the an excellent Fire the London, 1666. By Wenceslaus Hollar. (Photo by Guildhall Library & arts Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
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At the moment of the good Fire, England was engaged in a costly war v the netherlands Republic and also was gearing up because that one critical battle


The conflict, recognized as the 2nd Anglo-Dutch War, to be the 2nd of 3 17th-century marine wars to it is in fought between the English and also the Dutch over transatlantic trade supremacy. By September 1666 there had already been five major engagements: the battle of Lowestoft (1665); the battle of Vågen (1665); the four Days’ fight (1666); St james Day battle (1666); and also Holmes’s Bonfire (1666).

In the man of the blaze, some thought that the great Fire that London had actually been started by Dutch merchants in retaliation for the critical of these engagements – a vicious raid ~ above the dutch islands the Vlieland and Terschelling – which had developed barely a month earlier. That attack had to be orchestrated by teacher Robert Holmes (renowned for his brief fuse and unpredictable nature) and also resulted in the damage of an estimated 150 Dutch vendor ships and, crucially, the torching the the city of West-Terschelling.

While the strike was commemorated with bonfires and bells in London, the appalled the Dutch, and also there was rioting in Amsterdam. Aphra Behn – at that time one English spy stationed in Antwerp – wrote exactly how she had seen a letter indigenous a merchant’s mam “that desires her husband to com to Amsterdam house for the theare never ever was so an excellent a desolation & mourning”. Behn was claimed to take trip to Dort to continue her espionage, however declared the she “dare as well be hang’d as go”.

Listen: Alexander Larman and Nicholas Kenyon discuss the events and legacy of the 1666 blaze


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Though we execute not know specifically how many civilization died as a result of the good Fire the London, it was almost certainly much more than typically accepted figures


In the traditional telling the the great Fire story, the human expense is negligible. Indeed, just a couple of years after the blaze, Edward Chamberlayne declared that “not above six or eight persons to be burnt,” and also an Essex vicar called Ralph Josselin noted that “few perished in the flames.” There to be undoubtedly enough warning come ensure that a big proportion of London’s population vacated hazardous areas, but for every ailing person aided out of their house, over there must have actually been others v no one to assist them. What’s more, parish documents hint in ~ a far greater death toll than previously supposed.

At the parish the St Giles Cripplegate, because that example, the variety of burials increased by a 3rd (presumably a result of citizen from ruined parishes making use of this surviving church). Interestingly, there to be a disproportionate increase (by two-thirds) in the number of deaths due to being “aged” and rise in deaths attributed come “fright”. Likewise, the parish documents of St Boltoph Bishopsgate present that the mean period at the moment of death rose by an astonishing 12 years, from 18.3 come 31.3. This suggests either the older people were much more likely to die in the month the September or that, in an age in which infanticide was rife, the deaths that young babies were not being tape-recorded – perhaps also both.

The diarist man Evelyn certainly believed that the foul smell in the wait at the moment of the fire was caused by the bodies, beds and also other combustible products of “some bad creatures”, and also the poet john Dryden – who, it have to be said, was out of London at the time – wrote of “helpless infants left amidst the fire”. When reports reached France, a considerable loss the life was implied: “The letters from London speak of the disastrous sights that persons melted to death and calcined limbs, making it straightforward to believe the terror though it cannot be exactly described. The old, soft children and also many sick and helpless persons were all shed in their beds and also served together fuel for the flames.”

Test your expertise of the great Fire of London with our background quiz


It took more than a week because that news the the fire to reach the French imperial court in Paris, yet when that did there was speak of small else. The Venetian ambassador in the French funding declared that “this accident… will certainly be memorable v all the centuries.”

Privately, luigi XIV must have actually been thrilled. It was wrongly believed that the fire had destroyed England’s magazine stores and also that the English navy would be required to retire. Since of a 1662 treaty v the dutch Republic, France had actually been obliged to get in the Anglo-Dutch war on the next of the Dutch, but the French king had neither the appetite no one the navy to beat an energetic role.

Louis XIV publicly ordered the he would certainly not tolerate “any rejoicings about it , being such a deplorable accident entailing injury to so many unhappy people”, and also offered come send help in the form of food provisions and also anything rather that might be forced to relieve the suffering of those left destitute.


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In April 1666, a group of parliamentarians led by john Rathbone and also William Saunders to be tried in ~ the Old Bailey and also found guilty the conspiring to assassinate Charles II, overthrow government and fire the City the London, letting down the portcullis to save out assistance. The trial was tape-recorded in the London Gazette, i beg your pardon revealed that the plotters purportedly had the assistance of a conspirator in Holland and had planned to execute their “Hellish design” on the anniversary of Oliver Cromwell’s death, 3 September.


By 6 September, news that the fire had travelled as much as Berwick, where regional soldiers declared that they had seen visions of “ships in the air”. Report the phenomenon earlier to Whitehall, one mr Scott assured his contact that he thought it to have just been their imaginations. As he travelled across Wiltshire to gather more information about the fire, Bulstrode Whitelocke bumped right into his friend teacher Seymour Pyle who had “had too much wine”. Pyle asserted that there had actually been a substantial fight between 60,000 Presbyterians and the militia, which had actually resulted in the death and imprisonment of 30,000 rebels. Whitelocke soon uncovered that Pyle had been “drunke & swearing & lying att virtually every word”.


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A couple of weeks prior to the fire, one grandfather Light declared to have been inquiry by a “zealous Papist”: “You expect an excellent things in ’66, and think that Rome will certainly be destroyed, but what if it be London?”

Meanwhile, five months before the fire Elizabeth Styles asserted to have actually been said by a Frenchman that at some point between June and also October there would not be “a house left between Temple Bar and London Bridge”.

In 1651, an astrologer called William Lilly created a pamphlet entitled Monarchy or No Monarchy that contained illustrative predictions of the future state the England. The images depicted not just a city blazing v fire, but scenes of navy warfare, infestations the rodents, massive death and also starvation. Unsurprisingly, Lilly was referred to as in because that questioning adhering to the fire of 1666.

Watch: Dan Jones talks to audioeditorfree.com about walking the route of the fire street through street, adhering to its four-day trail of devastation together it raged v the city


London was thrown into a panic during the evening of 9 November as soon as a fire broke out in the equine Guard House, next to Whitehall Palace. It was thought that the blaze had been led to by a candle falling right into some straw. According to Samuel Pepys, the whole city was placed on alarm by the “horrid an excellent fire” and also a lady even fell into fits the fear. Through drums beating and guards to run up and also down the streets, by 10pm the fire was extinguished, with small damage caused.


A large day in historyDominic Sandbrook describes the events of 2 September 1666 – the date that the City the London to be engulfed through “an infinite good fire”…

Samuel Pepys was quick asleep when, at three in the morning of Sunday 2 September 1666, among his maids, mrs Birch, banged top top the door through the news the there was a “great fire” in the City the London. “So ns rose and slipped on mine nightgowne,” Pepys created later, “and visited her window.” there he observed the telltale tint of red in the distance. In fact, the fire had currently been blazing because that a pair of hours, having damaged out in thomas Farriner’s bakery in Pudding Lane. The parish constables thought they should demolish the neighbouring houses to protect against it spreading, yet the lord market of London, Sir cutting board Bloodworth, was no convinced. “Pish!” that famously remarked. “A woman might piss the out.” To be fair, that was not alone in his see that the fire would quickly be contained. From his window in Seething Lane, Pepys thought small of it, “and so checked out bed again and also to sleep”.

By 7 in the morning, once Pepys wake up again, it seemed that the worst have to be over; from his window, that “saw the fire not so much as that was and further off”. Yet then jane reappeared with negative news. Almost 300 houses, she said, had melted down already; now the fire had actually reached Fish Street, near London Bridge. Alarmed, Pepys traction on his clothes and also walked come the Tower, where he went increase to gain a far better view. “And there,” that recorded, “I did view the dwellings at that end of the bridge all ~ above fire, and an infinite an excellent fire on this and also the other side the end of the bridge.”

His heart overflowing with worry, he scurried under to the waterside and also called for a boat, and also now the complete scale the the disaster became clear. The Thames gift a spectacle that calamity, “everybody endeavouring to eliminate their goods, and also flinging into the river or pass them right into lighters the layoff; bad people staying in their dwellings as long as it spins the really fire touch them, and also then running right into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the waterside to another.” even the pigeons, that noticed, appeared transfixed by the catastrophe: “loth to leave their houses,” lock “hovered around the windows” until their wings captured fire and they fell to earth.

 

By currently it was mid-morning. Whipped increase by the eastern wind, the flames to be leaping from residence to house, consuming every in your path. Built from wood and also straw, clustered with each other in tight alleys, London’s tenements to be the perfect tinderbox, their overhanging jetties make it easier for the fire to move from street come street. In ~ Whitehall, a frightened Pepys warned Charles II that “unless his majesty walk command homes to it is in pulled under nothing can stop the fire”. Plainly much troubled, the king ordered that to discover the mr mayor, and to tell the “to preventive no houses, yet to traction down before the fire every way”.

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But once Pepys captured up with Sir thomas Bloodworth in Canning Street, the mayor was choose “a fainting woman”, v a handkerchief tied approximately his confront to safeguard him indigenous the smoke. “Lord! what can I do?” Bloodworth cried. “I am spent: human being will not obey me. I have actually been pulling under houses however the fire overtakes us faster than we deserve to do it.”

And for this reason the fire burned on. In Thames Street, stores of pitch and tar were ablaze; in neighbouring streets, warehouses of oil, brandy and also wine to be up in flames. Pepys self went turn off for dinner, which, that recorded, was “extraordinarily good”. Yet when that emerged, it to be to scenes of utter chaos, the streets complete of weeping families and soot-stained refugees. That night, he and his wife went for a drink top top the southern Bank, the City glow red in the night. “It made me weep to view it,” Pepys wrote. “The churches, houses, and all on fire and also flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and also the cracking of residences at your ruins.”

The inferno blazed on, every Monday and all Tuesday, only dying down when the wind fell on Wednesday. In the lengthy run, it to be the making of modern London: there is no the fire, there would certainly be no St Paul’s and also far under Wren churches. However at the time, there appeared no consolation. The smouldering city seemed prefer a vision the the Apocalypse, composed the diarist john Evelyn. “London was, yet is no more.”

Dominic Sandbrook is the writer of State of Emergency: The way We Were: Britain, 1970–1974 (Allen Lane)


Rebecca Rideal is a specialist factual tv producer and also writer whose credits encompass The Adventurers’ guide to Britain, Bloody story of the Tower and David Attenborough’s an initial Life. She operation the online magazine The background Vault and is right now studying because that her phd on repair London throughout the an excellent Plague and also the good Fire at university College London.