Category Archives: The Great Fire of London, 1666

My City of Ruins (Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn and William Taswell, 1666)

Minecraft

On this day in 1666, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“Up by five o’clock; and, blessed be God! find all well; and by water to [Paul’s] Wharfe.  Walked thence, and saw all the towne burned, and a miserable sight of Paul’s church, with all the roofs fallen, and the body of the quire fallen into St Fayth’s; Paul’s school also, Ludgate, and Fleet Street. My father’s house, and the church, and a good part of the Temple the like.”

And went on to write, equally if not more fretfully:

“I home late to Sir W. Pen’s, who did give me a bed … ; … but still both sleeping and waking had a fear of fire in my heart, that I took little rest.  People do all the world over cry out of the simplicity of my Lord Mayor in … this business of the fire, laying it all upon him.  A proclamation is come out for markets to be kept at Leadenhall and … several other places about the town; and Tower Hill, and all churches to be set open to receive poor people”.

John Evelyn wrote:

“I wente this morning on foote from White hall as far as London bridge, thro the Late fleete streete, Ludgate hill, by St Paules, Cheape side, Exchange, Bishopsgate, Aldersgate, & out to Morefields, thence thro Cornehill, &c; with extraordinary difficulty, clambring over mountains of yet smoking rubbish, & frequently mistaking where I was, the ground under my feet so hot, as made me not only Sweate, but even burnt the soles of my shoes … : in the meane time his Majestie got to the Tower by Water, to demolish the houses about … which …  had they taken fire, & attaq’d the white Towre, where the Magazines of Powder lay, would undoubtedly have not onely … destroyed  all the bridge, but sunke … all the vessels in the river, & renderd … demolition …  even …  at many miles distance:

At my return I was infinitely concerned to find that goodly Church of St Paules now a sad ruine, & that beautiful Portico (for structure comparable to any in Europe, as not long before repaird by the late King) now rent in pieces, flakes of vast Stone Split in sunder, & nothing remaining intire but the Inscription of the Architrave which …  had not one letter of it defac’d: which I could not but take notice of: It was astonishing to see what immense stones the heat had in a manner Calcin’d, so as all the ornaments, Columns, freezes, Capitels & projectures of massie Portland stone flew off, even to the very roofe, where a Sheete of Leade covering no lesse than 6 akers by measure, being totally mealted, the ruines of the Vaulted roof, falling brake into St Faithes, which being filled with …  books … belonging to the Stationers … carried thither for safty, they were all consumed burning for a week following: It is also observable, that the lead over the Altar …  was untouch’d: and among the divers monuments, the body of one Bishop, remained intire.

Thus lay in ashes that most venerable Church, one of the antientest Pieces of early Piety in the Christian world, beside neere 100 more: The lead, yronworke, bells, plate &c all mealted: the exquisitely wrought Mercers Chapell, the Sumptuous Exchange, the august fabrique of Christ church, all the rest of the Companies Halls, sumptuous buildings, Arches, Enteries, all in dust.  The fountains dried up & ruind, whilst the very waters remained boiling; the Voragos of subterranean Cellars, Wells & Dungeons, formerly Warehouses, still burning in stench & dark clouds of smoke like hell, so as in five or six miles traversing about, I did not see one load of timber unconsum’d, nor many stones but were calcind white as snow, so as the people who now walked about the ruines, appeard like men in some dismal desart, or rather in some greate City, lay’d waste by an impetuous & cruel Enemy …

Sir Tho: Greshams Statue, though falln to the ground from its nich in the R: Exchange remain’d intire, when all those of the Kings since the Conquest were broken to pieces: also the Standard in Cornehill, & Q: Elizabeths Effigies, with some armes on Ludgate continud with but little detriment, whilst the vast yron Chaines of the Cittie streets, vast hinges, barrs & gates of Prisons were many of them mealted, & reduc’d to cinders by the vehement heats: nor was I yet able to pass through any of the narrower streets, but kept to the widest, the ground & aire, smoake & fiery vapour, continued so intense, my hair being almost seinged … : … nor could one have possibly knowne where he was, but for the ruines of some church, or hall, that had some remarkable towre or pinnacle remaining … ”.

And the  schoolboy William Taswell, on encountering the body of  one of the few recorded victims of the fire:

“Soon after sunrising I endeavoured to reach St Paul’s.  The ground was so hot as almost to scorch my shoes; and the air so intensely warm that unless I had stopped some time upon the Fleet Bridge to rest myself, I must have fainted … .  … And now … I perceived the metal belonging  to the bells melting; the ruinous conditions of the walls; whole heaps of stone of a large circumference tumbling down with a great noise … , ready to crush he to death.  [N]ear the east walls … a human body presented itself to me, parched up, as it were, with the flames; whole as to skin, meagre as to flesh, yellow as to colour.  This was an old decrepit woman who fled here for safety, imagining the flames could not have reached her …  . Her clothes were burned, and evry limb reduced to a coal”.

“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).

 

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

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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).

London Bridge Waterworks (1582)

An engineering drawing of the water wheel

On this day, December 24th,  in 1582, the Dutchman Pieter Maritz’s London Bridge Waterworks began supplying fresh water from the Thames to private houses in the City of London.  His rather rickety-looking apparatus actually worked well, and indeed, in the original demonstration to City officials, forced a jet over the spire of the church of St Magnus the Martyr!

An eighteenth-century paiting of Old London Bridge showing the water wheel

It was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, but thereafter replaced by his grandson, and  it continued in use, after a fashion, until the early nineteenth century.

London Bridge is visited on various of our walks, including the “Historic Southwark” standard.

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).

St Anthony’s Fire and St Anthony’s Hospital

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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).

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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).

 

The Battle of Flodden Field, and the bizarre tale of the King’s Head (1513)

St Michael Wood Street

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Flodden Field, one of the bloodiest ever fought on British soil, between the English and the Scots, which took place in 1513.  According to Stow, in his “Survay of London written in the Year 1598”, sometime after the battle, the decapitated head of the defeated Scottish King, James IV, ended up being buried in  the church of St Michael, Wood Street, just off Cheapside (*). The church was later  burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt  by Christopher Wren between 1670-75, and modified  in 1887-88, only to be demolished in 1897. Nothing remains of it at its former site, now occupied by a public house – called not the “King’s Head” but the  “Red Herring”!

The site of St Michael Wood Street  is visited on our “Lost Wren Churches 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).

(*) The relevant part of the text reads more-or-less in full as follows:

“There is …  , … without any outward monument, the head of James, the fourth king of Scots of that name, slain at Flodden field, and buried here by this occasion: After the battle the body of the said king being found, was enclosed in lead, and conveyed … to the monastery of Shene in Surrey … .  Since the which time workmen there, for their foolish pleasure, hewed of his head; and Lancelot Young, master glazier to her majesty [Elizabeth I], … seeing the same dried from all moisture, and yet the form remaining, with the hair of the head, and beard red, brought it to London to his house in Wood Street, where for a time he kept it … , but in the end caused the sexton of that church to bury it amongst other bones … “.

My City of Ruins (Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, 1666)

Fire

On this day in 1666, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“Up by five o’clock; and, blessed be God! find all well; and by water to [Paul’s] Wharfe.  Walked thence, and saw all the towne burned, and a miserable sight of Paul’s church, with all the roofs fallen, and the body of the quire fallen into St Fayth’s (*); Paul’s school also, Ludgate, and Fleet Street. My father’s house, and the church, and a good part of the Temple the like.”

And went on to write, equally if not more fretfully:

“I home late to Sir W. Pen’s, who did give me a bed … ; … but still both sleeping and waking had a fear of fire in my heart, that I took little rest.  People do all the world over cry out of the simplicity of my Lord Mayor in … this business of the fire, laying it all upon him.  A proclamation is come out for markets to be kept at Leadenhall and … several other places about the town; and Tower Hill, and all churches to be set open to receive poor people”.

John Evelyn wrote:

“I wente this morning on foote from White hall as far as London bridge, thro the Late fleete streete, Ludgate hill, by St Paules, Cheape side, Exchange, Bishopsgate, Aldersgate, & out to Morefields, thence thro Cornehill, &c; with extraordinary difficulty, clambring over mountains of yet smoking rubbish, & frequently mistaking where I was, the ground under my feet so hot, as made me not only Sweate, but even burnt the soles of my shoes … : in the meane time his Majestie got to the Tower by Water, to demolish the houses about … which …  had they taken fire, & attaq’d the white Towre, where the Magazines of Powder lay, would undoubtedly have not onely … destroyed  all the bridge, but sunke … all the vessels in the river, & renderd … demolition …  even …  at many miles distance:

At my return I was infinitely concerned to find that goodly Church of St Paules now a sad ruine, & that beautiful Portico (for structure comparable to any in Europe, as not long before repaird by the late King) now rent in pieces, flakes of vast Stone Split in sunder, & nothing remaining intire but the Inscription of the Architrave which …  had not one letter of it defac’d: which I could not but take notice of: It was astonishing to see what immense stones the heat had in a manner Calcin’d, so as all the ornaments, Columns, freezes, Capitels & projectures of massie Portland stone flew off, even to the very roofe, where a Sheete of Leade covering no lesse than 6 akers by measure, being totally mealted, the ruines of the Vaulted roof, falling brake into St Faithes (*), which being filled with …  books … belonging to the Stationers … carried thither for safty, they were all consumed burning for a week following: It is also observable, that the lead over the Altar …  was untouch’d: and among the divers monuments, the body of one Bishop, remained intire.

Thus lay in ashes that most venerable Church, one of the antientest Pieces of early Piety in the Christian world, beside neere 100 more: The lead, yronworke, bells, plate &c all mealted: the exquisitely wrought Mercers Chapell, the Sumptuous Exchange, the august fabrique of Christ church, all the rest of the Companies Halls, sumptuous buildings, Arches, Enteries, all in dust.  The fountains dried up & ruind, whilst the very waters remained boiling; the Voragos of subterranean Cellars, Wells & Dungeons, formerly Warehouses, still burning in stench & dark clouds of smoke like hell, so as in five or six miles traversing about, I did not see one load of timber unconsum’d, nor many stones but were calcind white as snow, so as the people who now walked about the ruines, appeard like men in some dismal desart, or rather in some greate City, lay’d waste by an impetuous & cruel Enemy …

Sir Tho: Greshams Statue, though falln to the ground from its nich in the R: Exchange remain’d intire, when all those of the Kings since the Conquest were broken to pieces: also the Standard in Cornehill, & Q: Elizabeths Effigies, with some armes on Ludgate continud with but little detriment, whilst the vast yron Chaines of the Cittie streets, vast hinges, barrs & gates of Prisons were many of them mealted, & reduc’d to cinders by the vehement heats: nor was I yet able to pass through any of the narrower streets, but kept to the widest, the ground & aire, smoake & fiery vapour, continued so intense, my hair being almost seinged … : … nor could one have possibly knowne where he was, but for the ruines of some church, or hall, that had some remarkable towre or pinnacle remaining … ”.

“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).

(*)  The church of St Faith, also known as St Faith under St Paul’s, was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666 and not rebuilt afterwards.  The only surviving evidence of its former existence, at least at its former site, is in the form of a parish boundary marker on New Change, and a pump “erected by St Faith’s parish” in 1819 in St Paul’s Alley (which alley, incidentally, was widened so as to be almost as wide as it is long following legislation passed in 1667 that required passage-ways to be at least 9’ wide “for the common benefit of accommodation”).

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).