Great Fire of LondonThe Great Fire of London was a major fire that swept through the City of London from September 2-5, 1666, and resulted more or less in its destruction. (Before this fire, the fire of 1212 which destroyed a large part of the city was known by the same name.)
The fire started in Pudding Lane at the house of Thomas Farrinor1, a baker to King Charles. It is likely that the fire started because Farrinor forgot to extinguish his oven before retiring for the evening and that some time shortly after midnight smouldering embers from the oven set alight some nearby firewood. Farrinor was woken by the fire at around 1am. He managed to escape the burning building, along with his family, by climbing out through an upstairs window. The baker's housemaid failed to escape and became the fire's first victim. Most buildings in London at this time were constructed of highly combustible materials (wood, straw, etc.), and sparks emanating from the baker's shop fell onto an adjacent building. Fanned by a strong wind, once the fire had taken hold it swiftly spread. The spread of the fire was helped by the fact that buildings were built very close together with only a narrow alley between them. The fire consumed some 13,200 houses and 87 churches, among them St. Paul's Cathedral, but only 9-16 people are known to have died.
The fire had the beneficial effect of killing many of the rats which were responsible for the spread of the Great Plague. The fire had a marked and varied impact on English society. See Charles II of England, Christopher Wren, Samuel Pepys, Ursula Southeil.
After the fire, a rumour began to circulate that the fire was part of a Catholic plot. A simple-minded French watchmaker named Robert "Lucky" Hubert, confessed to being an agent of the Pope and starting the fire in Westminster. He later changed his story to say that he had started it at the bakery in Pudding Lane. He was convicted, despite overwhelming evidence that he could not have started the fire, and hanged at Tyburn.
Christopher Wren was put in charge of re-building the city after the fire. His original plans involved rebuilding the city in brick and stone to a grid plan with continental piazzas and avenues. But because many buildings had survived to basement level, legal disputes over ownership of land ended the grid plan idea. From 1667, Parliament raised funds for re-building London by taxing coal, and the city was eventually rebuilt to its existing street plan but out of brick and stone and with improved sanitation and access. Christopher Wren also re-built St Paul's Cathedral 11 years after the fire.
A large monument today marks the site where the fire started. It is located near the northern end of London Bridge. The Monument tube station is named after the monument. The monument, which consists of a large column topped with a gilded urn of fire, was designed by Wren and Robert Hooke. It stands 61 metres tall, the height marking the monument's distance to the site of Farrinor's baker's shop in Pudding Lane. It was constructed between 1671 and 1677 and at the time it was the tallest freestanding stone column in the world. It is possible to reach to the top of the monument by climbing up the narrow winding staircase of 311 steps. A Latin inscription at the base of the monument describes how the fire was extinguished. In 1681 the words "but Popish frenzy, which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched" were added to the inscription. The words were eventually removed in 1831.