After the horrors of the Great Plague of 1665, the people of London must have been looking forward to a calmer, more positive year. Sadly, it wasn't to be: in early September 1666, the Great Fire of London ravaged the city, causing the loss of lives and income, not to mention a great deal of our history.
It started small: Thomas Farynor claimed to have extinguished the fire in his bakery on Pudding Lane near London Bridge before he went to bed on September 1st. However, by 1am the following morning, the flames had quickly spread, engulfing his home before starting their rampage through the city.
At that time, London was an overcrowded city with narrow, dusty streets and buildings packed closely together. It wasn't just their proximity to each other that was the problem, though: buildings were made of timber and pitch and a scorching hot summer that year meant that they were all very dry.
The fire quickly spread through the streets, the strong wind helping it to gather momentum. By Monday morning, 300 houses had burned to the ground - by the Tuesday, half of London was on fire. There was no fire brigade, so the flames were tackled by members of the public who threw buckets and squirted water but it wasn't until Wednesday that the fire was under control, thanks to the Navy, who were instructed to use gunpowder to blow up buildings in the path of the fire to prevent its spread.
Officially, only six people died in the fire but this figure is unlikely to include members of the lower classes who perished and those who died as an indirect result of the fire: exposure due to being made homeless, smoke inhalation and other causes. What we do know is that thousands of buildings and London landmarks were destroyed, from St Paul's Cathedral and London Bridge to the Royal Exchange and Custom House, as well as 13,500 houses, 44 company halls and 87 parish churches.
Much of London had to be rebuilt from scratch and in some ways, this was a positive move for the city. It meant city planners and builders could focus on creating a London that had better hygiene and greater fire safety too. Houses were made from brick and stone instead of timber, streets were widened and there was no obstructed access to the river, thus improving the chances of combating any future fires. Insurance companies formed their own fire brigades to fight fires in the buildings they insured.
A Monument to the Great Fire of London, known simply as the Monument, still stands near the spot where the fire began to commemorate London's rebirth. The children's song "London's Burning" is said by many to have been written to remember the horrific events of that September.
Luckily, we're now far better equipped to prevent, detect and extinguish fires than ever before. At Trelawney Fire & Security, you'll find a range of fire detection & alarm systems, as well as fire extinguishers and extinguishing systems to suit every need. For more information on our reliable fire safety solutions, please give us a call.
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