A Brief History
On September 2, 1666, one of history’s most memorable fires occurred in the English capital of London. The medieval portion of central London located within the old Roman wall was completely devastated and every building therein basically gutted.
Despite the terrific damage, the death toll has never been known and only 6 fatalities have been documented. Researchers seem to think many more people must have died but were not counted as they came from parts of town that were either poor or middle class; the shops and homes of the upper classes being spared. Also, possible victims may have been incinerated in the flames, making it hard to locate and identify them.
13,200 homes were burned as were most of the city government buildings. Even churches were not spared, with a total 87 of them being destroyed. About 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 inhabitants were made homeless, as well.
The origin of the fire seems to be a bakery on Pudding Street, with flames erupting shortly after midnight. The late hour and hesitation on the part of the mayor (Sir Thomas Bloodworth) to order firebreaks to be made allowed the blaze to quickly get out of control (Firebreaks are gaps made to prevent the further spread of fire; in other words, they are the removal of combustible materials.).
As it was, the fire spread, taking St. Paul’s Cathedral with it. The narrow streets and buildings that were so close to each other frustrated all efforts to contain the blaze, as did the fact that the water wheels that lifted water to a water tower themselves caught fire. The fire was finally contained after almost 4 days by firebreaks hastily made with the use of gunpowder to blow up buildings. The gunpowder had come from the Tower of London where several hundred tons of the stuff were stored. Furthermore, the strong winds that had facilitated the spread of the fire had finally also calmed down.
At the time of the fire, London’s population was close to 500,000, many of whom were French or Dutch immigrants. Suspecting that foreign agents may have set the fire, poor people who had become homeless angrily attacked many immigrants and lynched them on the spot.
After the fire, with much of the central city flattened, the opportunity existed to finally redesign the city, but despite various proposals, the old layout was pretty much copied.
The city was devastated economically by the disaster, and the lives of those made homeless were disrupted to say the least.
Unfortunately, most big cities have had at least one great fire in their history, although today we can (hopefully) contain them before large parts of the city are destroyed.
We offer our sincere wishes that your city never experiences any widespread fires.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever experienced a major fire? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
For another interesting event that happened on September 2, please see the History and Headlines article: “10 Phamous Phrases Phamous People are Known Phor.”
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For more information, please see…
Hanson, Neil. The Great Fire of London: In That Apocalyptic Year, 1666. Wiley, 2002.
Robson, Pam. All About the Great Fire of London. Hodder & Stoughton, 2002.