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British history

Great Fire of London

The Great Fire consumes LudgateThe Great Fire consumes LudgateOn 2nd September 1666 fire broke out in a bakery in Pudding Lane in the City of London. Fanned by a breeze, it spread throughout the whole city, burning for four days until it finally burned itself out. More than 13,000 buildings, including St Paul’s Cathedral, were destroyed. Attempts to fight it failed. There were neither water pumps nor hoses, only buckets or squirting devices. The only effective way was to stop the fire spreading rather than put it out. Firebreaks were created by blowing up buildings using gunpowder ahead of the fire’s path, preventing the flames leaping from house to house. But by the time the fire was over, although only a handful of people perished, around 70,000 of the City of London’s 80,000 citizens had lost their homes in the blaze. 

The Great Fire quickly spreads across LondonThe Great Fire quickly spreads across London
London Bridge before the Great FireLondon Bridge before the Great Fire

London in the 1600s

In the 1600s London was by far the largest city in Britain, with around half a million inhabitants. The City proper—the commercial heart of the capital—was home to about 80,000 people. It was surrounded by a ring of suburbs where most Londoners lived. The City was an overcrowded warren of narrow, winding, cobbled alleys.

Many of the wooden houses had thatched roofing—illegal, but common. The buildings, typically six- or seven-storey, had  "jetties" (projecting upper floors) that leant out over the narrow streets, almost touching the houses opposite. 

The City of London had experienced several major fires before 1666, the most recent in 1632.

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