166: The Great Fire of London

A painting shows the scale of the Great London Fire of 1666. (Photo via London Fire Brigade)

A painting from circa 1700 shows the scale of the Great London Fire of 1666. (Image via London Fire Brigade)

The Great Fire of London started on this date in 1666. Here are some things you may not have known about the fire.

It started in the bakery of Thomas Farriner in Pudding Lane. The family managed to escape the fire by climbing to the house next door. At the time, the common method of firefighting was to demolish surrounding buildings to create a firebreak. The neighbors protested and Sir Thomas Bloodworth, the Lord Mayor of London was summoned to decide whether to overrule the homeowners. Bloodworth decided it was not necessary to demolish the surrounding buildings and returned home to go to bed.

By Sunday morning the fire had consumed 300 houses and several churches along with structures on London Bridge, according to the diary of Samuel Pepys, a senior naval official. Pepys traveled by river from the Tower of London to Whitehall, where he related the news of the fire to King Charles II. On Pepys’ advice, the king ordered that houses in every direction from the fire be demolished. Easterly winds were pushing the flames further to the north and west into the heart of the City of London, the area contained by the old Roman City Wall. By Tuesday the fire destroyed St. Paul’s Cathedral and hopped the River Fleet to threaten the district of Westminster, the location of Charles’ Palace of Whitehall. On Wednesday, the Fifth of September, the winds finally died down and the firebreaks created by the Tower Garrison held.

Only eight people are recorded as dying in the fire, although the number was likely higher as the fire burned so hot that no remains would have been left behind and record-keeping relating to the poor and middle-class was not very precise.

A French watchmaker was convicted and executed for starting the fire, although after his death it was discovered that he had been aboard a ship at the time the fire started. King Charles requested grandiose rebuilding plans, but ultimately the previous system of streets was kept due to difficulties relating to private property compensation. Among the most noteworthy buildings rebuilt after the fire was St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Our question, who designed the rebuilt St. Paul’s Cathedral?

Today is National Day in Vietnam and the 70th anniversary of the official surrender of Japan to end World War II. For more information on VJ Day, check out Episode 153 at triviapeople.com/153. In the United States it is also unofficially National Blueberry Popsicle Day. It’s the birthday of Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani, teacher Christa McAuliffe and tennis great Jimmy Connors.

Our weekly take-home test: What two Norwegian cities have hosted the Winter Olympics? Submit your answer here.

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