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17th Century England Index

Introduction : Constitutional Government
James I and the Divine Right of Kings
Towards Civil War
The First English Civil War
Cromwell and the New Model Army
The Second English Civil War
The Trial and Execution of Charles I
The English Republic (1649 - 1660)
Life in Cromwell's England
Charles II : "The Merry Monarch"
Whigs and Tories
James II and the Monmouth Rebellion (1685)
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England during the Reign of Charles II Index

Samuel Pepys
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The Great Fire of London (1666)

The fire started in the king's baker's shop in Pudding Lane, close to London Bridge on 2nd September 1666. It quickly spread through much of the surrounding city, engulfing the tightly-packed wooden buildings in flames. The fire raged on for three days and nights. A strong wind helped its progress. Over 13000 houses were burnt to the ground, as well as 87 churches.

The fire was halted by using explosives to blow up the houses directly in its path. With nothing to feed on, the flames eventually died down. There was so much chaos and confusion that the king, and his brother, the Duke of York, had to step in and give the orders for destroying the houses in the path of the fire.

The Great Fire of London

Painting depicting the Great Fire of London

Samuel Pepys records the Great Fire in his diary. He was forced to move his belongings into his cellar for safety and he watched the progress of the fire from Tower Hill but, fortunately, the flames did not reach his own house.

 

 

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England during the Reign of Charles II

The Great Fire of London (1666)

 

Samuel Pepys' Account of the Great Fire of London

2 September (1666) Lords Day

"Some of our maids sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast today, Jane called us up, about 3 in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose, and slipped on my nightgown and went to her window, and thought it to be on the back side of Markelane at the furthest; but being unused to such fires as fallowed, I thought it far off enough, and so went to bed again and to sleep. About 7 rose again to dress myself, and there looked out of the window and saw the fire not so much as it was, and further off. So to my closet to set things to rights after yesterday's cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been nurned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it was now burning down all Fishstreet by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower and there got up upon one of the high places. Sir J. Robinsons little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge - which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Michell and our Sarah on the Bridge. So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King's bakers house in Pudding Lane, and that it hath burned down St Magnes Church and most of Fishstreet already. So I down to the waterside and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michells house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way and the fire running further, that in very little time it got as far as the Stillyard while I was there. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them, into lighters that lay off. Poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats or clambering from one pair of stair by the waterside to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons I perceive were loath to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies till they were some of them burned, their wings, and fell down.

Having stayed, and in an hour's time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody to my sight endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods and leave all to the fire; and having seen it get as far as the Steeleyard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the city, and everything, after so long a drougth, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches. I to Whitehall with a gentleman with me who desired to go off from the Tower to see the fire in my boat - to Whitehall, and there up to the King's closet in the chapel, where people came about me and I did give them an account dismayed them all; and word was carried in to the King, so I was called for and did tell the King and the Duke of York what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire. The seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him and command him to spare no houses but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him that if he would have any more soldiers, he shall. Here meeting with Captain Cocke, I in his coach, which he lent me, and Creed with me, to Pauls; and there walked along Whatling Street as well as I could, every creature coming away laden with goods to save - and here and there sick people carried away in beds. extraordinary good goods carried in carts and on backs. At last met my Lord Mayor in Canning Street, like a man spent, with a hankercher about his neck. To the King's message, he cried like a fainting woman, 'Lord, what can I do? I am spent! People will not obey me. I have been pull down houses. But the fire overtakes us faster then we can do it.' That he needed no more soldiers; and that for himself, he must go and refresh himself, having been up all night. So, he left me, and I him, and walked home - seeing people all almost distracted and no manner of means used to quench the fire. The houses too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tar, in Thames Street - and warehouses of oyle and wines and brandy and other things. Here I saw Mr Isaccke Houblon, that handsome man - prettily dressed and dirty at his door at Dowgate, receiving some of his brothers things whose houses were on fire; and, as he says, have been removed twice already, and he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in a little time removed from his house also - which was a sad consideration. And to see the churches all filling with goods, by people who themselfs should have been quietly there by this time."

 

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