When the Great Fire of London broke out in 1666, it was so large the smoke could be seen in Oxford. It raged for four days, destroying 80 per cent of the city. Diarist Samuel Pepys wrote that “with one’s face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops.”
But as London’s medieval heart lay smouldering, some saw a golden opportunity to break with the past and create a modern, magnificent city. They began making plans for a revolutionary new London. Yesterday was the anniversary of the great fire of London. Ironic really, nothing that great about destruction is there!!
2.The fire in figures
The great fire started in Pudding Lane on 2 September and spread rapidly westwards towards Fleet Street. It almost reached the Tower of London in the east.
3.A new vision for the city
The fire broke out during a time of great upheaval in Britain, with old certainties shaken by the English Civil War.
A new intellectual elite was emerging, made up of men keen to share ideas and scientific discoveries. They believed London’s medieval structure with timber fronted buildings, network of alleyways and open sewers no longer reflected the ideals of the age. The fire provided a rare chance to create a modern capital.
Steeped in mathematical knowledge and the writings of the ancients, like Roman architect Vitruvius, they imagined a spacious, well planned city to rival the splendour of ancient Rome.
Men of science
With the embers still burning, London’s intellectuals finalised their plans for the city. The most famous of these came from Royal Society members John Evelyn, Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke.
Hooke designed a regimented grid-iron plan, inspired by the cities of the ancient world, while Evelyn and Wren imagined a city of piazzas, with St Paul’s Cathedral and the Royal Exchange at its heart.
4. London’s lost city
The plan favoured by the King belonged to Christopher Wren. Sadly for the men who dreamt of progress, Wren’s brave new city was rejected. Citizens didn’t want to surrender their plots of land to his vision and refugees from the fire, camping out at Moorfields, were facing starvation. The King decided to restore London along its original medieval plan but gave his architects the opportunity to embark on some innovative architectural ventures.