Category Archives: Great Fire of London

The Royal Exchange

1 - The old Royal Exchange

On this day in 1566, the first stone of the original Royal Exchange was laid (*).

3 - Gresham

The building, modelled on the bourse in Antwerp, was the brainchild of the City financier and philanthropist Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-79) (see also January 23rd and May 6th postings).  Incidentally, Gresham also founded Gresham College, by bequest.  He is buried in the church of St Helen, Bishopsgate.

The Royal Exchange was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666.  An eye-witness, one Thomas Vincent, wrote:

“The Royal Exchange itself, the glory of the merchants, is now invaded with much violence.  And when once the fire was entered, how quickly did it run round the galleries, filling them with flames; then descendeth the stairs, compasseth the walks, giving forth flaming volleys, and filleth the courts with sheets of fire.  By and by, down fall all the kings upon their faces, and the greatest part of the stone building after them, with such a noise as was dreadful and astonishing”.

A replacement building was built in 1669, and burnt down in 1838  …

2 - The new Royal Exchange

… and a second replacement was in turn built in 1844.

4 - Gresham's grasshopper symbol atop the Royal Exchange

The grasshopper on the top of the building is Gresham’s insignia.

The site is visited on our “Tower to Temple” standard walk, and on our “Post-Medieval (Tudor and Stuart) London”, “Post-Medieval (Tudor and Stuart) City Highlights” and “Great Fire of London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

(*)  Much to the disgust of native Londoners, the architect was a foreigner.  On a related note, a  census taken in the City on this day in 1567 revealed the presence of “40 Scots, 428 Frenchmen, 45 Spaniards, 140 Italians, 2030 Dutch, 44 Burgundians, 2 Danes and 1 Liegois”.

A voice from the past (Samuel Pepys)

Seething Lane Gardens (3) - Copy.JPG

On this day in 1703 Samuel Pepys died.  He is buried in the church of St Olave Hart Street, which to this day holds an annual service to  honour his memory.

The following are selected extracts from the entries in his diary for the days of the Great Fire of London in 1666:

“September 2d .  …  Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire … in the City.  So I rose, and slipped on my night-gown, and went to her window; and thought it to be … far enough off,   and so went to bed again … .  … By and by Jane comes and tells me that … the fire …  is now burning all down Fish Street, by London Bridge.  So I made myself ready … and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places … ; and … did see the houses at  that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side of the end of the bridge … .  So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant … , who tells me that it begun … In the King’s bakers in Pudding-lane, and hath burned  St Magnus’s church and most … of Fish-street already.  So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and … there saw a lamentable fire.   …  Every body endeavouring to remove their goods, and …  bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one … stairs, by the waterside, to another.   … Having staid, and in an hour’s time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and … the wind mighty high and driving it into the City, and everything, after so long a drought, proving combustible … : I to White Hall, … and did tell the King … what I saw; and that, unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down [to create fire-breaks], nothing could stop the fire.  The King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor [the singularly ineffectual Thomas Bloodworth]” and command him to … pull down  [houses].  At last met my Lord Mayor … .  To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman ‘Lord, what can I do?  I am spent: people will not obey me.  I have been pulling down   houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’”.

September 3d. (M)y Lady Batten sent me a cart to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things, .., which I did, riding … in my night-gown, in the cart … .

September 4th.  … (T)o the Tower Street, and there met the fire burning … .  And … Sir W. Pen and I did dig [a pit], and put our wine in it, and I my parmazan cheese … .

September 5th.  … About two in the morning my wife … tells me of new cryes of fire, it being come to Barking Church … .    I up; and finding it so, resolved …  to take her away, and did, and … my gold … ; but, Lord! what a sad sight it was by moone-light, to see the whole City almost on fire … .  Home, and whereas I expected to have seen our house on fire, … it was not.  … (G)oing to the fire, I find, by the blowing up of houses … by Sir W. Pen, there is a good stop given to it … ; it having only burned the dyall of Barking Church, and part of the porch, and … was there quenched.  I up to the top of Barking steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation I ever saw… ”.

The aforementioned churches of All Hallows Barking (Barking church) and St Olave Hart Street, which are closely associated with Pepys, are visited, although not generally entered, on our “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standard walks, and on our “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights” and “Great Fire of London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

 

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (1663)

a-scene-from-the-humorous-lieutenantOn this day in 1663, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane first opened its doors, to put on a performance of John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont’s Jacobean tragi-comedy “The Humorous Lieutenant”, which was originally written in 1625, although not finally published until 1647.

thomas-killigrew

The theatre was built by Thomas Killigrew, who we might think of as a theatrical impresario, at the behest of the new King, Charles II, and was the first to be built in London after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 (immediately prior to which, during the inter-regnum, the performance of plays had been banned by the Puritans).  It became well known for its Restoration comedies, many of them penned by the house dramatist John Dryden, and performed by the house troupe, Killigrew’s “King’s Men”.  The king himself went to the theatre often, and the favourite of his thirteen mistresses, “pretty, witty Nell”, Nell Gwyn(ne) performed  there from 1665-71.  Samuel Pepys also went there, and wrote in his diary:

“The house is made with extraordinary good contrivance, and yet hath some faults, as the narrowness of the passages in and out of the Pitt, and the distance from the stage to the boxes, which I am confident cannot hear; but for all other things it is well, only, above all, the musique being below, and most of it sounding under the very stage, there is no hearing of the bases at all, nor very well of the trebles, which sure must be mended”.

The theatre was temporarily closed down during the Great Plague of 1665, but re-opened in 1666.  It survived the Great Fire of that year, but was burnt down in another fire on 25th  January 1672.  The second theatre on the site was built in 1674, the third in 1794, and the fourth, present one, in 1812.

The present theatre is passed on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walk.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

Robert Hooke and his “Microscopicall Observations” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

Flea from Hooke's Micrographia

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“Before I went to bed I sat up till  two o’clock in my chamber reading of Mr Hooke’s Microscopicall Observations [Micrographia], the most  ingenious book that ever I read in my life”.

Rita Greer's modern portrait of Hooke.jpg

Robert Hooke was elsewhere memorably described by Pepys as  “the most,  and promises the least, of any man in the world that I ever saw”.  He was evidently a brilliant, but curmudgeonly, polymath: not only  a pioneer microscopist, but also one of the founder members of the Royal Society  in 1660, and an architect, who worked alongside Wren  on the reconstruction of London following the Great Fire of 1666 (*).

Memorial to Hooke (Monument).jpg

Monument, where there is a memorial to him, is visited on various of our walks, including the “Post-Medieval (Tudor and Stuart) London”, “Post-Medieval (Tudor and Stuart) City Highlights” and “The Great Fire of London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

(*) Readers interested in further details of the life and works of this extraordinary man are referred to the biography entitled “The Curious Life of Robert Hooke … “ by the late Lisa Jardine, originally published by HarperCollins in 2003.

The rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666  (Samuel Pepys, 1666)

3 School_View-of-the-River-Thames-and-the-City-of-London-taken-from-the-South-Bank-at-Southwark-with-old-London-Bridge-and-the-Pool-of-London

On this day in 1666, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

 “[T]hrough the City … , observing the ruins … .  So … to the [rebuilt] Upper ‘Change, which is almost as good as the old one; only shops are but on one side”.

Remarkably, a matter of mere  weeks after the devastating Great Fire of September 2nd-6th, the City was already getting back on its feet and beginning to function as normal again.  It would be well over forty years, though,  before the  rebuilding process was completed, with Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral only officially opening on Christmas Day, December 25th, 1711.  Wren’s grandiose plans for the redesigning of the layout of London after the Great Fire (see December 21st posting) were eventually  abandoned on the grounds of practicality and expediency in favour of  one involving much less legal wrangling and groundwork, and much more like the old one.  The  new City was to differ from the old one, though, in several  important respects.  The old narrow streets were to be replaced with new wide ones, designed to  simultaneously hinder the spread of fire and unencumber the flow of traffic.  The  old  houses were to be replaced by new ones of four categories of standard build, of fire-proof stone and brick rather than timber; and the old  breeding-grounds for disease were to be swept aside in the process, although incidentally rather than  by design.  And, as another incidental, the old organic economy was to be replaced by a modern mineral economy, considerably ahead of its time, fuelled by coal rather than wood.  The cost of the entire enterprise, incidentally, was covered by an emergency  tax on coal imposed by Act of Parliament.

The rebuilding of London after the Great Fire is discussed on various of our walks, including the “Great Fire … ” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

“How fine this would have been” (Vita Sackville-West, 1926)

On this day in 1926, Vita Sackville-West wrote, in a letter to Virginia Woolf:

“… What I think of when I walk down the Strand is: how fine this would have been if Wren’s plans for rebuilding London after the Great Fire had been adopted.  Steps to the river, and all that – and a broad thoroughfare … ”.

Wren's plan for the rebuilding of London

Artist's impression of what Wren's London would have looked like.jpeg

Wren’s grandiose plans for the redesigning of the layout of London after the Great Fire of 1666, if fully implemented,  would have given it a radically new look and feel, much more like  that of the great European cities of the day, with their uniform architecture, broad boulevards and open piazzas.  But they  were soon essentially abandoned on the grounds of practicality and expendiency in favour of  one involving much less legal wrangling and groundwork, and much more like the old one.   So in some ways the City that might have been never came to be, and  that that had been would come  to be again:  for the most part neither  particularly beautiful nor harmonious, but, rather,   “lived in”  and fractious; and yet, familiar and loved.

Wren’s plans for redesigning London after the Great Fire are reviewed on various of our walks, including the “Great Fire … ” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

The rebuilding of Aldersgate (1617)

Aldersgate

According to John Richardson’s “Annals of London”, four hundred years ago, in 1617, the city gate of Aldersgate was rebuilt.  The new gate featured images of James I both on the outside and on the inside, commemorating the occasion when the then future  king had entered the City of London through the old gate to claim the  throne  in 1603 (the outside also featured images of the prophets Jeremiah and Samuel).

Aldersgate (2)

It was damaged during the Great Fire of 1666, and eventually demolished in 1761.