The Great Fire of 1666

Soon after midnight on Sunday 2 September 1666 a fire broke out in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane, near London Bridge. It spread rapidly through the narrow streets where the high houses were tightly packed together. Like trees in a forest, they were tinder-dry after a long hot summer.

The Thames was so low that little water could be pumped up to fight the flames. The fire soon burnt the watersheels under the bridge which worked the pumps. By dawn it had readed the warehouses around London Bridge. They were full of inflammable materials such as tallow, sugar, oil, spirits, coal, hay and timber. A strong wind blowing from the east fanned the flames. The fire spread from the burning warehouses, first along the riverfront and then inland across the city. Sparks were blown by the wind and fell on thatched roofs and timbers, starting new fires and filling the sky with flame and smoke. In places the fire raced across the rooftops faster than a man could walk. In the streets below some people tried frantically to save themselves and their possessions while others tried in vain to fight and stop the fire. They were handicapped by carts, laden with goods, blocking the narrow streets.


For three days the wind blew and the fire raged through the densely packed streets and up the little hill which brought it to the centre of the city. Nother was spared; 87 of London’s 109 churches caught fire, the flames from their steeples marking the progress of the fire. The houses of the rich merchants and the halls of their trading companies, with their treasures in painting and woodwork, were consumed; the great oak roof of the Guildhall, centre of London’s government, burnt only eight days after orders had been given for extensive repairs to be made. Six acres of lead melted from the roof and crashed through the foor, shattering the tombs beneath, and the stones cracked causing fragments to fly in all directions.

By Wednesday, the fire had gone past the city wall and into the Liberties. It seemed about to spread to the royal palaces at Westminster when the wind dropped, the firefighters gained control and the fire ended almost as quickly as it had begun.

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