The Great Fire of London

Before 1666, should anyone have mentioned the Great Fire of London, one would immediately have assumed they were referring to an event that took place in 1212 south of the river, if not another fire that occurred in 1135. Bearing this in mind, it would not have been unreasonable had the Great Fire of 1666 been forever remembered as the second great fire of London – if not merely one of several.

Much of what happened during those four days in 1666 is well documented. What began in the early hours of Sunday 2 September had by Wednesday 5 destroyed approximately eighty per cent of the old city, including 13,000 houses, 87 churches and, most famously, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. Had the fire lasted a further day, depending on the direction of the wind, it could potentially have posed a severe danger to Charles II’s palace at Whitehall and the Tower of London, at the time England’s principal gunpowder depository.

That the Great Fire began in an area of London known as Pudding Lane is indisputable. That the bakery owned by one Thomas Farriner was the first building to be destroyed is also well documented. Of Farriner’s family, only their maid failed to make it out alive, the first of the fire’s six definite victims. Records from the time confirm Pudding Lane was renowned for connecting the River Thames to the various butchers in Eastcheap – pudding was the medieval word for offal, which was well known for falling from the carts. The records also confirm Farriner had a contract with the Royal Navy to produce ship’s biscuit, a long-lasting bread that was a popular choice during the Anglo-Dutch Wars.

Most references to the Great Fire in this book are based on historical accounts. That the Great Fire was an accident, began by a stray burning ember, has long been accepted as fact.

Though that wasn’t always the case.