This year, to commemorate the 350th birthday of the great fire of London, the city of London is organising a Festival called “London’s burning” to enable londoners to rediscover the story of London, the sites burned by the fire and how London rebuilt itself.
Last night, a 120 meter model of London in 1666 was set on fire to show the extent of the fire. It took 30minutes to burn this beautiful art installation to the ground and watching it burn was quite an amazing experience!
If you didn’t have the chance to see it live, don’t despair, a replay is available on BBC 4! Many talks will be organised this week about London after the fire and some sites will have discounts until the 9th of September so…Time to head to the city of London to immerse yourself in its past!
But How did the fire start? Who was responsible for it?
350 years ago, the 2nd of September 1666 late in the evening, in a little street called Pudding lane Thomas Fariner, King Charles II’s royal baker went to bed without extinguishing his fire completely, as it was the custom in those days, to be able to start baking in the morning without having to start a brand new fire. A few hours later his oven had caught fire and the whole shop had burnt down with his maid inside. The other member of the household, fortunately, managed to flee by jumping from the window. At the time, the streets were very narrow, and despite the recent interdiction to have thatched roof it is still very common in London. Because of the taxes on the ground, people tried to build their houses using the smallest surface possible on the ground floor and a bit bigger with elevation. It got to a point where houses on opposite sides of the streets could almost kiss each other. That week the weather had been dry and the timber and thatched roof caught fire so quickly that the people of the neighbourhood couldn’t extinguish it. As the fire spread the people tried to extinguish it with buckets. Seeing that the method failed they were forced to flee and seek refuge on barges on the river Thames. The fire went on for 4 days, burning all on its way.
Samuel Pepys one of the historian of the times, documented everything. He writes that the fire was eventually controlled when by order of the king the Lord Mayor order to pull down the houses to create fire breaks. At the time each house was supposed to have a “fire hook” a tool that would enable the locals to torn down the house in the eventuality that a fire would start. To create more fire holes they even used gunpowder to create more cracks in the fire. Eventually, the fire was controlled and by the 5th of September the locals woke up in the smouldering ashes of the fire and were finally able to go back to the ruins of their homes. Fortunately, they were very few casualties but over 100.000 people became homeless, about 84 churches and almost 14 000 houses burnt to the ground.
The Old Saint Paul church was completely destroyed giving a chance to Christopher Wren to realise his dream of building a cathedral. If you ever pass by St Paul, above the column, you will see the sculpture of a Phoenix, wings spread, standing on a stone. On that stone, you can read a Latin inscription: “RESURGAM”. It is a stone found by Christopher Wren in the ruin of the old cathedral. He thought it would be fitting to use it. Visionary as London was reborn from its own flames, like the phoenix engraved on that stone.
After the fire was extinguished came the time to look for criminal, the King had to look for the criminal or someone to blame, the scapegoat was a poor French man called Robert Hubert who after being tortured a bit confessed his crime and was put to death.
It was later found in the records that he arrived in London by boat a day after the fire had started and that consequently, he couldn’t have started the fire… It was then that the interdiction to have a thatched roof in London became a reality. King Charles asked for The Monument to be built, a 62m high column to commemorate the biggest fire in London history.
Enjoy the climb, it is totally worth it!