Tag Archives: Highgate

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


On this day in 1666, Samuel Pepys wrote:

“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… ”.

And John Evelyn wrote:

“[I]t crossed towards White-Hall … .  It pleased his Majestie to command me among the rest to looke after the quenching of fetter-lane … , to preserve (if possible) that part of Holborn, whilst the rest of the Gent: tooke their several posts, some at one part, some at another, for now they began to bestir themselves, … & began to consider that nothing was like to put a stop, but the blowing up of … houses, as might make a [wider] gap than any yeat made by the ordinary method of pulling them downe … : This some stout Seamen proposd early enough to have saved the whole Citty: but some … avaritious Men, Aldermen &c. would not permit, because their houses must have ben the first: It was … now commanded to be practised, & my concern being particularly for the Hospital of st. Bartholemeus neere Smithfield, … made me al the more diligent to promote it … : So as it pleased Almighty God by abating of the Wind, & the industrie of people … that the furie of it began … to abate, … so as it came no farther than … the enterance of Smithfield  …

It brake out againe in the Temple; but the courage of the multitude persisting, & innumerable houses blown up with Gunpowder, such gaps … were soon made … as the fire [was able to be got under control] …

[T]here I left this smoking … heape, … the poore Inhabitans dispersd all about St Georges, Moore filds, as far as higate, & several miles in Circle … : [and] returned with a sad heart to my house … ”.



Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Highgate was first recorded in 1354 as Le Heighgate, meaning, in Middle English, high (toll) gate.  The gate was originally set up on the Great North Road by the Bishop of London, who was also the Lord of the Manor of Hornsey.  The surrounding area remained essentially rural and sparsely populated until post-Medieval times, and after the Great Fire of London in 1666 was temporarily used to accommodate displaced persons, as noted by John Evelyn in his diary.  A number of aristocratic country houses were built here at this time, including Arundel, Cromwell, Fitzroy and Lauderdale Houses.  The area eventually became rather more developed in the nineteenth century,  although even to this day it still retains much open green space.

Lauderdale House



Lauderdale House was originally built by Richard Martin, Master of the Royal Mint and thrice Lord Mayor of London,  in 1582.  However, it was not known as such until the early seventeenth century, when it was bequeathed by the then-owner Mary, Dowager Countess of Home to her daughter  Anne, the wife of John Maitland, the Earl of Lauderdale.  In 1649, during the Civil War, Lauderdale, who was a Royalist, was forced to surrender the house to John Ireton, a leading Parliamentarian (General Henry Ireton’s brother and Cromwell’s son-in-law).  After the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, it reverted to the Lauderdale family’s ownership, Lauderdale being a member of the CABAL advising the restored king, Charles II – and the king’s  mistress, Nell Gwynne, lived in it  for a while.   The house changed hands many times in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before undergoing radical alteration in the early nineteenth. Its last private owner was Sidney Waterlow, another Lord Mayor, who gave it and its surrounding grounds to the London County Council in 1883, “for the enjoyment of Londoners”. The recently restored house is now an  arts and education centre.