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London, fire of

London, fire of, 1666. The dangers of fire in any early town with close-packed wooden buildings were always considerable, but the blaze that started in Thomas Farriner's bakehouse in Pudding Lane, near London Bridge, in the early hours of Sunday, 2 September, has become known as the ‘Great Fire’. Pepys saw it early, shrugged his shoulders, and returned to bed. But a driving east wind fanned the flames across firebreaks, and, despite the efforts of ward and parish officials and the lord mayor, they soon became uncontrollable. Residents gathered up what valuables they could and fled, many believing that the Dutch and French had started the conflagration. The wind persisted until Tuesday night, but it was not until Friday that the firefighters and county militia could assess the devastation. The Tower of London (to the east) had survived, but Old St Paul's cathedral, the Guildhall, Royal Exchange, 87 parish churches, 52 company halls, markets, gaols, and 13,200 houses had succumbed; the area damaged (463 acres) was greater than that in the 1939–45 Blitz, with losses estimated at the then almost incomprehensible sum of over £10 million. Charles II, who had placed his brother in control of the city to maintain order and discourage looting, rapidly introduced measures for recovery. Some of the rebuilding schemes submitted were too hurried to be practical, but under six commissioners a new city was built on the old plan though with improved access and hygiene, and in brick rather than wood. To commemorate events, the Monument was erected near the site of the outbreak (1677); to the inscription on the north panel the words ‘But Popish frenzy, which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched’ were added in 1681 but removed in 1830.

A. S. Hargreaves

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Fire of London

Fire of London (September 2–6, 1666) Accidental fire that destroyed most of the City of London, England. It started in a baker's shop in Pudding Lane, a site now marked by the Monument, and a strong wind spread it quickly through the closely packed wooden houses. The fire provided an opportunity for rebuilding London on a more spacious plan, but, for the most part, only the famous churches of Christopher Wren (including St Paul's Cathedral) were built.

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