The Great Fire of London, was a major conflagration which destroyed the medieval city of London within the boundary of the old Roman wall and an area outside the wall, stretching from the western access to the city at Ludgate as far as Fetter Lane to the west and from the river Thames at the southern end to Smithfield and Holborn in the north.
The fire was a legacy of the neglect during Medieval Times in London of not expanding outside the city walls. The resultant overcrowding also encouraged the spread of Bubonic Plague.
The fire eventually consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, Old St.Paul's Cathedral and most of the City Authorities buildings.
There were only six deaths recorded, but not many believed this figure, either then or now. In those days the deaths of the poor and even the middle classes were not recorded anyway.
It is quite possible that the fire had claimed an untold number of victims, the heat of the fire cremating them, and leaving no recognizable remains.
It was not fire that was a major worry for the citizens of London however. There was something troubling them much much more than fire.
ABOVE: THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON.
The previous year had seen the return of the disease which over the previous two centuries had killed millions of people throughout Europe. It was the return of the Bubonic Plague.
During the Middle Ages, houses were just timber frames, infilled with lath and plaster and although timber and thatch had been banned for use as building materials for centuries, they were cheap and so continued to be used.
As the population of London grew, people were still living, by and large, within the constraints of the City walls. It's streets were just an overcrowded warren of narrow, winding, cobbled alleyways.
As they were unable to spread themselves outwards, they just increased the heights of their houses and built over the empty spaces that served as their back yards, every inch of space was used whether horizontal or vertical to accomodate the rapidly expanding population.
Foundries, glaziers, smithies, et al abounded, which, being fire hazards were illegal in the City, but tolerated.
The houses or habitations were overcrowded to bursting point, and as they added further storeys, increasing the height of the houses, so they increased the size of the upper stories by jetties, which would now be overhanging the streets, lanes and alleyways below. They were all but touching each other and the fire hazard this presented was extreme, but well known.
If you look at the logo at the top of this page, although the buildings are not the one's that stood there before the Great Fire of London, they follow the same layout.
The narrow alleyways are just the same. Imagine the upper stories projecting outwards towards each other until they were practically touching. You will now have an accurate picture of the houses, the narrow alleyways and lanes which were such a feature of Medieval Times in London.
You can understand the fire hazard this type of construction presented. London was a city in turmoil, it had been on the edge since the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Great Fire of London was a major disaster just waiting to happen.
The Local governing body of the City mainly ignored a Royal Proclamation banning these overhanging floors and windows. An exasperated King Charles II, warned about the risk of fire and empowered the authorities to both imprison recalcitrant builders and demolish any dangerous buildings. This also seems to have been largely ignored.
But it was also a huge health hazard. It was overcrowding on a massive scale, not only allowing the rapid spread of infection, but positively encouraging it.
Bubonic Plague was a major threat throughout Europe.
But London was also a huge tinder box just ready to explode into flames. The Great Fire of London just needed one spark to ignite it.
That spark was provided sometime between midnight and 2 am on Sunday, 2nd September 1666, when the fire started at the bakery in Pudding Lane belonging to Thomas Farriner (or Farynor) and goaded by an easterly wind spread rapidly westwards across the City.
The River Thames which in theory should have been a friend when the populace were confronted with or actually fighting a fire, was anything but, for whilst it had abundance of water for fire fighting and a means of escape by boat, the riverfront was one of the poorest districts in the whole of the City.
Every inch of space along the wharves was occupied by flimsy wooden habitats several stories high, teetering on the waters edge.
Shacks lined with tar paper as a means of waterproofing were "squeezed in amongst them." "Old paper buildings and the most combustible matter of Tar, Pitch, Hemp, Rosen and Flax which was all layd up thereabouts."
Gunpowder was everywhere, including the riverfront, as former soldiers (private citizens now) from Oliver Cromwell's army still retained their muskets and powder, all of it kept back from the days of the Civil War and all stached away in their own homes.
The Tower of London also was used as a storage place for gunpowder, having tons of the stuff locked away,
With the City, already primed and everything in place, the stage was now set for the greatest tragedy imaginable to begin. Both the performers and the audience would be comprised of the citizenry of London themselves.
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