London Bridge – Living History

The Story of the Great Fire of London, or How a Little Candle Changed the Capital

By the mid-17th century, London was a crowded city with narrow streets, where houses were built of wood and roofed with straw. Therefore, fires have not once ruined London, but the most “famous” was the Great Fire, which broke out on the night of Sept. 2, 1666, and for a few days destroyed a third of the city.

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Large-scale fires destroying major cities to the ground have long been a widespread phenomenon in Europe. Often such disasters resulted in complete rebuilding, changing the city beyond recognition.

“The Year of Satan and the London Sea

The main causes of catastrophic disasters were the predominance of wooden materials in construction, and the lack of a clear and well-thought-out firefighting system.

The year 1666 was feared by many in Europe – nothing good was expected from the “number of the beast” in numbering. At the same time, living conditions on the Old Continent were such that finding trouble that could be attributed to a “Satanic year” was easy.

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The inhabitants of London, however, had no time for new fears, for they were dying en masse from a plague that had appeared the year before. The plague, which broke out in 1665 in a city of nearly half a million people with a total lack of sewage, began in the port where ships from Holland were arriving. By that time, the plague had killed 50,000 people in Amsterdam, and the English tried to protect themselves from the danger, but they failed.

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The first to die were the London paupers who lived in the port, and then from the poor outskirts the plague gradually reached the City. King Charles II of England, along with his family and retinue, left London, determined to take refuge in a place where he could shield himself from encountering the infected.

By the fall of 1665, the death rate in London had risen to 7,000 per week. In the city, the mass graves for the dead, which were trenches, were filled before the diggers could complete their work.

In all, some 100,000 Londoners – one in five of the city’s inhabitants – fell victim to the epidemic. So by the early autumn of 1666 the English were no match for the devil himself – the survivors feared no grim omens.

The capital as a great cloaca

One reason the plague spread so rapidly was the overcrowding of people in deprived regions. It was also the cause of the new plague.

By 1666 there was no clear site plan for London. Wooden houses, sometimes built from the cheapest types of wood, were piled on top of one another. As London had experienced major fires on more than one occasion, the construction of timber houses with thatched roofs was officially forbidden, but this prohibition was simply ignored. The poor could not afford stone houses, so they continued to build themselves shacks from the cheapest materials.

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London’s old buildings loomed over each other like these surviving old houses in York.

The waterfront area of the Thames was home to the poorest neighborhoods of stores and cellars containing combustible materials, with wooden apartment buildings. There were also warehouses with large stocks of gunpowder.

There was no specialized fire department in London – locals gathered at the sound of a bell, trying to douse the flames with water. If that failed, they tried to pre-empt the fire by breaking down wooden buildings in the path of the flames that had not yet caught fire.

The success of the fight against fire in such a situation depended more on the weather than on human effort.

The candle fell…

It all began on September 2, 1666, at Thomas Farriner’s bakery on Pudding Lane. The bakers began work in the early hours of the morning, using ordinary candles for illumination. One of the candles fell on the wooden floor, and soon the flames were spreading rapidly through the house. Farriner’s family escaped by climbing in through an upstairs window – houses, remember, were often right next to each other in London at the time. But Farriner’s maid was so frightened that she was literally paralyzed and unable to leave the house, becoming the first victim of the fire.

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The Farriners extinguished the burning building with their neighbors, but the flames could not be contained. The volunteers, who had been through quite a few fires, observed that the best thing to do was to destroy the surrounding houses to stop the disaster from spreading further.

But the landlords resisted, and the Lord Mayor of London, Thomas Bloodworth, arrived to decide what to do. While the mayor was sorting things out, the fire began to spill over into outbuildings.

“Destroy it?” – the volunteers asked.

“We can’t,” Bloodworth countered, “We haven’t found all the owners and tenants!”

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Apparently, he was just afraid to take responsibility, hoping the fire would somehow subside on its own. But this past hot summer, with little rain, created all the conditions for houses to flare up like matchsticks. And the strong winds that had risen that day in London began to spread flames rapidly across the English capital.

At the mercy of whirlwinds of fire

A few hours later the fire was reported to the king. The flames were spreading so swiftly that the rich parts of the city were also threatened. Charles II was resolute in his determination and gave orders to destroy homes without hesitation. The King’s own guard – the future monarch James II, brother of the Duke of York – also set out to fight the blaze.

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But the moment had already passed. So-called fire showers began to spread throughout the city, when individual fire spots are united under the influence of the air masses, leading to a burning area with a very high temperature of up to 800 degrees. In this case, the fire tornado moves very quickly.

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Witnesses to the fire later wrote that by the morning of September 3 “it was impossible to stop the fire. Panic broke out as people attempted to flee the city, pulling whatever possessions they could grab onto their carts.

The hopes of the firefighters that the fire would be stopped by large obstacles turned out to be unfounded. First fell Bynards Castle, the historic residence of the kings of England, followed by St. Paul’s Cathedral. Considered a safe haven, the stone temple was let down by the wooden scaffolding put up for repairs. The fire spread over them, then engulfed the roof, and after it collapsed, all the property inside the cathedral caught fire. There was a lot of it – the locals had taken their valuables there as a temporary shelter, figuring that the stone structure would avoid the worst.

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The English writer John Evelyn recalled what happened:

“The stones of St. Paul’s Cathedral exploded like grenades, a torrent of molten lead ran through the streets, most of the sidewalks were red-hot, and no horse or man could set foot on them.

It was not until September 5, when the wind weakened, that the efforts of the volunteer firefighters and the Royal Guard began to bear fruit. The firebreaks created from the destroyed houses stopped the further advance of the flames. Open burning gradually began to smolder.

A Frenchman was blamed.

A total of 13,500 houses, 87 parish churches, 44 livery company buildings, the Royal Exchange, St. Paul’s Cathedral, several prisons, and three city gates were destroyed.

In fact, London in its former form ceased to exist, turning into a huge ashes.

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Despite the grand scale of the disaster, information about the dead was extremely scarce. Contemporaries wrote of only a few victims of the fire. It is true, there is speculation that it was not the lack of deaths, but that they were representatives of the poor. In addition, due to the extremely high temperature of combustion, the remains of the victims could simply burn to death.

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When the fire was contained, Londoners began to look for an answer to the following question: Who was responsible? First of all, foreigners were suspected, believing that they might be taking revenge on England for their participation in the wars. There were cases of lynching, with the French and the Dutch being the primary victims.

A Frenchman, Robert Hubert, was detained and accused of having committed arson, which caused a catastrophic fire. Tortured, the man confessed his guilt. On September 28, 1666, he was publicly hanged. It was only after his execution that it became known that Hubert was not in London at all when the fire began.

Gone is the plague, come the insurers.

In 1667 the Royal Council ruled that the devastating fire was caused by coincidence and adverse weather conditions.

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Planning for the rebuilding of burned areas of London was entrusted to the famous architect and mathematician Christopher Wren. Although his plan could not be fully implemented due to lack of necessary finances in the treasury, London was transformed. Wooden houses gave way to stone ones, the distance between buildings was increased, various warehouses were moved away from residential buildings. Thanks to Wren improved sanitary conditions in the city.

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A monument erected to commemorate the fire is today known as the Monument – a 61.57 meter high Roman Doric column.

The fire of 1666 was the impetus for the advent of fire insurance in Britain. After the event, no one needed to explain why it was necessary, and the insurance business developed extremely successfully.

The fire is thought to have helped deal with a plague epidemic: after London burned to the ground, no new cases of the disease were reported.

London Bridge

There are about 30 bridges crossing the Thames in the British capital and each of them can be called a London bridge. One of them is the most famous and oldest and bears the real name – London Bridge. It is higher than the other bridges and further a kilometer. It is far from being the tallest building in London. It accommodates three lanes of traffic in two directions and winter heated walkways for pedestrians.

History of the bridge


In July 2009, London Bridge celebrated its 800th anniversary. Its original stone construction dates back to 1209, when the three kings (Henry II, Richard the Lionheart and his brother John) were still alive. Cars could move here, and people lived there, and various multi-story buildings were built on the bridge. These buildings did not survive to modern London. The ancient structure was closed because of solemn events – parades, fairs, or services in the chapel of St. Thomas Beckett. The bridge that exists now is only 40 years old. It is related to the bridges that were built in their place. London Bridge was the only one in the city and remained such a structure in all of England. Until 1750, the bridge allowed citizens to cross to the other side of the River Thames. The first bridge was built by the Romans in the year 50. During the whole period of its existence, it was rebuilt many times. The structure was destroyed in 1014, when there was war between the inhabitants of London and the Danes. It was affected by a storm in 1091 and ice in 1281. It also burned more than once in 1136, 1212, and in 1633, after which measures were taken. In 1831 construction began on the penultimate bridge. With five arches of stone, it was used for more than a century, but after a while it began to settle. In 1967 there were discussions about building a new structure. The City of London Council decided not to demolish the old building, but to sell it for a good price.

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The buyer was oil magnate Robert McCulloch, who paid 2 million 460 thousand dollars for the old structure.

For three years, the bridge was disassembled by stone, all the parts were numbered and sent to America. Today, the Old London Bridge attracts modern visitors and residents.

Features of the building

The bridge was not built until 1973 and was visited by Elizabeth II at its opening. Steel and concrete were used to create it. Its length is 262 meters. The event is preserved on a plaque which is located on the bridge. At the time of the existence of the old London Bridge, cars moved on the left side as early as 1756. The same applied to horse-drawn carriages. This was done so that the coachman driving the horses would not suddenly touch the civilians. The London Bridge holds not only positive but also sad events. In one, the ship Jupiter was scouting and accidentally collided with the bridge. It was not without damage here. Recently there was a competition for the most successful bridge design. That contest was won by Laurie Chetwood. He decided to make that the supports were of great height and vertical structures. It was assumed that they would be used for growing food. According to research, the structure had been submerged one inch for 8 years, and by 1924 it had sunk 3 to 4 inches lower in water on the east side than London West. At that point the authorities decided to build another structure. The granite bridge that Rennie worked on for so long stayed in London for less than 140 years. It was purchased by Robert McCulloch in 1968.

Between 1968 and 1971, its facing stone was removed and shipped to Arizona, USA. Here the bridge was well worked on and rebuilt. It connected the banks of an artificial canal and attracted tourists to the Lake Havasu City resort area.

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Rumor has it that Mac Calloch bought the bridge because he thought it was the Tower Bridge. But the buyer himself did not confirm this.


Walking across London Bridge, you can see several popular landmarks at once. This is the Tower Bridge, with the Belfast cruiser in front of it. On the right bank is the Shard skyscraper, which rises all the way to the top. On the other side of the street, the Gothic towers of Southwark Cathedral can be seen from behind the rooftops. It was here that people who had committed crimes were executed, among whom were decent citizens. To get a better sense of these terrible times, just visit the London Bridge Experience horror attraction near London Bridge tube station. Also worth a visit is London’s main foodie attraction, the Bureau Market.

London Bridge in culture

London bridge in culture

London Bridge is a cultural part of life, which is why tourists and modern Londoners love it. On Thursday and Friday, life starts to boil at Borough Market. It sells not only fruits and vegetables from the gardens of England, but also its own cheese and fresh bread. Theater lovers can check out the most important attraction, the Southwark Theater, which is considered one of the best in London outside of the West End. Of course, one cannot ignore Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, which was renovated in the 1990s and delights its visitors with its appearance. Visitors find themselves back in time when Queen Elizabeth I Tudor lived and the first immortal plays appeared

Location and Directions.


River Thames, between the City and Southwark districts. You can get here by subway or bus 47, 343, 381 to London Bridge Station. You can visit the bridge from Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm. During the Christmas holidays the entrance is closed. Those who wish can buy a ticket online or buy it at the ticket office. Tourists do confuse London Bridge with the Tower Bridge, but in spite of this here constantly comes a lot of people. They are attracted not only by the architecture of the structure, but also by the local attractions that are located here. Residents and visitors to London come here to learn about the history of the structure and a walk along the Thames was a pleasure.

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