The Great Fire of London: Causes, Consequences and Facts

Great Fire of London causes and facts

The great fire of London was a terrible tragedy that destroyed a lot of homes and properties in the city of London. This occurred at a time when London was suffering from terrible droughts. The prolonged absence of rains brought a lot of danger to the city’s inhabitants. However,  the fire that befell the city on September 2, 1666 was the most terrible of all the dangers. It took several firefighters, working for days, to bring the fire under control.

How did the London Fire Start?

The London fire began its destruction from the home of a man by name Thomas Farriner who lived on Pudding Lane. It began from his bakery.  This incident happened very early at dawn on Sunday the second day of September (2nd, September 1666). Around that time, fires were very common in the city of London; so when it began, it wasn’t taken seriously.

The fire spread widely to the west side of London.  Sir Thomas Bloodworth, the mayor at the time, was everything but decisive. His lack of competency exacerbated the situation. In no time, roughly three hundred thousand (300,000) homes had been razed to the ground.  Lots of people lost their homes and tried to run away from the city of London.  Most people tried to go by boat through the river Thanes.  Just as people fled and a sizable number of people from other cities came to London just to see what was going on.

Mayor Bloodworth eventually agreed that fire breaks should be used. This meant that buildings around the fire needed to be broken down. However, by the time the mayor finally made that decision (which was already at night), the disaster had gotten out of hand, making it almost impossible for the chosen method to work.

By the following day, the fire had spread north of London.  There were insinuations that some out-of-town people were responsible for the fires.  England was at war with the Dutch and the French. Hence, some sections of the public cast a pointing finger at those countries’ nationals. The following day, most of the suspects were attacked and beaten to death in town.

Fire breaks were created mostly at the same time the strong winds from the east quieted down a bit. It is known that the king at the time, King Charles II, helped in efforts to stop the fire. However, it was too little and too late. There was nothing the city could do to prevent the fire from making its way to the St. Paul’s Cathedral and destroying it.

Challenges of the Inferno

The London Bridge, which connected the city to the South of the Thames River, was the most-used connection seen or known to the city. This put those who resided on the bridge in a lot of danger.  If the fire had crossed the bridge, it would have affected the borough of Southwark.

The buildings on the bridge were unlike the ones in the city. The ones in the city were close-knit. The buildings along the bridge had spaces in between them so these were used as fire breaks. The walls around the city were 5.5 m high which posed a high risk for many people who wanted to escape, causing them to be trapped inside.

There were eight entrances to the city apart from the riverfront which had also caught fire.  Many people sought refuge in the St. Paul’s cathedral, which soon was in danger too. Additionally, the streets were narrow, causing panic as it was difficult for lots of people to gather with their properties in order to get through.

Fighting the fire became such a huge challenge because people seemed more interested in escaping than trying to quench the fire as observed and recorded in a diary by Samuel Pepys who was the Royal Navy’s clerk.

Consequences of the Great Fire of London

Despite the fact that only six people were recorded dead, it is said that many deaths were not entered in the records. People died by getting burnt, some died from inhaling the smoke and others from starvation.

It is said that the fire was between 2300 and 2700 degrees Fahrenheit. This meant that it could easily have dissolved or turned bodies into ashes leaving nothing as proof that anyone had died in the fire. It is known that one of the reasons the fire raged on was because it was not only caused by wood but fueled by pitch, gunpowder, alcohol, turpentine, sugar, oil and among others.

Other Major Facts about the Fire of London

An oil painting showing Ludgate in flames, with St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance | Anonymous artist, ca. 1670.

  • The fire started on the 2nd of September, 1666.
  • Over thirteen thousand (13,000) houses were destroyed along with eighty-seven (87) places of Christian worship and over forty (40) halls.
  • At that time, most of London was built with timber which had been doused in pitch, a liquid that could easily catch fire.
  • The buildings were closely knit without any backup plan in case of an emergency.
  • At that time, London housed over three hundred and fifty thousand (350,000) people.
  • The city was going through a dry season and most of the wooden buildings had dried out making them fire-friendly.
  • The fire died down on the 6th of September 1666.
  • It is known that a fifth of the city of London survived the inferno.
  • It was estimated then that the human fatalities numbered six (a figure many people reason is incorrect).
  • Over hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes.
  • Churches, homes, markets, halls and even jails were reduced to ashes.
  • The damage caused to properties was estimated at almost seven million euros (in today’s terms).

Frequently asked question about the Great Fire of London

These FAQs provide a general overview about one of one of the most destructive fire incidents in London:

When did the Great Fire of London occur?

The fire started on September 2, 1666, and lasted until September 5, 1666.

Where did the fire start?

It began at Thomas Farriner’s bakery on Pudding Lane.

What caused the fire?

The exact cause of the fire starting in the bakery is not definitively known, but it’s generally believed that a small fire in the bakery went out of control. The wooden buildings, dry conditions, and strong winds helped the fire spread rapidly.

How much of London was destroyed?

The fire consumed around 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and numerous other buildings. It covered an area of 436 acres within the City of London.

How many people died in the fire?

Surprisingly, only six verified deaths were recorded. However, it’s believed that the actual death toll might have been higher, especially among the poorer residents, whose deaths may not have been documented.

How did people react during the fire?

Panic was widespread. People fled their homes, taking whatever belongings they could carry. Many found refuge in places like Moorfields, which was an open space outside the city walls.

How was the fire eventually stopped?

The Great Fire of London, FAQs

Efforts by firefighters and the creation of firebreaks by demolishing buildings played a role in stopping the spread. The change in wind direction and the natural firebreaks created by the already-burned areas also helped.

What were the consequences of the fire?

The fire reshaped London. New building regulations were introduced, leading to the construction of more brick and stone buildings rather than wooden ones. Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild many of the churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Were there any positive outcomes from the fire?

The fire had a cleansing effect by eliminating many of the cramped and disease-ridden streets of London. It paved the way for urban planning and new architectural designs. The introduction of building regulations improved the standard of housing and led to a safer city.

Are there any commemorations of the event today?

Yes, the Monument to the Great Fire of London, commonly known as ‘The Monument,’ was erected between 1671 and 1677. It stands 202 feet tall and is located 202 feet from where the fire began, serving as a reminder of the tragic event.

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