Category Archives: Great Fire of London

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.

The execution of Robert Hubert (1666)

The execution of Robert Hubert at Tyburn

On this day in 1666, one Robert Hubert was hanged at Tyburn for  allegedly having deliberately started  the Great Fire of London the previous month (see September 2nd posting).  As his dead body was being taken down to be handed to the Company of Barber-Surgeons for dissection, it was torn limb from limb by an angry  mob of Londoners.

Although the fire is now almost universally regarded as having been brought about by “the hand of God” (*), it was at the time, a time when the  tide of xenophobic sentiment in England  was running more than usually high, widely regarded as having been brought about by a foreign hand (**).   In its aftermath, Hubert, a watchmaker from Rouen in Normandy in France, quickly – and almost certainly “under duress” – confessed to having  set the fire while  acting as an agent of the Pope (***), and was equally expeditiously convicted of the supposed crime (****, *****).

The events are discussed on various of our walks, including the “Great Fire of London” 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).

(*) Or perhaps more accurately, the  negligence of Thomas Farriner or Farynor, who owned the bakery on Pudding Lane where it started!

(**)  Indeed, until   as recently as 1830, the inscription on the Monument to the Great Fire included lines to that effect!

(***) He  was actually not a Catholic, but a Huguenot, or Protestant!

(****) By a jury containing members of Farriner’s family – who had their own dark reasons for wanting to attach  the blame for the fire to  such a convenient scapegoat!

(*****) After his execution,  exculpatory evidence came to light that he had been aboard a Swedish ship called the Maid of Stockholm at the time of the outbreak of the fire!

St Anthony’s Fire and St Anthony’s Hospital

220px-Mathis_Gothart_Grünewald_018

St Anthony’s Fire, also known as ergotism, was a disease, common in Medieval times, caused by eating – improperly-stored – cereals contaminated by an alkaloid-secreting fungus.  Its symptoms included a rash, fever and delirium (sometimes taken as evidence of bewitchment).

P1040220 - Copy.JPG

St Anthony’s Hospital, or the Hospital of St Antoine de Viennois, specialising in the treatment of the disease, was founded on the site of a former synagogue on Threadneedle Street in 1242.  It was later expanded so as to incorporate, in 1429, a hospice; in 1440, a school, where  Thomas More (1478-1535) studied; and, in 1550, a chapel, where Protestant Huguenots, fleeing religious persecution in Catholic France, worshipped.  It was burned down in the  Great Fire of 1666, and subsequently rebuilt, only to be demolished in 1840.

The site of the hospital is visited on various of our walks, including the “Medieval London” and “Medieval City Highlights” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “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).

 

City of London Buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666

Churches

Of the 97 parish churches within the walls of the City of London at the time of the Great Fire of 1666, only 8, namely, All Hallows Barking, All Hallows Staining, St Alphage, St Andrew Undershaft, St Ethelburga, St Helen, St Katharine Cree, and St Olave Hart Street, survived,  and still survive, with at least some pre-Great Fire structures standing, above ground (*).

Tower of London

Guildhall.JPG

Of the secular buildings, only the Tower of London and the Guildhall, and parts of the Merchant Taylors’ and Apothecaries’ Livery Company Halls, and of the “Olde Wine Shades” public house, still survive.

Most of the aforementioned buildings are visited on our “The Great Fire of London and its aftermath” themed special  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).

(*) A further 5 churches, namely All Hallows on the Wall, St James Duke’s Place, St Katherine Coleman, St Martin Outwich and St Peter-le-Poer, also survived  the fire but were either rebuilt or demolished afterwards.

And 84 were burnt down in the fire, of which 49 were rebuilt afterwards, and 35 were not.

The Great Fire of London contd. (Samuel Pepys, 1666)

Fire

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

“Up about five o’clock, … to go out, … to see how the fire is, to call our men to Bishop’s-gate, where no fire had yet been near, and there is now one broke out: which did give great grounds to people, and to me too, to think that there is some kind of plot in this, on which many by this time have been taken, and it hath been dangerous for any stranger to walk on our streets, but I went with the men, and we did put it out in a little time; so that all was well again.  … And now being all pretty well, I … to Westminster, thinking to shift myself, being all dirt from top to bottom; but could not find there any place to buy a shirt or a pair of gloves, Westminster Hall being full of people’s goods … ; but to the Swan, and there was trimmed: and then to White Hall, but saw nobody; and so home.  A sad sight to see how the river looks: no houses nor church near it, to the Temple, where it [the fire] stopped.  … Thence … to Sir W. Batten’s, and there … supped well, and mighty merry, and our fears over”.

“The Great Fire of London and its aftermath” is the theme of one of our special walks.

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).