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Great Fire of London and the Way to its Reconstruction

On September 2, 1666, the City of London burnt with fire that lasted for three days. The entire territory of the City was ruined, the houses and stone buildings burnt down. More than 80 000 citizens of London lost their homes. First, they camped in the fields nearby the city, then dispersed to the villages situated in the neighborhood of London. The number of people who died due to the fire remains unknown.

Those events went down in history as ‘The Great Fire of London.’ The purpose of this paper is to determine the causes of the Great Fire of London, its results, and describe the ways of the city reconstruction.

When talking about the causes of the Great Fire, it should be mentioned that the vast majority of houses in London were made of wood and pitch at that time. Both materials are dangerously flammable, so it did not take too much time for the fire to spread. The fire started with a small fire at king Charles’ II own bakery in Pudding Lane Street, where a lot of timbered buildings were situated. The fire spread swiftly to Fish Street Hill and reached London Bridge. When it turned into a strong fire in Thomas Farryner’s bakery, it took the life of the first victim – a girl who was a maid in the household living above the bakery.

Due to the strong east wind, the fire was progressing, burning everything on its way and taking away human lives. Some historians consider that the fire was organized intentionally by the French and Dutch authorities since both countries were potential enemies of England in the Second Anglo-Dutch War that was going on at that time.

Real causes of the Great Fire of London were never determined; however, in January, 1667, the Royal council declared that the fire was an accident caused by the will of God, a strong wind, and a very dry season.

There was no team of firefighters to extinguish the fire, and local citizens had to use traditional ways to stop it, which were mostly leather buckets with water and staves to beat the flames.

Overhead, the clouds of smoke grew denser and denser as, flecked with glowing cinders and driven before a strong wind, they swirled about Paul’s steeple and then, streamed westwards, until gradually sunshine and daylight were blotted out (Jane Lang, 21)

Neil Hanson depicts the effects of the Great Fire of London in the following way:

Medieval London had virtually ceased to exist and in its place was a wasteland of rubble and ashes, so devoid of buildings, so empty and featureless that to one stupefied onlooker, it seemed like the Cumbrian fells. ‘But there’s nothing to be seen,’ he said, ‘but heaps of stones. (Neil Hanson).

In his book The Dreadful Judgment, he says, “Great Fire of London is one of those cataclysmic events that has burned its way into the consciousness of mankind” (Neil Hanson, 19). According to Hanson, those events ruined not only the city of London and its building but also the minds of people.

The Great Fire of London spread over the territory of London from Fleet Street in the West to the Tower of London in the East and north from the bank of the Thames to the wall at Cripplegate. Within the area of the fire, no buildings survived. In many places, the ground was too hot to walk on for several days afterward (London After the Great Fire).

Thus, London was ruined, the vast majority of houses and medieval buildings were burnt, and the city needed to be reconstructed. It needed someone who could design a new city, and that was the British architect, Christopher Wren, who suggested a new plan for the reconstruction of the famous buildings of London and building new ones.

According to the plan that Wren presented to king Charles, the city of London had to become a new and beautiful place with broad avenues planted with green trees and buildings. In order to transfigure London, Wren chose the classical architectural style that makes us assume that a new appearance of London should have been much better and more improved than the old one. Charles approved his plan, and in a short period of time, Wren was appointed an architectural commissioner supervising the rebuilding of London.

Thanks to Christopher Wren, his talent as an architect, over the next 46 years, 51 churches were rebuilt in the city. Now each church looked different and more attractive, although all of them were designed in the classical style. Partially, Wren’s merit lay in his ability to combine the classical style and the British “wedding cake” style: now, the city churches were based on the temples of classical Roman style but had steeples.

Another greatest masterpiece of Christopher Wren was St. Paul’s Cathedral that was designed according to several styles, and one of his plans was to make a huge domed structure for it. However, commissioners rejected such a design for St. Paul’s Cathedral for they considered it to be too Catholic. Wren made a new plan for it. Now St. Paul’s Cathedral had a doom with a steeple, and the royal warrant approved it and even allowed to use a few variations of the “Great Model” ornament. However, Wren surreptitiously included a lot of ideas of his favorite “Great model” style.

IT was fortunate that the essential preliminaries to the rebuilding had been completed, particularly those requiring the attention of King and Parliament, before August 1678, when popular interest in such peaceful enterprises were suddenly and violently diverted by the first of a series of crises which were to break again and again over the government, City, and nation during the next twelve years (Jane Lang, 117).

Apart from churches, new buildings were constructed, and Wren was responsible for the works that were being carried out. Under the command of Wren, Tom Tower, Oxford, and Royal Hospital were built. He also offered the plan of rebuilding Kensington Palace, Naval hospital, Hampton Court Palace. ‘95 percent of the foundations had been staked out by the end of 1671’ (Michael Cooper, 139).

The final touch to a new city of London was a Monument to the Great Fire of London erected in 1677 that engraved those apocalyptic events of 1666 in Londoners’ minds forever.

In conclusion, the Great Fire of London was a real tragedy of medieval England and the English people. It took away the lives of thousands of people, made about 80 000 people homeless, and destroyed a great number of buildings. Still, one can assume that the Great Fire of London was a kind of unavoidable transition from medieval England to the new and more improved one. But for the fire, it would take the authority of London much more time to give the city a new look. The Great Fire of London was the starting point of a new life and a new epoch in the history of London. Today, “The City of London is not short of visitors; St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London ensure that” (Jeffrey, 17).

Works Cited

Cooper, Michael. ‘A More Beautiful City’: Robert Hooke and the Rebuilding of London After the Great Fire’. Sutton Publishing Ltd (2003).

Jeffery, Paul. City Churches of Sir Christopher Wren. Hambledon Press, 1996.

Hanson Neil. The Dreadful Judgment. Doubleday, 2001.

Hanson, Neil. “The Great Fire of London: myths and realities” . Web.

Lang, Jane. Rebuilding St. Paul’s after the Great Fire of London. Oxford University Press, 1956.

Schofield, John. “London After the Great Fire”. BBC History. (2001).


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