Friday, September 9, 2016

The Great Fire Of London

London's burning, London's burning.
 Fetch the engines, fetch the engines.
 Fire fire, Fire Fire!
 Pour on water, pour on water.

So the nursery rhyme goes, it’s about, of course, the Great Fire of London which happened all over again last week, 350 years after the original as part of a four day festival  to commemorate the  event.
This time with a 120 metre long wooden replica being set ablaze on the banks of the Thames, hundreds turned out to to see  the 'skyline' of London burn. It was a huge spectacle but much safer than the original conflagration.

The Great Fire Of London raged  for four days in 1666 and laid bare most of the city, which was mostly built in wood. The massive rebuilding that happened afterwards allowed many of the city’s best known sights to be built,  St Paul's Cathedral being one.

During those four days almost 13200 houses were destroyed, 87 churches and many of the city landmarks of the time. It destroyed the homes of 70 000 of the 80000 residents
Afterwards fire regulations came in, stone used as a building tool and insurance was born!

The death toll, official was six but as nobody bothered to record the deaths of the poor and the heat of the inferno would have burned all remains beyond recognition. Archaeologists have estimated that the temperature in the core of the fire reached 1250 degrees Celsius.

The fire started at the Thomas Farriner bakery on Pudding Lane, probably just after midnight on   September 2nd – a Sunday.  The fire took hold quickly due to the wooden buildings, their proximity and  the delay in implementing the major fire fighting tool at the time – creating firebreaks. The fire had been burning almost 24 hours before the mayor commissioned the demolition of property  for firebreaking but by then the fire was too far gone and expanding into different parts of the City Of London

As is usual in times of huge disasters, somebody had to be blamed and this time it was the homeless Dutch and French migrants. They promptly became victims of street violence and lynchings. 

By Tuesday the fire  had destroyed the city of ,London and but then the wind turned,  and the gunpowder from the tower of London was used to create much wider fire breaks and the fire began to recede..

After the disaster  Charles II,  feared a rebellion of dispossessed refugees and encouraged  people to leave and set up homes in the suburbs.  London was rebuilt with the exact same street plan as before. As an old roman settlement with a defensive city wall, it was  getting more and more and overcrowded. Slums appeared outside the wall – areas that are now Holborn and Southwark. They began to swallow up an area that was the previously separate city; Westminster.
The posh and wealthy lived  in the country beyond the slums or in Westminster – much as they do now.  they wanted to keep well away from the  City of London as it was polluted and unhealthy,  a reputation well deserved  after it  suffered an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague  in 1665.

And that, is believed by some, to have inspired the nursery rhyme,

Ring-a-ring o' roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down.

But as the nursery rhyme first appeared two hundred years later, it is unlikely

Caro Ramsay  09 09 2016


  1. Caro, as I have been in London these past few days, this history is right on time for me. I was taught that myth about what we sang as children. Our version went, "Ring around the rosies, pocket full of posies. Ashes, Ashes. We all fall down." I suppose the ashes could have been the remains after the fire. It seems weird that a children's game grew out of a tragedy.

  2. I think its fascinating that the City of London is so small and of course, has its own police force. Hence some of the mistakes that were made in the Jack The Ripper case. PD James was very intrigued when she found out that the head of the victim determines the legal location so in a Certain Justice, the body is positioned with her head in the City of London and the body in the Metropolitan Police jurisdiction!

    1. What a fabulous plot device! American writers are stuck with the traditional rivalry between the local police and the FBI.

    2. We're really talking the supernatural here, because the fire occurred in the only true Devil's year in a thousand.....1666.

    3. When I got a cell phone, they asked me what number I wanted (this was years ago). I had no particular one in mind, so they showed me on the computer a LONGGGGG list of available numbers. I chose 2666, figuring none of the Christians would want it, so I might as well adopt it. So, yes, Jeff, final proof that I really am a sly old Devil.