Blazing revelations: What are the most interesting Great Fire of London facts?

Ever heard of a fire so great it practically rewrote the history books? Well, hold onto your tricorn hats because we’re about to set your historical knowledge ablaze with mind-blowing Great Fire of London facts!

When this historic firestorm descended upon London in 1666, it left chaos and charred remains in its wake. But what your teachers may not have told you is the tale of inept leaders, improbable heroics, and a city that rose from the ashes like a phoenix.

So, fasten your seatbelts (or rather, your fire hoses) as we unveil the hidden facts and gems of the Great Fire of London.

The Great Fire of London occurred in September and raged for four days

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The Great Fire of London began on September 2nd, 1666. That’s interesting when you consider that September in London isn’t exactly known for its scorching temperatures. In fact, it’s more likely to be rainy and damp. 

So, when this inferno ignited during such an unlikely time of year, it caught everyone off guard. 

It then raged for 96 hours of unrelenting flames, consuming over 13,000 houses, 87 churches, and countless other structures. That’s a lot of destruction for a single fire.

It started in a bakery on Pudding Lane owned by Thomas Farriner

Media from thenandnowlondon

The Great Fire didn’t just spontaneously erupt from the cobblestone streets. It had a rather humble starting point – a bakery on Pudding Lane owned by a man named Thomas Farriner.

On that fateful day in September, what started as a simple oven mishap quickly spiralled into an unstoppable blaze that would go down in history. It’s also a reminder that history can be made on the tiniest of details. A forgotten oven or a misplaced ember, and the course of an entire city’s fate was altered forever.

The fire spread rapidly due to strong winds and the city’s tightly packed wooden buildings

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The London winds were like Mother Nature’s own personal bellows during the disaster, fanning the flames and turning them into an unstoppable force. 

This was only worsened by the tightly packed wooden buildings. London in the 17th century was less concrete jungle than wooden labyrinth, a mess of timber-framed houses and streets so narrow you could barely squeeze a carriage through.

This overcrowding created a perfect storm for the fire to jump from one house to the next with the wind’s help, creating a domino effect of destruction.

The Great Fire of London consumed approximately 87 churches, including the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral

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 St. Paul’s Cathedral was the crown jewel of London’s skyline. Imagine it – a majestic, awe-inspiring masterpiece of architecture. 

Yet, when the Great Fire decided to flex its pyrotechnic muscles, not even this symbol of resilience and faith could escape its fiery embrace. 

Out of the ashes of the Great Fire of London, the city and its churches were reborn, redesigned, and reconstructed. St. Paul’s Cathedral, for instance, rose again from the rubble, more magnificent than ever thanks to the genius of Sir Christopher Wren.

An estimated 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 residents were left homeless

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Think about it – 70,000 souls left without a roof over their heads. It’s like a scene from a dystopian movie, except this was very real. 

What makes this even more compelling is how these people coped and rebuilt their lives. The Great Fire of London wasn’t just a tale of destruction: it was a story of resilience and rebirth.

Only six recorded deaths were directly attributed to the fire

Media from AbsoluteHistory 

When you think of a historic inferno like the Great Fire, you might picture massive casualties and a city in ruins. But here’s the twist: the fire’s death toll was remarkably low. While it razed thousands of buildings, only six souls met their fate in the flames.

Now, that might sound like a small number, considering the scale of the disaster. But it tells us something incredible about the people of London in 1666. They weren’t just sipping tea and twiddling their thumbs while their city burned. No, they were taking action.

Some Londoners thought that the fire represented a form of divine punishment for the city’s greed

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Back then, the prevailing belief was that natural disasters were divine messages. So, when the city burned, some saw it as God’s way of saying, “Hey, you’ve been a bit too greedy lately.”

It was also a reflection of the moral and religious values of the time. Greed was considered a sin, and interpreting the fire as a punishment fit neatly into the religious and moral framework of the era.

Samuel Pepys wrote extensively about the fire’s progress and aftermath

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The diaries of Pepys provide a firsthand account of the fire’s progress. He poured his fears, observations, and raw emotions into those pages. You can practically feel the heat and hear the crackling of burning timbers as you read his words.

Better yet, the diaries give us a glimpse into the aftermath of the fire. They chronicled the city’s recovery, the rebuilding efforts, and the resilience of Londoners. 

King Charles II ordered the use of gunpowder to create firebreaks, but it was ineffective 

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When faced with a city ablaze, King Charles II hatched a daring plan – use gunpowder to blow up buildings, creating gaps in the fire’s path. In theory, it’s like creating controlled burns in a wildfire to stop its advance.

This plan was about as effective as using a teaspoon to bail out a sinking ship. The gunpowder simply wasn’t powerful enough to create the necessary firebreaks.

The fire was finally brought under control on September 6, 1666

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When September 6 rolled around, and the flames were finally tamed, it was like a collective sigh of relief echoing through the city. It was the moment when the nightmare was over, and London could begin to rebuild.

But London didn’t just survive, it emerged from the ashes stronger and more resilient. The Great Fire was a crucible, forging a new and improved city. 

The Monument to the Great Fire of London was erected between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the event

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The monument is a towering 202-foot column, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Dr. Robert Hooke, two architectural maestros of their time. 

Its height just happens to match the distance between its base and the bakery where the fire began on Pudding Lane. Now that’s what I call precision!

And now, you can climb the 311 steps to the top for panoramic views of London. It’s like a reward for making the ascent, offering a breathtaking perspective of the city that survived the inferno.

The fire created immense economic hardship, with estimated losses of £10 million (equivalent to billions today)

Media from kingscollegelondon 

The Great Fire didn’t just burn buildings, it singed the wallets of Londoners and sent shockwaves through the city’s financial veins.

The fire’s financial fallout had far-reaching consequences. It led to the creation of the first insurance company, the aptly named “Fire Office”, which offered protection against future infernos.

The fire contributed to a decline in the city’s rat population, which helped reduce the spread of the bubonic plague

Media from AbsoluteHistory 

With fewer rats roaming the city’s streets and alleys, the bubonic plague (which was transmitted by these furry little freeloaders) had a tougher time finding new victims. 

The Lord Mayor was not very helpful

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Picture this: London ablaze, panic in the streets, and the city’s top official, the Lord Mayor, shouldering the responsibility of coordinating the firefighting efforts, right? Wrong! 

In this case, the Lord Mayor, a gentleman by the name of Sir Thomas Bloodworth, decided that the fire was a minor inconvenience. When informed of the blaze, he famously quipped, “Pish! A woman might piss it out”.

Despite the Lord Mayor’s lacklustre efforts, the people of London took matters into their own hands. They formed bucket brigades, fought the flames, and did everything they could to save their city. 

The term “fire engine” was coined during the Great Fire of London, referring to early firefighting equipment

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Amid this blazing catastrophe, a term was born. When Londoners needed a way to describe newfangled contraptions used to fight fires, they coined the phrase “fire engine”. 

It was a nod to the mechanical ingenuity behind early firefighting devices. They weren’t exactly engines as we think of them today, but they were a far cry from the buckets and hoses of yore.

The Great Fire of London played a role in the creation of a popular nursery rhyme

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One of the casualties of this fiery frenzy was, you guessed it, London Bridge. But London Bridge wasn’t falling down during the fire. It was standing tall, engulfed in flames.

Now, in the aftermath of this massive conflagration, the city had to rebuild, and that included its iconic bridge. The nursery rhyme, “London Bridge is Falling Down”, emerged as a sort of cautionary tale. 

The blaze was so intense that it created its own weather system, with reports of tornado-like fire whirls

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Imagine the terror of those poor souls witnessing not only their homes and livelihoods going up in smoke but also fire-spewing whirlwinds dancing through the streets. It’s the kind of stuff nightmares are made of.

Reports from the time suggest that some of these fire whirls were so powerful that they could lift rooftops and debris into the air, sending them hurtling through the fiery maelstrom. It was like a scene straight out of a Hollywood disaster flick, but this was the real deal.

Many of the fire victims sought shelter on the banks of the River Thames, where they lived in temporary camps

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The River Thames acted as a natural barrier against the advancing inferno. People flocked to its shores, bringing whatever belongings they could salvage. Makeshift camps sprang up, with folks living in hastily assembled tents and shelters.

The Great Fire of London led to the implementation of building regulations

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The Great Fire of London was a wake-up call like no other. The inferno exposed the haphazard, tinderbox-like construction of the city. Buildings were cramped, wooden, and often leaning on their neighbours like tipsy dominoes. Not exactly a blueprint for safety, right?

So their new rules insisted on sturdier materials like brick and stone, wider streets to hinder the spread of flames, and even rules about chimney design to prevent those fiery mishaps.

The fire’s glow was visible from as far as 30 miles away

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This fact speaks volumes about the sheer magnitude of the Great Fire. It was a spectacle that painted the sky with an eerie, fiery brushstroke for miles around. 

It’s also a reminder that history’s most dramatic moments aren’t confined to their immediate surroundings. They can be seen and felt from afar.

A French watchmaker was wrongfully blamed and subsequently executed for allegedly igniting the fire

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England and France were not exactly the best of pals back then, and there was plenty of tension between the two nations. So, when the Great Fire erupted, suspicions ran high, and this poor watchmaker became a convenient target.

But here’s where it gets even more bizarre: there was no real evidence linking him to the fire. No smoking watch, no fiery confessions – just a whole lot of bad luck. Despite a lack of proof, he was hauled before the courts, found guilty, and sentenced to death.

Even though the fire occurred, it took another two centuries for the formation of the first fire brigade

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Back in the 17th century, London had no organised fire brigade. Instead, folks relied on a ragtag bunch of volunteers who showed up with buckets and hope when the flames started dancing. It wasn’t exactly the most efficient system, but it was what they had.

The Great Fire, however, was a wake-up call. It turned the city into an inferno, and it was clear that something more robust was needed to combat future blazes. 

But bureaucracy and red tape being what they are, it took until 1833 for the establishment of London’s first proper fire brigade, led by James Braidwood.

Some Londoners tried to flee the city by crossing the River Thames, but some boatmen charged exorbitant prices for the passage

Media from spikeybaby

Some opportunistic boatmen saw the panic and desperation and thought, “Hey, why not make a quick quid?” That’s right, they charged exorbitant prices for ferrying people across the river to safety. It was like the world’s first disaster-themed surge pricing.

It’s a peek into the not-so-great side of human nature. In the midst of a calamity, when people needed help the most, a few folks decided to cash in on the chaos. 

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