Taught in primary schools across the UK, The Great Fire of London of 1666 is arguably one of the most famous fires in history, and burnt down a large part of the capital city. Surprisingly though, most references lead to the understanding that very few people died. The most significant fire concerning the recorded death toll in London happened in 1212 when swathes of people were trapped on the burning London Bridge as it was then.
Thanks to the diary of a gentleman named Samuel Pepys and other well-recorded accounts, we know a lot about the 1666 Great Fire of London events. Here we look at five quick facts.
1 – Where did the Great Fire of London start?
A baker named Thomas Farriner was alerted to the fire in his bakery in Pudding Lane London on Sunday, September 2nd 1666. A monument in London marks the place where it started. It is believed that Thomas Farriner had been aware of the fire earlier but thought it had gone out, only to be awoken in the night by the blaze. He and his daughter clambered out to safety through an upstairs window.
2 – How did the Great Fire of London stop?
Most people rescued their prized possessions from their homes and fled for safety, escaping on foot and on boats via the River Thames. Up until this point in history there were no organised firefighting teams like we have today. Londoners managed fire posts around the city with soldiers’ help as they had to fight the fire themselves. The blaze was so intense that the best way to stop the fire was to pull down or blow up the houses in its path to make a fire break.
3 – How many people died in the Great Fire of London?
There were less than ten recorded deaths. This is very low considering that melted pieces of pottery, excavated in 1979 from the burnt-out shop in Pudding Lane, showed that the fire’s temperature was approximately 1700°C!
One of the deaths recorded was an elderly watchmaker whose bones and keys were found in the wreckage. Another sad tale of death during the Great Fire 1666 is of the maid to Thomas Farriner- there is no record of a name. Some accounts, however, speak of much higher death tolls.
4 – How much damage did the fire cause?
London at the time was made up of tightly packed wooden houses in very narrow streets. The summer that year had been hot, and at the time of the fire, a strong wind pushed the fire along, feeding it with fresh oxygen. It is recorded that 436 acres were demolished. This included 13,200 homes and a further 87 churches, the most famous being St Pauls Cathedral, which did not reopen until 1708.
5 – Did the Great Fire of London stop the plague of 1665?
No, but it helped to kill off some of the rats that were spreading it. The plague was much more widespread. The plague killed 100,000 Londoners, and the fire did not reach most of the worst affected areas, so people continued to be recorded as killed by the plague after the fire had stopped.
Fires start when there are the required three elements of the fire triangle present. A fire needs oxygen, fuel and heat. We have discussed this in-depth in our article ‘Fire Prevention: Reducing the Risks’. If one of these is removed from the equation, the fire will stop. In tragic fire events such as the Great Fire of London, all three elements are in strong supply, feeding the ravaging flames. This combination of hazards that can increase the risk of fire needs to be considered in the home environment. If you have not prepared yourself and your family for a house or apartment fire, then the time is now. Ensure that you do everything you can to prevent the three elements of fire from combining.
Preparation is just as necessary as prevention. Preparing for a house or apartment fire includes making plans for your escape and giving all the details to your loved ones. You might also want to consider investing in fire safety equipment. A fire safety mask to prevent smoke inhalation could help save a life by giving you and your family those vital extra minutes to escape through smoke-filled passageways. All of your family should be prepared, including the little ones. They will need to know what to do in case of a fire, as it can and does happen.