On 2 September, 1666, a London resident left the stove on overnight, and his house caught fire. Soon, the whole city was in flames. The fires burned until 5 September, and when the embers cooled, it was discovered that four-fifths of the city had been destroyed.

The person generally accepted as being responsible for The Great Fire of London is one Thomas Farrinor, who was baker to King Charles II. The fire started at his house, in Pudding Lane and it was here that the fires first victim was claimed - one of Farrinor's maids.

Arguably, the person most responsible for the scale of the disaster was London's Lord Mayor, a man named Bludworth. In those days, the spread of a fire such as this was arrested by the demolition of certain buildings in the path of the fire, thereby creating a firebreak. The Lord Mayor baulked at this option, citing the cost of reconstruction. Bludworth's decison was overruled by royal decree, but this delay, coupled with poor calculation of which particular buildings to demolish and the over-zealous use of gunpowder, caused the scale of damage to be greatly increased.

Here’s the final tally on the physical destruction caused by the Great Fire of London. An area one and a half miles by half a mile lay in ashes: 373 acres inside the city wall, 63 acres outside, 87 churches and 13,200 houses. This represented about 80% of the city. While only six people are known to have died, it’s thought that that figure is much higher

Besides the physical damage, there was also what might be called collateral damage. Thousands of individuals faced ruin. This led to overcrowded conditions in debtors' prisons and contributed to the squalor that already existed in such places.

Here’s how the famed diarist, Samuel Pepys recorded his impressions of the Great Fire of London

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. So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it began this morning in the King's baker's house in Pudding Lane, and that it hath burned St. Magnus's Church and most part of Fish Street already. So I rode down to the waterside, . . . and there saw a lamentable fire. . . . Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the waterside to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies, till they some of them burned their wings and fell down. Having stayed, and in an hour's time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody to my sight endeavouring to quench it, . . . I to Whitehall (with a gentleman with me, who desired to go off from the Tower to see the fire in my boat); and there up to the King's closet in the Chapel, where people came about me, and I did give them an account that dismayed them all, and the word was carried into the King. so I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of York what I saw; and that unless His Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him, and command him to spare no houses. . . . To St Paul's; and there walked along Watling Street, as well as I could, every creature coming away laden with goods to save and, here and there, sick people carried away in beds. Extraordinary goods carried in carts and on backs. At last met my Lord Mayor in Cannon Street, like a man spent, with a handkerchief about his neck. To the King's message he cried, like a fainting woman, 'Lord, what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it.' . . . So he left me, and I him, and walked home; seeing people all distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire. The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tar, in Thames Street; and warehouses of oil and wines and brandy and other things.

A side note, while the fire wound up claiming many lives, it also might have saved some. The Plague, or Black Death, which had riddled London the year before and caused over 17,000 deaths, was virtually wiped out after the fire.

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