Great Fire of London 1666

2115px-Panorama of London by Claes Van Visscher, 1616 no angels

The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of the City of London, from Sunday, 2 September to Wednesday, 5 September 1666. It threatened, but did not reach, the aristocratic district of Westminster, Charles II's Palace of Whitehall, and most of the suburban slums. The fire originated in a bakery in Pudding Lane within the City of London and spread to multiple structures over a four-day period. The fire destroyed 80% of the City of London including 373 acres within the City Wall and 63 acres outside of it. The property destruction included 87 out of 109 churches, 13,200 house and 44 livery halls. 100,000 people were made homeless and six people were reported to have died in the fire although this figure may not be accurate considering the speed at which the fire spread and the time of night at the beginning of the fire.

The use of the major firefighting technique of the time, the creation of firebreaks by means of demolition, was critically delayed owing to the indecisiveness of the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth. The fire pushed north on Monday into the heart of the City. Order in the streets broke down as rumours arose of suspicious foreigners setting fires. The fears of the homeless focused on the French and Dutch, England's enemies in the ongoing Second Anglo-Dutch War; these substantial immigrant groups became victims of lynchings and street violence. On Tuesday, the fire spread over most of the City, destroying St Paul's Cathedral and leaping the River Fleet to threaten Charles II's court at Whitehall. While coordinated firefighting efforts were simultaneously mobilising, the battle to quench the fire is considered to have been won by two factors: the strong east winds died down, and the Tower of London garrison used gunpowder to create effective firebreaks to halt further spread eastward.

The social and economic problems created by the disaster were overwhelming. Evacuation from London and resettlement elsewhere were strongly encouraged by Charles II, who feared a London rebellion amongst the dispossessed refugees. Despite numerous radical proposals, London was reconstructed on essentially the same street plan used before the fire.


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