In my last blog I wrote about our visit to several places around St Paul’s Cathedral that had significance in the lives of ancestors in my Baxter family.
We then walked down Cheapside, Eastcheap and Poultry before turning down King William Street, towards The Monument.
The Monument is a fluted Doric column in the City of London, near the northern end of the London Bridge, which commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666. This is the area where the fire started, and then burned across the city to the west of St Paul’s Cathedral. In fact the whole area we had just traversed.
I have recently found at least one branch of my family in London at the time of the fire, and so they would probably have witnessed it. To put this family into context I have researched this topic, not only from books and paintings, but found much helpful material on the Internet.
I have summarised the information from the following site.
“September 2nd – On this day in 1666, the Great Fire of London broke out in the bakery of Thomas Faryner in Pudding Lane. The fire soon spread from Faryner’s bakery to nearby buildings and went on to take a firm hold of the City, largely built of wooden houses, weatherproofed with pitch, and separated by only a few feet
The spread of the fire was further facilitated by the weather, with the strong easterly wind.
The fire eventually essentially halted in its own tracks, spent, after the wind dropped, on the fourth day.
However, eighty percent of the area within the walls was more or less completely burnt out, and only the extreme north and east had survived substantially intact (the walls had essentially confined the fire to the City within, although some areas without to the west had also been affected). Around 13,000 private residences and places of business within and immediately without the walls of the City were either essentially or entirely destroyed, alongside 85 parish churches and St Paul’s Cathedral, 45 Livery Company Halls, the Custom House, the Guildhall, the Royal Exchange, the Royal Wardrobe and Castle Baynard. Damage to property and trade was on an entirely unprecedented scale, as was associated homelessness and loss of livelihood. Around 100,000 persons were made homeless, and had to be temporarily rehoused in camps,
The rebuilding of London was initiated by the Lord Mayor, essentially straight away, and within weeks a commissioned detailed survey of the fire-damaged area had been completed.
The man selected to oversee and implement the chosen reconstruction plan was Christopher Wren, an architect and a member of an aristocratic family
Wren and his office set about their reconstruction work as speedily, as practicable, so as to provide the City with the opportunity of re-establishing itself with the minimum of delay and loss.
In all, they rebuilt 51 parish churches within and immediately without the walls, that is, around half of those that had been destroyed in the Great Fire’ together with St Paul’s Cathedral, and also rebuilt numerous other public and private buildings, many in the High (English) Renaissance or Early Baroque style – the cost of the entire enterprise being covered by a tax on coal.”
The Great Fire of London of 1666 is not the only great conflagration that London has experienced. We must not forget the bombings of the 1940’s, which of course has a great bearing on what we see today in London.
In references to the churches rebuilt by Wren– “Of these 51 churches, 30 are still standing, together with St Paul’s Cathedral, and 21 are not. Of the 21 that are no longer standing, 17, far more than one might have hoped, were demolished by our own over-zealous town planners and engineers in the pell-mell expansion of London following the Industrial Revolution – in some cases, at least marginally justifiably, to allow for development, but in many others simply because they were deemed, under the Union of Benifices Act of 1860, to be surplus to requirements! Only 4, far fewer than one might have feared, were completely destroyed by German bombing during the Blitz of the Second World War. However, a number of others were also damaged to varying extents at this time, some of which were subsequently restored, and some left as empty shells. Two, St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street, were destroyed, and 8, Christ Church, St Alban, St Andrew by the Wardrobe, St Anne and St Agnes, St Augustine, St Bride, St Lawrence Jewry and St Vedast alias Foster, damaged, on a single, fateful night, Sunday 29th December, 1940, when thousands of incendiaries were dropped on an essentially unguarded City.”
There are several other sites that have detailed information about the Great Fire including the following
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk › Stuart England
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk › Education
Then there are You-tube ‘clips’ that are well produced depictions of the time and event.
I like ‘Peter Ackroyd’s London’ which is a history series, and includes some well delivered ‘interviews’ with witnesses of the event, such as Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn.
For London before the fire, my favourite is ‘Pudding Lane Productions, Crytek off the Map’, which gives you a small window into what this part of London probably looked like before the fire.
In Pudding Lane itself there are plaques that commemorate the Great Fire and mark the spot where it all began.
The family I am researching appear to have lived at Clerkenwell and Holborn and so just outside the area devastated by the fire. However, if they were of the Tile and Bricklaying trade, which I believe they were, they no doubt would have been very busy in the task of rebuilding London. What a fascinating time period to be researching family history in this city and beyond, as building in brick came into its own.
After visiting the Monument and Pudding Lane, we continued walking along Great Tower Street and Byward Street, passed All Hallows (Barking), to Tower Hill.