When was the Great Fire of London, how did it start, what caused it and where was worst affected by it?

When was the Great Fire of London, how did it start, what caused it and where was worst affected by it?

January 26, 2019

Here's what you need to know about the devastating blaze.

A new three-part series is to examine how the Great Fire of London devastated the capital.

Screened over three consecutive nights, historians and an engineer will give an insight into Britain's worst inferno.

Read our handy guide to find out what was so "great" about the notorious inferno that left a trail of destruction across medieval London.

What was the Great Fire of London?

In September 1666 a blazing inferno swept through part of the capital and destroyed the medieval City of London.

The fire gutted the area inside the old Roman city wall and threatened, but did not reach, Westminster and King Charles II's palace of Whitehall.

It raged from September 2 to September 5.

What started the Great Fire?

The blaze started at the bakery of Thomas Farriner (sometimes spelt Farynor) on Pudding Lane just after midnight on Sunday, September 2 1666.

Mr Farriner had forgotten to quench the fire in one of his ovens on Saturday evening and a spark fell down onto a pile of sticks and straw.

The bundle went up in flames and then so did the bakery.

How did it spread?

The fire spread west rapidly across the City of London after it started in the early hours of Sunday morning.

It then pushed northwards on Monday and into the heart of the city.

As the fire raged public disorder broke out amid suspicions that foreigners were causing it.

England's enemies in the Second Anglo-Dutch War were the French and the Dutch so they were subsequently blamed.

On the Tuesday it had spread over most of the city and destroyed St Paul's Cathedral.

How was it put out?

The main technique of tackling infernos at the time to was to destroy buildings in the fire's path.

However during the Great Fire this process was delayed because the Mayor of London Sir Thomas Bloodworth couldn't make decision on the matter.

After a co-ordinated effort to put the fire out it was finally won by two factors.

Strong east winds that had been fanning the flames died down, and the Tower of London garrison used gundpowder to create effective firebreaks which stop the fire travelling any further east.

Death and destruction

Roughly 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, and St Paul's Cathedral were destroyed in the blaze.

It is thought the homes of 70,000 of the 80,000 people living in the City were gutted in the fire.

The exact death toll is unknown but it is thought that six people died.

However, it is likely the exact figure is higher as the deaths of some poor and middle class people may not have been recorded.

The heat of the fire may also have killed people and left no remains.

What happened directly after the fire?

The disaster fuelled social and economic problems as Charles II feared a London rebellion against the refugees dispossessed by the fire.

He subsequently encouraged evacuation from London and resettlement elsewhere for those displaced.

Despite a ream of radical proposals the City was rebuilt to look more or less like it did before.

Scapegoats were sought to take responsibility for the fire and the confession of a French watchmaker named Robert Hubert was accepted.

He said he was an agent of the Pope and started the fire in Westminster.

Hubert later changed his plea to say he started the blaze in Pudding Lane.

He was subsequently hanged… only for it to become clear afterwards that he wasn't even in the country at the time of the Great Fire.


Firefighting 17th century-style

Fires were common in the City of London at the time of the Great Fire, and several other serious blazes had broken out in the years that preceded it.

There was no fire brigade in London at the time just a local militia known as the Trained Bands.

The group was available for general emergencies and watching out for fires in the wood-built city was a big part of their job.

They would also work to put out any blazes that broke out.

Fires were put out by creating firebreaks through demolition and by using water.

Every parish church, by law, had to have equipment available for tackling fires.

This included ladders, leather buckets, axes, and "fire-hooks" for pulling down buildings.

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