The Great Fire of London

The Great Fire of LondonSunday, 2 September to Wednesday, 5 September 1666

Pat a cake, Pat a cake, baker’s man

Bake me a cake as fast as you can;

Pat it and prick it and mark it with a ‘B’,

And put it in the oven for Baby and me.

 A nursery rhyme with origins referencing the Great Fire of London.

At that time, bakeries were viewed as great fire risks. The Great Fire of London is believed to have started in a Baker’s shop on Pudding Lane. Only a short distance from the wharves of London, Pudding Lane was reportedly amid some of the most unsavory parts of the city. The shop and dwelling of Farynor (aka Thomas Farrinor), King Charles I’s baker was on Pudding Lane 10 doors from Thames Street. Flames reportedly broke out from Farynor’s ovens between one and two o’clock in the morning. Farynor, his wife and daughter escaped their hose through a garret window, his man followed, but his maidservant became the first fatality of the fire.

The city was at that time a “walled city” which was designed in the feudal concept for defense. Mediaeval construction was the style of the time. Shakespeare had died a mere 50 year prior. Land was a premium commodity, and houses were nestled in one upon the next. Densely packed narrow houses, timber framed of varied heights with red tiled roofs. Houses treated with pitch to preserve the wood frames. Factories interspersed among the dwellings, getting workers from communities within walking distance. Factories spewing smoke from stacks of furnaces – the heart of soap making, dying, drying, and brewers. Pudding Lane was one of the tightest streets in the city, with only a cart width of space in some tighter areas.

Firefighting in the 1600’s was nothing like today. Houses were built with iron rings near the rooftop for ropes to be affixed and hooks on long poles to grab. The wall of the offending house – or that of a house to be used as a fire break was pulled down by teams of men. Squirts, long, large syringes filled with water by drawing the plunger, then pushing the plunger to expel the water under pressure were the fire extinguishers of the day. Two men would hold the syringe while a third pressed the plunger. Cisterns on wheeled carts would be wheeled to the fire to give a quick means of refilling the squirts. Wood pipes were drilled into to provide a cistern of water along the street. 17th century firefighting was no match for the ravages which fell upon the city.

In the end, the fire consumed 13,200 houses which housed approximately 70,000 of London’s 80,000 citizens. 87 parish churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, and most of the buildings of the City authorities were consumed.

The city was rebuilt. Several lent ideas, including Sir Christopher Wren, Captain Valentine Knight, and John Evelyn. During the rebuilding, occupants dispersed to wherever they could find an abode.

The Great Fire of London is not unique among fire history. It is an item of history amid many other cities which burned. The Great Fire of London will continue to remain in the forefront of fire history.

The Monument stands at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill in the City of London.

The Monument stands at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill in the City of London.

Visit to the Monument. Standing 202 feet high, the Monument is the tallest isolated stone column in the world.

Stairs going up to the top of the Monument to the Great Fire of London

Stairs going up to the top of the Monument to the Great Fire of London

The monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke and constructed with Portland stone in 1671-7. The simple Doric column is topped by a flaming urn of copper gilded with two layers of gold leaf to symbolize the Great Fire. I am privileged to have climbed the 311 steps to the balcony at the top.

Notes:

Bell, Walter George. The Great Fire of London. London: Bracken, 1994. Print.

“Great Fire of London.” New World Encyclopedia. New World Encyclopedia, 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 01 Sept. 2014. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Great_Fire_of_London&gt;.

Photo – Detail of the Great Fire of London by an unknown painter, depicting the fire as it would have appeared on the evening of Tuesday, 4 September 1666 from a boat in the vicinity of Tower Wharf. The Tower of London is on the right and London Bridge on the left, with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the distance, surrounded by the tallest flames. – Wikipedia (Public Domain)

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