On the 2nd September 1666, the Great Fire of London officially got to grips with the city. Thomas Farriner had retired to bed thinking that his bakehouse fire had been damped down. At 1.00am his servant discovered that the bakehouse was on fire. The inhabitants of Pudding Lane were the first to have to flee as the flames consumed their homes. Farriner’s family were forced to escape over the roofs but a maid was too scared to go with them so became the first known victim of the fire. At 3.00am Samuel Pepys was awoken by his maid with news that a fire could be seen but he was unalarmed and went back to sleep again. Famously he would bury his valuables including a large cheese in order to save them from the fire.
Unfortunately in a wooden framed town with thatched roofs and much else made from wood, fire was commonplace so initially the fire was just treated as any other old fire. Unfortunately the summer had been hot and long and the wind was in the right direction. By the afternoon the fire had spread as well as the rumour that the Dutch or French had set fire to the city and large numbers of people were fleeing for their lives. Incredibly only ten or so people were recorded as being killed in the fire which destroyed four hundred (ish) streets. John Evelyn said that he saw 10,000 houses on fire.
Extract from Pepys’ diary:
Some of our maids sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast today, Jane called up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose, and slipped on my night-gown and went to her window, and thought it to be on the back side of Mark Lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off, and so went to bed again, and to sleep. . . . By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish Street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places, . . .and there I did see the houses at the end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side . . . of the bridge. . . .
Initially it was up to the Londoners themselves to put themselves out. By the third day houses were being demolished in a bid to create a fire wall. It was only when the wind dropped however that the fire was contained. Ultimately the fire was contained on the third day but some 13,000 houses were destroyed along with 87 churches and key landmarks. The Stationers Company were particularly devastated by the loss of Old St Paul’s as they had moved their books there for safety thinking it was too substantial to be destroyed by fire.