A Modern Look at History - The 1666 Great Fire of London

Memba Ben By Memba Ben, 5th May 2016 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>History

An analysis of the 1666 Great Fire of London and lessons to be learned from the event.

The 1666 Great Fire of London

History has always been a great teacher as it offers the opportunity of hindsight so that future generations can avoid repeating past failures. Modern disaster relief agencies, city planners and firefighters should be thankful for The 1666 Great Fire of London (2 September 1666 – 5 September 1666) as it is a guide on how NOT to plan a city and how NOT to deal with a disaster.

Most large scale fires in history usually start in bizarre circumstances and the Great Fire of London is no different, having started in the bakery of one Thomas Farriner (who probably received negative reviews after the disaster).

You would probably think that one simple house fire would be an easy task for the firefighting department of the time, but a detail to note is that the architecture of London was one where houses were bunched together and were built of cheap materials. This despite the fact that stone architecture was available.

Other crimes of logic the city planners and people in charge committed include:
•The Thames River, which could have helped tremendously with firefighting efforts, was home to stores and cellars which contained combustibles.
•London at the time was filled with gunpowder as remnants of the English Civil War.
•The water wheels controlling the supply of piped water in the city were made of combustibles, leading them to catch alight.

The firefighting technique of the time was breaking the fire via demolition of houses but it didn’t help matters that the firebreaks were delayed due to the Lord Mayor of London underestimating the strength of the fire (He reportedly said that the fire could be pissed out by a housewife). It should be noted that the Lord Mayor of London REJECTED help from the Captain of the Navy even though signs were indicating that the fire would become a problem.

Despite the best efforts of many housewives, the fire had caught on to other houses and began to spread rapidly with the help of the wind. By the time the Lord Mayor decided to initiate firebreaks, the fire had developed into a firestorm.

If you were wondering, there were indeed “fire trucks” but not in the way you would imagine modern fire trucks. They were not flexible (they were way too bulky to navigate through London’s narrow streets) or functional (due to the water supply being cut), were brought a long way (they were stationed near important places or homes of important people) and therefore usually arrived late.

There were attempts to suffocate the fire but they were unsuccessful and only supplied fresh oxygen to the fire. Oops!

At this point, most people had fled for their lives. With this action, roads were impassable for firefighters, compounding the problem. The leadership required was lacking and fell to people who usually took orders without question, so you could only guess how well that went.

The fire also managed to destroy key structures, namely the homes of bankers where most of the city’s money was kept (which was a dumb move by the power structure of the time) and the General Letter Office where the nation’s entire mail passed through.

By a stroke of coincidence, the St Paul’s Cathedral was undergoing renovation with wooden scaffolding when the fire met up with it.

Because of this happening and the ongoing Anglo-Dutch War, people let their fears run wild and began to suspect a terrorist plot. As a result, the people abandoned firefighting efforts in order to round up and detain foreigners. All while their homes were being burned to a crisp in front of their eyes.

If you were wondering where the Lord Mayor was at this point, you needn’t worry, the guy got away safely. He left the city when it needed his guidance the most.

The ineptitude of the leadership structure, along with poor city planning, allowed The 1666 Great Fire of London to consume 13 200 homes, 87 parish churches, a cathedral, 44 halls, key economic and communication hubs, city prisons, and 3 city gates.

Lessons to be learned:
When the going gets tough, everyone gets going.
Plan preventative measures.
Don’t leave gunpowder lying around.
Don’t build structures out of materials that are easily combustible.
Don’t trust the judgment of anyone who is called Lord Mayor.
If there is a fire, help out until the fire brigade comes through.
Don’t store your savings at home.


Comedy, Historical Events, History

Meet the author

author avatar Memba Ben
A fan's view on the business of football.

For more content, head to:


Share this page

moderator johnnydod moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar SaigonDeManila
6th May 2016 (#)

It was tragedy humanity ought to learn more than something we constantly ignore -safety!

Reply to this comment

author avatar Memba Ben
8th May 2016 (#)

Greetings Saigon

I agree wholeheartedly.

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?