Great Fire of London, 1666

Great Fire of London, 1666

On 2nd of September 1666 -- a Sunday -- an easterly wind converts a small fire on Pudding Lane -- near the London Bridge -- into a five-day disaster that burns most of the ancient parts of London, destroying 13,200 houses, 89 churches, and goods valued at 3,500,000.

To help pay for public rebuilding and improvements, a duty on coal is levied.

Fire -- and Resulting Changes in the Uniform Building Codes -- Has Major Impact Upon Working Relations Betweem Carpenters and Joiners

As set out in the list of duties noted above, the Court of Aldermen's decision means that the carpenters are to be limited to plain work, while the joiners' craft edges into a commanding position where they are responsible for a building's finer details: stiles and rails, mortise and tenon, wainscoting and paneling.

Some sense of the horror of it all comes from reading the early parts of the month of September, 1666 of the diary of an eyewitness, Samuel Pepys (1633 1703), below on the right:

London Fire 1666 #2

2nd. (Lord's day.) Some of our maids sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast today, Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose, and slipped on my night-gown, and went to her window ; and thought it to be on the backside of Mark Lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again, and to sleep. 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 farther off. So to my closet to set things to rights, after yesterday's cleaning. By and by 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, Sir J. Robinson's little son coming up with me; 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; which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Michell and our Sarah on the bridge. ...

Having seen as much as I could now, I away to Whitehall by appointment, and there walked to St. James's Park; and there met my wife, and Creed, and Wood and his wife, and walked to my boat; and there upon the water again, and to the fire up and down, it still increasing, and the wind great so near the fire as we could for smoke, and all over the Thames, with one's face in the wind you were almost burned with a shower of fire-drops ... . When we could endure no more upon the water, we to a little alehouse on the , and there stayed till it was dark almost and saw the fire grow: and as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire. We stayed till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side of the bridge, and in a bow up the hill, for an arch of about a mile long. It made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruins. So home with a sad heart... .

Only now and then walking into the garden, and saw how horribly the sky looks, all on a fire in the night, was enough to put us out of our wits; and, indeed, it was extremely dreadful, for it looks just as if it was at us, and the whole heaven on fire. I after supper walked in the dark down to Tower Street, and there saw it all on fire, at the Trinity House on that side, and the Dolphin Tavern on this side, which was very near us; and the fire with extraordinary vehemence.

Now begins the practice of blowing up of houses in Tower Street, those next the Tower, which at first did frighten people more than anything; but it stopped the fire where it was done, it bringing down the houses to the ground in the same places they stood, and then it was easy to quench what little fire was in it, though it kindled nothing almost. W. Hewer this day went to see how his mother did, and comes late home, telling us how he hath been forced to remove her to Islington, her house in Pye Corner being burned ; so that the fire is got so far that way, and all the Old Bailey, and was running down to Fleet Street; and Paul's is burned, and all Cheapside.



Source: The Diary of Samuel Pepys; ed. by G Gregory Smith. London: Macmillan, 1905, page 414. Pages 412 - 424 of this book cover Pepys' account of the fire.