I didn’t start the fire… it was that French fellow

You know that feeling you get when you rush out of the house after dinner and you’re not sure whether you left the oven on? Well poor baker Thomas Farynor sure discovered that it pays to take heed of those feelings when on the 2 September 1666 a small smouldering fire that had reignited in his bakery oven started the Great Fire of London!

Though he claimed he had put out the oven fire, and he had double checked it, by 1am the fire that had started in his bakery on Pudding Lane had spread along the whole street, and was rolling down Fish Hill towards the Thames. The fire only grew wilder when it hit a warehouse containing oil and tallow (fat), and went on to burn for around 3 days before finally being brought under control. Amazingly the official death toll from the fire was 6 people, though of course there may have been more.

In 1666 there was no official fire brigade, and so Londoner’s fought the fire with whatever they had to hand. When the Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, was woken with news of the fire running riot through his town, he was apparently unimpressed, declaring that ‘a woman might piss it out’! This lacklustre attitude towards the severity of the fire only added to London’s dilemma as no one really took charge. Eventually Samuel Pepys stepped in and made his way to Whitehall to speak with the King about what could be done.

It was initially suggested that the burning buildings be torn down to stop the spread of the fire. But that didn’t work. A new plan was needed and fast as the fire raged on out of control. Eventually it was suggested that the Navy blow up houses within the fire’s path to create fire-breaks and stop the flames from spreading to further standing structures, which may sound like a rather extreme solution, but the King gave the go ahead because at this point he was willing to try anything! Amazingly these fire-breaks between the houses worked and the fire was extinguished on either the Wednesday or Thursday (reports on this differ).

In the aftermath the fire had destroyed 373 acres of the City, burning around 13,200 houses, 84 churches and 44 company halls while leaving somewhere between 70,000 – 100,000 people homeless. But what happened to Thomas, the owner of the bakery? Was he blamed for starting the fire? Well apparently not, and the Parliamentary Committee investigating the fire conveniently found a French Protestant watchmaker, Robert Hubert, to confess to having deliberately started the fire, along with 23 conspirators. Though neither the judges or the courtroom witnesses really believed that Robert had started the fire, as he seemed by all accounts to be unhinged and not of sound mind, he was found guilty and hanged at Tyburn.

Sources:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/civil_war_revolution/great_fire_01.shtml
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/stuart-england/the-great-fire-of-london-of-1666/
http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/great-fire-of-london.asp

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