What is the great fire of London

September 2, 1666: London was in flames


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September 2, 1666: London was in flames

September 2nd, 1666 was a dark day in London's history. In a major fire that lasted five days, almost 80 percent of the medieval city was destroyed. A catastrophe on the one hand, but also the chance for a new beginning: In the years that followed, the city on the Thames was largely built up as we know it today with many magnificent churches, stately houses, representative squares and other sights.

In the 17th century, London was the most important metropolis in Europe alongside Paris. The settlement founded by the Romans in the 1st century AD had 500,000 inhabitants at that time. But in 1665 fate struck for the first time. A plague epidemic killed 90,000 people, almost a fifth of the entire population.

The great fire
The devastating fire hit London a year later. The conditions for the disaster were more than favorable. Because the predominantly timber frame houses were not only built closely together, but also had overhanging floors, so that opposite buildings almost collided on the second floor. To make matters worse, a warm southwest wind was blowing at the beginning of September, which further favored the fire.

The fire was kindled in the bakery

Incidentally, the fire was kindled on the night of September 2nd in the bakery of the court baker Thomas Farynor. The master had probably overlooked the embers in his oven that evening - a fatal mistake! In a matter of hours, the houses of wood and pitch on Pudding Lane were destroyed. Sensible extinguishing measures were also not initiated because the responsible mayor downplayed the fire. Instead of seeing the extent of the catastrophe for himself on site, he went back to sleep without worries.

The illustration shows a city map of London at the time of the disaster. The areas marked in white - almost the entire city center - were all destroyed by the fire.

Mass panic

Because the fire did not stop at the warehouses on the Thames, the flames were able to spread at record speed. Because the goods stored there such as oil, tar, brandy, hemp, ropes, hops and flax burned like tinder. Extinguishing with buckets or water pumps had long since made no sense. In their panic, people tore open the streets to get to the water pipes. But with that they achieved exactly the opposite: The water pressure immediately dropped to zero.

Escape from the city

It quickly became clear that the fire would not be brought under control anytime soon. Many people therefore left London with bags and bags. Refugees and horse-drawn carts clogged the city everywhere, which additionally hindered the fire fighting work. Initially, the nobility did not notice anything of the major fire. Or overlooked it generously. Because you weren't directly affected yourself. It was only when Whitehall Palace was threatened on the fifth day of the disaster that rows of houses were blown up on the recommendation of the Navy in order to stop the fire for good.

Sad result

The sad result of the catastrophe, which also went down in history as the Great Fire of London: 100,000 homeless people, 13,200 houses destroyed, 87 churches burned down and, astonishingly, only nine dead, at least according to the official figures. However, the fire had a positive side effect. The plague could finally be defeated. Because of the rats that mainly transmit the disease, only a few survived.


By the way, London as we know it today is also a consequence of the great fire. Because many sights, such as the impressive St. Paul's Cathedral, were created immediately in the years after the fire. The architect Christopher Wren was commissioned with the plans to rebuild the city. Between 1671 and 1677 he designed over 50 church buildings. So that September 2, 1666 would never be forgotten, he had The Monument built. The tallest free-standing stone column in the world at 61.50 meters can still be admired in London today.

Nic- August 31, 2006 / Images: Wikipedia, public domain

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