London in the 1660s

What was it like to live in London in the 1660s?

London was a big city even back in the 1660s. A lot of people lived and worked there, but it wasn’t very clean so it was easy to get sick.

Overcrowding was a huge problem in London – when people did get sick diseases spread very quickly, and thousands of people died during the Great Plague in 1665-1666. And then, if that wasn’t enough, most of London burned down in the Great Fire in 1666 because there were so many houses, too close together, and all made from wood.

Top 10 facts

  1. About 350,000 people lived in London in the 1660s, making it one of the largest cities in Europe.
  2. Many people who lived in England moved to London because there was a lot of work there.
  3. The city was very crowded, and living conditions were sometimes very dirty.
  4. There wasn’t any way to wash up properly as the river was dirty too, yet people still bathed and washed their clothes there – so, it was easy for people get sick.
  5. The Great Plague was the spread of a serious disease that killed around 100,000 people in London.
  6. In 1666, the Great Fire of London burned most of the homes and shops.
  7. King Charles II ruled during the 1660s, a Stuart king.
  8. A lot of what we know about life in London during the 1660s is from the diary of Samuel Pepys, who wrote during 1660-1669.
  9. Men in the 1660s started wearing wigs, mostly because King Charles II wore a wig.
  10. People in the 1660s liked going to the theatre to see plays, and women were allowed to act in plays for the first time.

Timeline

  • 1660
    The monarchy is restored with Charles II as King, after it was overthrown in 1649

  • 1660
    Theatres were allowed to open again – they’d been shut down after the monarchy was overthrown

  • 1661
    Charles II is officially crowned King

  • 1665-1666
    The Great Plague strikes London

  • 1665-1667
    The Second Anglo-Dutch War, between England on one side and the Dutch Republic, France and Denmark-Norway on the other side (England lost)

  • 2-6 September 1666
    The Great Fire of London destroys most of the city

  • 1667-1670
    6,000 houses are rebuilt after the Great Fire

Did you know?

  • Because so many people lived and worked in London, traffic was very bad.
  • You wouldn’t usually have seen actresses before the 1660s as it was rare for women to act in plays until after 1660.
  • In the 1660s, people didn’t really bother trying to throw rubbish away in the right places. Anything from old food to broken tools and toys would end up in the River Thames, which is where people would also wash up and even empty the toilet.
  • During the Great Plague as many as 7,000 people died each week.
  • One reason for the Plague spreading so quickly, in addition to overcrowding and uncleanliness, is because fleas on rats carried the disease. Rats were right at home in a dirty city like London.
  • The rhyme ‘Ring around the rosy’ might have come from the Great Plague, referring to red rashes that people would get, and the pocketful of posies that people would carry around because they thought it would keep them from getting sick.
  • People would usually just eat one big meal at midday, when we’d usually eat lunch. They might have a small meal later on if they were still hungry.
  • People didn’t really eat vegetables in the 1660s, but they’d sometimes have fruit for dessert.

Canyou find these images in the gallery below?

  • People who died from the plague being collected to be buried in a mass grave
  • Examples of clothing in the 1600s
  • Typical London house in the 1660s
  • A London coffee house in the 1660s
  • Samuel Pepys, who kept a diary of life in the 1660s
  • What a plague doctor in the 1660s would have worn

Gallery

About

The 1660s marked the start of the Restoration period, which is when the monarchy was restored with the crowning of Charles II. The time when there weren’t any kings or queens in England, between 1649 and 1660, is called the Interregnum.

The deadly disease that people caught during the Great Plague is also called bubonic plague. It’s a bad infection that can cause swelling, high fever and vomiting blood.

Poorer parts of London were more affected by the Great Plague than parts where wealthy people lived. The disease was also worse when the weather was hot than when it was cold.

Because thousands of people were dying each week, they’d be buried together in large pits. People were paid a lot of money to have the job of collecting the dead.

Men wanted to look like King Charles II, so started dressing like he did by wearing a coat, short trousers and a waistcoat. He also wore a wig, so they did too!

It was common for people in the 1660s to wear fake beauty spots on their face, called patches.

Women wore long skirts and tight corsets around their chest and waist.

Related Videos

Just for fun...

  • Faith, a young girl in the 1660s, is writing in her diary about different events in the 1660s. Can you guess what she’s writing about?

Best children's books about London in the 1660s

       

Find out more:

See for yourself

  • Visit exhibitions about the history of London at the Museum of London
  • An exhibition at the Eyam Museum explains how the Great Plague affected them because of trade with London.
  • The Science Museum’s displays on the history of medicine show what was used to treat the plague in the 1660s.

Also see