Great Fire of London 1212

One of the great medieval fires of London, also known as “the Great Fire of Southwark” began on 10 July 1212 in Southwark, the borough directly to the south of London Bridge. The flames destroyed Our Lady of the Canons (Southwark Cathedral, also known as St Mary Overie) and strong southerly winds pushed them towards the bridge, which also caught fire. London Bridge had only just been rebuilt in stone, and the structure itself survived the blaze. However, King John had authorised the construction of houses on the bridge, the rents from which were supposed to pay for its maintenance, and it appears that these were lost to the flames.

The earliest account of the blaze appears in the Liber de Antiquis Legibus (”Book on Ancient Laws”), composed in 1274. According to later traditions, however, numerous casualties were incurred when a mass of citizens from London rushed onto the bridge at the first signs of fire, intending to cross the river to help extinguish the flames. High winds carried red-hot embers across the river and ignited buildings on the north side of the structure. This fire trapped a large number of people, many of whom died either in the blaze or while attempting to escape on overloaded boats that had come to their aid.

However, no reliable evidence survives to allow an accurate estimate of the number of casualties caused by the great fire of 1212, but it is known that the damage done to London Bridge was such that the structure remained a ruin, only partially usable, for years afterwards.


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