Today on September 5, 1666, the Great Fire of London finally comes to an end, wiping out almost eighty percent of the city’s buildings.
The Great Fire of London began three days earlier on September 2, 1666. The blaze swept through most of central London, destroying much of the city’s medieval quarters. Most of the damage occurred within the boundaries of the old Roman city walls. The fire started early in the morning at the bakery of Thomas Farriner on Pudding Lane (located near the London Bridge). Interestingly, Farriner was one of the main bakers for King Charles II of England. What started out as a relatively small issue quickly escalated into a major crisis.
A strong easterly wind pushed the fire directly into the many warehouses found along Thomas Street. To make matters worse, most of the storage rooms were filled with combustible materials, causing the inferno to become even stronger. At the time, London was still in the midst of transitioning from an old medieval city into a modern industrial capital. Many of the houses were constructed of oak timber and covered in tar, which helped waterproof buildings from the rain. However, this method of construction made the entire city extremely vulnerable to fires. Moreover, the narrow streets of London and high building density only served to intensify the problem.
The Great Fire of London consumed more than 15,000 homes, 87 churches, and the old St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s estimated over 100,000 people (eighty-five percent of the city’s inhabitants) became homeless as a result of the fire. The concept of firefighting was still primitive at this point and largely consisted of local brigades using water buckets. Quite remarkably, there were only sixteen verified deaths after the tragedy. Although most modern historians assume the death toll was substantially higher. Deaths among the lower classes were likely not accounted for as the heat of the fire would have cremated their bodies. King Charles immediately began rebuilding his capital city, emphasizing construction methods using brick and stone while also widening the streets.