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.
The new City was to differ from the old one 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. In accordance with the Royal Proclamation of 1666 and the “Act for the Rebuilding of the City of London” of 1667, the old houses were to be be replaced by new ones of four categories of standard build, of fire-proof stone and brick rather than timber: those of the first category, fronting “by-streets and lanes”, of two storeys; those of the second category, fronting “streets and lanes of note, and the Thames”, of three storeys; those of the third category, fronting “high and principal streets”, of four storeys, with storey heights specified; and those of the fourth category, designed for” people of quality”, also of four storeys, although with storey heights unspecified. The old breeding-grounds for disease would be swept aside in the process, although incidentally rather than by design. And, as another incidental, the old organic economy would be replaced by a modern mineral economy, considerably ahead of its time, fuelled by (sea-)coal rather than wood. The cost of the entire enterprise, incidentally, would be covered by an emergency tax on coal imposed by Act of Parliament.