The Great Fire of London

The Great Fire of London. (artist unknown)

John Evelyn (1620 –1706) the English diarist and writer witnessed the awful event:

2d September, 1666. This fatal night, about ten, began the deplorable fire, near Fish street, in London.

3d September, 1666. I had public prayers at home. The fire continuing, after dinner, I took coach with my wife and son, and went to the Bankside in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal spectacle, the whole city in dreadful flames near the waterside; all the houses from the Bridge, all Thames street, and upward toward Cheapside, down to the Three Cranes, were now consumed; and so returned, exceedingly astonished what would become of the rest.

The fire having continued all this night (if I may call that night which was light as day for ten miles round about, after a dreadful manner), when conspiring with a fierce eastern wind in a very dry season, I went on foot to the same place; and saw the whole south part of the city burning from Cheapside to the Thames, and all along Cornhill (for it likewise kindled back against the wind as well as forward), Tower street, Fenchurch street, Gracious street, and so along to Baynard’s Castle, and was now taking hold of St. Paul’s church, to which the scaffolds contributed exceedingly. The conflagration was so universal, and the people so astonished, that, from the beginning, I know not by what despondency, or fate, they hardly stirred to quench it; so that there was nothing heard, or seen, but crying out and lamentation, running about like distracted creatures, without at all attempting to save even their goods; such a strange consternation there was upon them, so as it burned both in breadth and length, the churches, public halls, Exchange, hospitals, monuments, and ornaments; leaping after a prodigious manner, from house to house, and street to street, at great distances one from the other. For the heat, with a long set of fair and warm weather, had even ignited the air, and prepared the materials to conceive the fire, which devoured, after an incredible manner, houses, furniture, and every thing. Here, we saw the Thames covered with goods floating, all the barges and boats laden with what some had time and courage to save, as, on the other side, the carts, etc., carrying out to the fields, which for many miles were strewn with movables of all sorts, and tents erecting to shelter both people and what goods they could get away. Oh, the miserable and calamitous spectacle! such as haply the world had not seen since the foundation of it, nor can be outdone till the universal conflagration thereof. All the sky was of a fiery aspect, like the top of a burning oven, and the light seen above forty miles round about for many nights. God grant mine eyes may never behold the like, who now saw above 10,000 houses all in one flame! The noise and cracking and thunder of the impetuous flames, the shrieking of women and children, the hurry of people, the fall of towers, houses, and churches, was like a hideous storm; and the air all about so hot and inflamed, that at the last one was not able to approach it, so that they were forced to stand still, and let the flames burn on, which they did, for near two miles in length and one in breadth. The clouds also of smoke were dismal, and reached, upon computation, near fifty miles in length.

Jack Plane

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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5 Responses to The Great Fire of London

  1. Michael Dooley says:

    Not long ago I read the Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. With the Black Death and the Great Fire, what a terrible time it must have been.

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    • Jack Plane says:

      Over three hundred years passed between the Plague and The Great Fire of London, but yes, what unimaginable horror!

      JP

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      • Michael Dooley says:

        Sorry my mistake in using the phrase “Black Death” which has come to be associated with the first outbreak of the Bubonic plague. I was referring to the ultimate widespread outbreak of the plague in London which occurred in 1664-1666 and is the subject of DeFoe’s Journal.
        Cheers

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  2. Pingback: History A'la carte 9-6-12 - Random Bits of Fascination

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