HOFS: Lecture on the Great Fire of London 1666

David Williams at HGA 16th February 2012

Photo:David Williams at HOFS

David Williams at HOFS


David likened his interest in being a City of London Guide to the addictive nature of gardening.

His interest has blossomed into both an enthusiasm and the source of a Masters degree taken when very mature. 

The theme of the presentation and commentary was that the Great Fire was both a disaster and a new beginning.    

His slide of an early 17th Century map of London (similar to that below) showed a city packed to the city walls with wooden houses using open fires for heat and unshielded candles for light. 

Photo:A map of London by John Norden, 1593

A map of London by John Norden, 1593

Copyright expired

In overcrowded, unsanitary and poorly lit conditions, Bubonic Plague spread rapidly in 1665, causing perhaps 80 to 100,000 deaths. The Great Fire started in the shop of the King's baker, Thomas Farynor. The weather had been hot and dry throughout the summer and a warm east wind fanned the flames to the west. 87 of the 109 city churches and 430 acres of houses were destroyed.  This disaster nevertheless seems to have stopped the plague from recurring. 

The fire burned out in Giltspur Street where there is a statue of a Golden Boy of Pye Corner as a token for the “punishment for the sins of the city, being wealth and gluttony. " 

Although London was largely rebuilt on the pre-fire pattern of streets, the new beginning was Parliament's Rebuilding of London Act 1666 which stated "building with brick [is] not only more comely and durable, but also more safe against future perils of fire". From then on, only doorframes, window-frames and shop fronts were allowed to be made of wood.

Dr Robert Hooke and Sir Christopher Wren assisted in the rebuilding, Wren designing 51 of the churches and the new St Paul’s Cathedral.  They were both involved in the building (1671 to 1677) of the Monument to the fire, which at 202 feet in height is the tallest isolated stone column in the world.   Here is a recent view from the top.

Photo:Panorama of central London taken from the top of the Monument

Panorama of central London taken from the top of the Monument

Piotr Zarobkiewicz; this file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence

After the tea break, David very kindly took questions, including a tricky one about where Pepys was standing when he made the observations reported in his diary.   It was an assured presentation from someone who clearly loves to guide people round the City of London.

As usual, any errors are those of the reporter and not of the HGA or the presenter.

This page was added by Nick Turner on 04/03/2012.
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