Today marks the anniversary of the Great Fire of London, which started at around 1am on Sunday 2 September 1666, in a bakery on Pudding Lane. Over the next four and a half days, 13,200 houses were destroyed by the relentless flames and an estimated 100,000 people were made homeless.
There is nothing left of the famous Pudding Lane bakery, though there is a plaque to mark its rough location. However, in 1979 archaeologists discovered the remains of a burnt-out building from the Great Fire on the same street. This would have been about two houses down from the bakery. In the sooty cellar, filled with fire debris, the archaeologists found traces of wooden barrels of pitch. This highly combustible substance, used for waterproofing boats, would have generated a huge and extremely hot fire that easily spread to other buildings. It is tempting to wonder whether the Great Fire would have been so great, had the buildings on Pudding Lane not been full of such flammable things.
The Monument to the Great Fire, designed by Robert Hooke and Christopher Wren, still stands close to Pudding Lane. This huge column was finished in 1677 and since then visitors have been able to climb its 311 steps to a viewing platform overlooking London. The Monument was originally designed both to commemorate the Great Fire and for the Royal Society to conduct scientific experiments. It was also intended to be a zenith telescope to observe the movements of stars, as there is a hollow shaft running from a cellar in the base, up the centre of the column, to a hatch in the flame on top. The cellar and the hatch are not accessible to the public so many people are not aware of this hidden aspect of the Monument’s history.
To find out more about the Great Fire of London, visit the Museum of London’s War, Plague and Fire gallery. To look at objects relating to the Great Fire in the Museum of London collection, visit the Collections Online pages.