The Great Fire of London

In 1666, a huge fire that started in a tiny bakery burned down most of London – because it was so big, it was called the Great Fire of London.

The fire lasted four days, and burned down over 13,000 homes. There are a lot of reasons why the fire was so large, mostly to do with the way houses were built – a lot of them were made from wood, and were very close together.

Top 10 facts

  1. The Great Fire of London happened between 2-5 September in 1666.
  2. The fire began in a bakery in Pudding Lane.
  3. Before the fire began, there had been a drought in London that lasted for 10 months, so the city was very dry.
  4. In 1666, lots of people had houses made from wood and straw which burned easily. Houses were also built very close together.
  5. We know what happened during the fire because people back then wrote about it in letters and newspapers – for instance, Samuel Pepys wrote about it in his diary.
  6. Artists who were alive in 1666 painted pictures of the fire afterwards, so we know what it would have looked like if we’d been there too.
  7. To fight fires during this time, people would have used leather buckets, metal hooks and water squirts.
  8. People whose homes had burned down lived in tents in the fields around London while buildings were rebuilt.
  9. When houses were rebuilt, a lot of them were made in bricks instead of wood, and they weren’t built so close together.
  10. Sir Christopher Wren designed a monument to remember the Great Fire of London, which still stands today.

Timeline

  • 2 September 1666
    A fire broke out in a bakery on Pudding Lane in London a little after midnight, and eventually spread across most of the city

  • 6 September 1666
    The very last fire was extinguished early in the morning by a crew led by Samuel Pepys

  • 25 September, 1666
    A Commons Committee is set up to look into what caused the fire

  • 10 October 1666
    A day of fasting was held to commemorate the fire, and collections were taken up to raise money to help poor people who had lost their homes

  • 27 October 1666
    Robert Hubert was hanged at Tyburn for starting the fire – he confessed that he did this, but it later turned out that he was innocent and that the fire was an accident

  • 22 January 1667
    The Commons Committee wrote a report about the fire, and the King’s Council decided that the fire was an accident

  • 1668
    New fire prevention regulations for London were approved by Parliament

  • 1671
    Work began on the monument to the Great Fire of London

  • 1677
    The monument to the Great Fire of London was finished

  • 1680
    Nicholas Barbon sets up the first fire insurance company, the Fire Office

Did you know?

  • The huge fire began early in the morning in a tiny bakery on Pudding Lane owned by a man called Thomas Farriner. He’d forgotten to put out the fire in his oven the night before.
  • Samuel Pepys was worried that the fire was becoming too large, and asked King Charles II for help.
  • Lots of people went to St. Paul’s Cathedral to escape from the fire because it was made from stone – stone does not burn. But, some of the roof was made from wood, so this didn’t turn out to be a very good plan.
  • The fire burnt down a lot of buildings – over 13,000 houses, 87 churches and even St. Paul’s Cathedral!
  • Around 70,000 people lost their homes in the fire. These people had to set up tends in the fields around London so they had a place to stay.
  • Houses burned so easily because they were made from wood and straw. Plus, they were built close together along narrow streets, so the fire was able to move around easily and quickly.
  • In March 1667, Samuel Pepys wrote that he could still see some cellars that were smoking from the fire – six months after it was put out!

Look through the gallery below and see if you can spot all these pictures:

  • A painting of the great fire of London by an unknown artist – the Tower of London is shown on the right
  • A painting of the Great Fire of London by an unknown artist around 1670 – it shows Ludgate, the westernmost gate of the London wall
  • A drawing of St. Paul’s Cathedral on fire
  • A map of central London in 1666
  • A map showing the area of London that was burned in the fire
  • A picture of firehooks, which were used in the 17th century to pull down burning buildings in an effort to contain fires
  • An eyewitness account of the Great Fire of London
  • John Evelyn
  • Samuel Pepys
  • King Charles II
  • Sir Christopher Wren
  • Monument to the Great Fire of London
  • The top of the monument to the Great Fire of London
  • The street sign for Pudding Lane, where the fire began
  • A plaque marking where the fire began on Pudding Lane
  • A piece of charred wood from the Great Fire of London
  • Remains of a leather firebucket believed to have been used to fight the Great Fire of London
  • A fire hook
  • A water squirt
  • What wooden houses in the 1660s looked like
  • A typical baker’s oven from the 1660s

Gallery

gallery

About

Thomas Farriner’s family was trapped upstairs in their house when the fire broke out, and they had to escape through a window into the house next door. Their maid was too scared to jump, and died in the fire.

People didn’t have large fire hoses in the 1660s – they would have carried water in leather buckets, squirted water through a big syringe (like a squirt gun), and pulled down burning buildings with long metal hooks.

There was a big argument about how to fight the Great Fire. The fire fighters wanted to tear down houses that might get burned so the fire wouldn’t spread so quickly, but the Lord Mayor of London disagreed. In the end, King Charles II had to ask for the houses to be pulled down, but by then the fire had already grown very big.

Because the fire destroyed so much, some people thought that someone meant to start it – not that it was an accident in a bakery.

It is recorded that only six people died in the fire, but this may not be true – sometimes when poor people died their deaths weren’t recorded.

The houses that were rebuilt were made from bricks instead of wood, which doesn’t burn. The new streets were also designed to be wider, and sewers were installed so the city was more sanitary.

When the houses and shops that had been destroyed in the fire were being rebuilt, people thought it would also be a good idea to build a monument to remember the Great Fire of London. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and took six years to build – it is 61 metres high, which also the same distance between where it stands and site in Pudding Lane where the fire began. It has a bronze sculpture on the top to look like flames.

The first proper London Fire Brigade was created in 1866, which is 200 years after the Great Fire.

Names to know:

Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) – Christopher Wren was a famous architect who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral. He had some ideas for how London could be rebuilt after the Great Fire, but the plans were rejected. Instead, he designed a monument to the Great Fire near where it began on Pudding Lane.

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) – Samuel Pepys is most famous for keeping a diary for most of the 1660s, so he wrote a lot about the Great Fire in 1666. He also played an important part in helping to fight the fire by warning King Charles II that more needed to be done on the day the fire broke out – so, the King himself and the Duke of York took charge.

King Charles II (1630-1685) – King Charles II ruled from 1660-1685, and was king during the Great Fire of London. He helped the fire fighters, gave rewards to people who tried to stop the fire, and helped people who were hungry and homeless after the fire was over.

James, Duke of York (1633-1701) – The Lord High Admiral of England. Along with King Charles II, James took charge of the fire fighting efforts and helped to end the Great Fire. James’ guards acted as policemen to keep people and shops safe during the fire.

John Evelyn (1620-1706) – John Evelyn warned King Charles II in 1661 that the way houses in London were built would mean that a fire would be a disaster. When the Great Fire happened in 1666, he wrote about it in his diary – he walked around the city on 7 September and wrote about how people who had lost their homes were camping in the fields, and that the ground and charred wood was still so hot that holes burned in his shoes.

Thomas Farriner (1616-1670) – Thomas Farriner was a baker and owned the shop were the first fire broke out on 2 September 1666 that eventually led to most of London burning down. He was a baker to King Charles II.

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See for yourself

  • Visit the monument to the Great Fire of London near Monument tube station in London. There are stairs in the middle of the column that you can walk up, meaning you can see far across the city when you get to the top.
  • You can also see another memorial to the Great Fire of London, the Golden Boy of Pye Corner in Smithfield, which marks the spot where the fire stopped.
  • The Museum of London has items from the Great Fire.
  • The London Fire Brigade Museum has an exhibit about the fire fighting equipment that was used in 1666.