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Great Fire of London

From Samuel Pepys' diary:
Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City...

So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson's 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....

Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; 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 stairs by the water-side to another....

...to White Hall, and there up to the Kings closett in the Chappell, where people come about me, and 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 Duke of Yorke what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down nothing could stop the fire. They 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.

...At last met my Lord Mayor in Canningstreet, like a man spent, with a handkercher 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 pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it."

...However, we had an extraordinary good dinner, and as merry, as at this time we could be....

So near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one's face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops....

We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruins....

...And got my bags of gold into my office, ready to carry away...
350 years ago, today.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 2nd, 2016 09:21 am (UTC)
I wonder how fast one could pull down an average house, and what methods were used?
Sep. 2nd, 2016 09:44 am (UTC)
Firehooks, initially, but by the 4th, they simply used gunpowder to demolish them.

Sep. 3rd, 2016 08:55 am (UTC)
Thanks for the link, and sorry for repeating everything you wrote (just relieved my guesses weren't actually wrong!)

Here's a link to a variety of 17th century firefighting objects and illustrations, including an attempt at a fire hose that looks expensive in brass, and more like something you'd ice a cake with, plus a woodcut showing people pulling a burning house down in 1617.

Edited at 2016-09-03 09:08 am (UTC)
Sep. 3rd, 2016 09:16 am (UTC)
(hyperlink to http://www.teachinghistory100.org/objects/a_bigger_picture/fire_bucket is on "17th century firefighting objects and illustrations", not very visible in some LJ styles)
Sep. 2nd, 2016 11:16 am (UTC)
They were built differently in those days. If you tried to pull at a London residential property today, you'd get a handful of bricks, and have to go in with wrecking equipment to demolish the rest of the structure. In 17th century London you would have gathered a crowd of people with ropes, a carpenter to knock out some bits, and the whole thing would be pulled down flat like an Ikea wardrobe.

[More, even, because a wardrobe is sheets of chipboard, and these houses were frameworks of columns, beams and diagonals. I guess the diagonals would probably be whacked with an axe to make the whole frame fold.]

This London Fire Brigade site refers to things called fire hooks,


which I expect would have been standard equipment that each parish would be expected to keep ready. There were about 120 parishes in the City, which would have been about 160 yards squared in size.

Sep. 2nd, 2016 11:22 am (UTC)
Thank you - that's very interesting!
Sep. 2nd, 2016 02:56 pm (UTC)
Oh! I just read that site more carefully, and it says the Navy also came in at Pepys' request and used gunpowder to blow houses down, which I think I remember reading years ago, I'd forgotten.
Sep. 2nd, 2016 11:24 pm (UTC)
Such tiny divisions!
Sep. 3rd, 2016 09:41 am (UTC)
And a church for every one, by definition. I think some of them would have seated just 100 people every Sunday in mediaeval times, and in some eras attendance was mandatory on pain of fines. You'd certainly get to know your neighbours!
Sep. 2nd, 2016 11:15 am (UTC)
Reading about it gives me the shivers. In my American ignorance, I had not realized how much of the city got burned.

Edited at 2016-09-02 11:17 am (UTC)
Sep. 3rd, 2016 12:00 am (UTC)
At least you can't blame the candles on my cake for this one....
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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