In 1665, London was devasted by an outbreak of bubonic plague that killed 80,000 people; only a year later, King Charles II’s capital was hit by a raging fire.
THE Great Fire of London began in a bakery on Pudding Lane, near London Bridge, on September 2nd 1666.
With a strong east wind fanning the flames from house to house (one could shake hands across the street from some upper-storey windows), soon the fire was out of control.
Samuel Pepys, a clerk of the Privy Seal, went to inform the King.*
Charles and his brother James recruited a team of fire-fighters, and then joined them on the streets, passing round pails of water, calming the panic, and demolishing buildings with gunpowder to create firebreaks.
When it was all over, four days later, Charles awarded his fellow-firefighters a purse of one hundred guineas.
There were only six recorded deaths. But 13,000 homes were destroyed - a fifth of the City** on the north bank of the Thames, from the Tower in the east to Blackfriars in the west - alongside many public buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral, subsequently rebuilt by Christopher Wren.
* Pepys is better-known today for the diaries he kept, which include a detailed account of the Great Fire. Charles’s brother James, Duke of York, later became King James II.
** The City of London is an ancient, semi-autonomous area of the capital on the north bank of the Thames, approximately one square mile in area. It is much smaller than London, the capital city of England. The City of Westminster, where Parliament meets, lies to the west of it.
← Click here to see a map showing the approximate extent of the fire.