Sunday 2 September 1666

(Lord’s day). Some of our mayds sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast to-day, Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose and slipped on my nightgowne, and went to her window, and thought it to be on the backside of Marke-lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was and further off. So to my closett to set things to rights after yesterday’s cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson’s little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge; which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Michell and our Sarah on the bridge. So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King’s baker’s house in Pudding-lane, and that it hath burned St. Magnus’s Church and most part of Fish-street already. So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michell’s house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Steeleyard, while I was there. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down. Having staid, and in an hour’s time seen the fire: rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire, and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the City; and every thing, after so long a drought, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs. ––— lives, and whereof my old school-fellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top, an there burned till it fell down: I to White Hall (with a gentleman with me who desired to go off from the Tower, to see the fire, in my boat); to White Hall, and there up to the Kings closett in the Chappell, where people come about me, and did give them an account dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King. So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of Yorke what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor —[Sir Thomas Bludworth. See June 30th, 1666.]— from him, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him that if he would have any more soldiers he shall; and so did my Lord Arlington afterwards, as a great secret.1 Here meeting, with Captain Cocke, I in his coach, which he lent me, and Creed with me to Paul’s, and there walked along Watlingstreet, as well as I could, every creature coming away loaden with goods to save, and here and there sicke people carried away in beds. Extraordinary good goods carried in carts and on backs. At last met my Lord Mayor in Canningstreet, like a man spent, with a handkercher about his neck. To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman, “Lord! what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it.” That he needed no more soldiers; and that, for himself, he must go and refresh himself, having been up all night. So he left me, and I him, and walked home, seeing people all almost distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire. The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tarr, in Thames-street; and warehouses of oyle, and wines, and brandy, and other things. Here I saw Mr. Isaake Houblon, the handsome man, prettily dressed and dirty, at his door at Dowgate, receiving some of his brothers’ things, whose houses were on fire; and, as he says, have been removed twice already; and he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in a little time removed from his house also, which was a sad consideration. And to see the churches all filling with goods by people who themselves should have been quietly there at this time. By this time it was about twelve o’clock; and so home, and there find my guests, which was Mr. Wood and his wife Barbary Sheldon, and also Mr. Moons: she mighty fine, and her husband; for aught I see, a likely man. But Mr. Moone’s design and mine, which was to look over my closett and please him with the sight thereof, which he hath long desired, was wholly disappointed; for we were in great trouble and disturbance at this fire, not knowing what to think of it. However, we had an extraordinary good dinner, and as merry, as at this time we could be. While at dinner Mrs. Batelier come to enquire after Mr. Woolfe and Stanes (who, it seems, are related to them), whose houses in Fish-street are all burned; and they in a sad condition. She would not stay in the fright. Soon as dined, I and Moone away, and walked, through the City, the streets full of nothing but people and horses and carts loaden with goods, ready to run over one another, and, removing goods from one burned house to another. They now removing out of Canning-streets (which received goods in the morning) into Lumbard-streets, and further; and among others I now saw my little goldsmith, Stokes, receiving some friend’s goods, whose house itself was burned the day after. We parted at Paul’s; he home, and I to Paul’s Wharf, where I had appointed a boat to attend me, and took in Mr. Carcasse and his brother, whom I met in the streets and carried them below and above bridge to and again to see the fire, which was now got further, both below and above and no likelihood of stopping it. Met with the King and Duke of York in their barge, and with them to Queenhith and there called Sir Richard Browne to them. Their order was only to pull down houses apace, and so below bridge the water-side; but little was or could be done, the fire coming upon them so fast. Good hopes there was of stopping it at the Three Cranes above, and at Buttolph’s Wharf below bridge, if care be used; but the wind carries it into the City so as we know not by the water-side what it do there. River full of lighters and boats taking in goods, and good goods swimming in the water, and only I observed that hardly one lighter or boat in three that had the goods of a house in, but there was a pair of Virginalls in it. Having seen as much as I could now, I away to White Hall by appointment, and there walked to St. James’s Parks, and there met my wife and Creed and Wood and his wife, and walked to my boat; and there upon the water again, and to the fire up and down, it still encreasing, and the wind great. So near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one’s face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops. This is very true; so as houses were burned by these drops and flakes of fire, three or four, nay, five or six houses, one from another. When we could endure no more upon the water; we to a little ale-house on the Bankside, over against the ‘Three Cranes, and there staid till it was dark almost, and saw the fire grow; and, as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire. Barbary and her husband away before us. We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruins. So home with a sad heart, and there find every body discoursing and lamenting the fire; and poor Tom Hater come with some few of his goods saved out of his house, which is burned upon Fish-streets Hall. I invited him to lie at my house, and did receive his goods, but was deceived in his lying there, the newes coming every moment of the growth of the fire; so as we were forced to begin to pack up our owne goods; and prepare for their removal; and did by moonshine (it being brave dry, and moon: shine, and warm weather) carry much of my goods into the garden, and Mr. Hater and I did remove my money and iron chests into my cellar, as thinking that the safest place. And got my bags of gold into my office, ready to carry away, and my chief papers of accounts also there, and my tallys into a box by themselves. So great was our fear, as Sir W. Batten hath carts come out of the country to fetch away his goods this night. We did put Mr. Hater, poor man, to bed a little; but he got but very little rest, so much noise being in my house, taking down of goods.

  1. Sir William Coventry wrote to Lord Arlington on the evening of this day, “The Duke of York fears the want of workmen and tools to-morrow morning, and wishes the deputy lieutenants and justices of peace to summon the workmen with tools to be there by break of day. In some churches and chapels are great hooks for pulling down houses, which should be brought ready upon the place to-night against the morning” (“Calendar of State Papers,” 1666-66, p. 95).

46 Annotations

Terry Foreman   Link to this

John Evelyn's Diary -- from Deptford in retrospect

September 2: This fatal night about ten, began that deplorable fire, neere Fishstreete in Lond: http://ur1.ca/alr6

http://www.geocities.com/Paris/LeftBank/1914/ed...

Terry Foreman   Link to this

"he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in a little time removed from his house"

"doubts" = fears

Jesse   Link to this

"the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor"

It's somewhat surprising to me that Pepys, a mid-level functionary in the naval administration, is the first(?) one w/news of how serious things were and was the person to relay the King's instructions. I'd have thought the Lord Mayor, or someone closer to events, would've gone or sent someone earlier to request assistance.

language hat   Link to this

What terrific writing:

"And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down..."

"and there staid till it was dark almost, and saw the fire grow; and, as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire."

Pepys at his best.

Alec   Link to this

Hang in there, Sam, we're thinking of you.

>> and that it hath burned St. Magnus’s Church

Although this church - rebuilt in 1676; and after a second fire in 1760; and now holding inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold - is dedicated to St Magnus of Orkney, it's almost certainly misnamed as this Magnus was not killed (c. 1116) for his faith, but as part of a squabble with his cousin Hakon.

Furthermore, there had been a church on the site in the 11th Century. A likely candidate is Basil Magnus, Bishop of Caesarea in the 4th Century.

This typically Norse man does indeed come direct from the Latin, albeit re-analysed as the Old Norse magn-hús for house of might/power.

Alec   Link to this

IBID. >> This typically Norse man

*Norse name. There should be a preview button... oh, right.

JonTom in Massachusetts   Link to this

"What terrific writing"

Yes! And what about: "staid till it was dark almost, and saw the fire grow; and, as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire."

Or "we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruins."

Wow.

Andrew Hamilton   Link to this

I too am struck with admiration for the vividness of the descriptions Sam gives of this "most horrid malicious bloody flame" and its effects.

Robert Gertz   Link to this

And the detail...The sick being carried in their beds, people by the riverfront clambering at the last minute from their stairs to those of the next house...The urbane Houblon wry, witty, and elegant to the last...

"And to see the churches all filling with goods by people who themselves should have been quietly there at this time..." And all for nothing as Sam so understatedly implies...Thank God though they weren't "quietly there at this time".

Incredible reporting by a master...

And of course the comic relief of the dinner guests... "an extraordinary
good dinner...", coupled to Sam's never-say-die fascination with a pretty woman, in this case the alluring "Barbary" Wood nee Sheldon whose husband he can hardly bear to mention. (How many married women in the Diary get this treatment? Even Betty Martin nee Lane is firmly Martin after marriage.)

Interesting too is Creed popping up the way he does and hanging around...No goods or people at home to run after? Of course, there's probably no better news source in London than Pepys but is the truth in fact that after a life of scheming and changing coats, the poor man has no one else closer to die with but Sam and Bess should the worst come to the worst?

Larry Bunce   Link to this

"...most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire." I looked up fire color, and red flame means the temperature is low by fire standards-- 800-1000 C. A candle flame is around 1000 C, so the city fire is being starved for oxygen by its sheer size, and smothered by soot. 800C is 1470F, hot enough.
I have been looking forward to today's entry since the diary began 6-1/2 years ago. It is in every collection of excerpts of Pepys, but still brings goosebumps. Sam's account gives us a better picture of the fire than if we handed him one of our digital cameras to take videos. Not to mention that if by some miracle we could do this, we would probably find he left the lens cap on.

Robert Gertz   Link to this

"When we could endure no more upon the water..."

Yes, remember poor Pliny the Elder, Sam. Curiosity kills even the amateur natural philosopher/reporter, his artist wife, and his scheming friend/enemy.

God what a pity Bess didn't leave us a sketch or two, eh?

CGS   Link to this

I was able to see the London Blitz from my safe country home, I have witnessed many a LA fire, even to-day I witness thousands of acres ablaze with the sky filled with Ash, black clouds , white like storm clouds billowing, I so wonder how those that were on Hampsted Heath at the Cain House viewed it.
This report does the mind in.

Michael L   Link to this

What a fine vivid, breathless, description! It is hard to imagine anyone in London could have described it better -- we are lucky that this writing survived.

andy   Link to this

Sam at his best, reporting what he saw, explaining what it meant: ..."So near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one’s face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops. This is very true; so as houses were burned by these drops and flakes of fire, three or four, nay, five or six houses, one from another"

Ruben   Link to this

Extraordinary. But...
"and so went to bed again and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was and further off..."

"...the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor —[Sir Thomas Bludworth. See June 30th, 1666.]— from him, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way."

"...At last met my Lord Mayor in Canningstreet, like a man spent, with a handkercher about his neck. To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman, “Lord! what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it.” That he needed no more soldiers; and that, for himself, he must go and refresh himself, having been up all night."

I am not happy with the usual interpretation that Pepys is saving the city. On the contrary, while Pepys was asleep, the Lord Mayor was hard at his job. And when Pepys went to inform the King, he or the King new nothing of the efforts being made to save the city.
And the order to pull down houses was like selling ice to the Eskimos, the Lord Mayor already having done that with who knows how many houses.
Our Sam is here acting like a busyboy with good intentions, but ineffectual.

Phil Gyford   Link to this

All of John Evelyn's diary entries regarding the Fire are now in an In Depth Article: http://www.pepysdiary.com/indepth/2009/09/02/ev...

Lars Marius Garshol   Link to this

"Although this church - ... - is dedicated to St Magnus of Orkney, it’s almost certainly misnamed as this Magnus was not killed (c. 1116) for his faith, but as part of a squabble with his cousin Hakon."

Realistically, it was just a political squabble that killed Magnus, but in Orkney and beyond he was revered as a saint after his death, partly for how he met his fate. See George Mackay Brown's books, for an example of just how seriously people have taken this.

So why shouldn't the church be named after this Magnus? I can't see any reason to assume it was not intentional, whatever the realities of Magnus's death.

Robin Peters   Link to this

The day has come at last. Like all you fellow annotators I follow the diary and get to understand the many facets of his life and times but to many people he was just the man who witnessed the "Great Fire" and left his observations for posterity. This, to me, is the high point in his diary but it will still be the first read of the day to the end and thank you to Phil for making this possible

Michael Robinson   Link to this

St. Magnus’s Church

According to the Church website "Who was St. Magnus"

"There are a number of saints named Magnus in the various Calendars of Saints. They all appear to have been martyred but their faith but little, if anything, is known about most of them. Who was the St. Magnus that gave his name to our church? With an early reference to both the saint and the church near the riverside in London it is quite obvious that it could not have been Magnus of Orkney, who did not die until 1116, some forty years or more after the 'first mention' of the church, and was not canonised (made a saint) until 1135. John Stow, writing in the 16th century, says that the patron of the parish was St. Magnus, Bishop of Caesarea."

Spoiler: However "In the wake of revived interest in the saint, [St. Magnus of Orkney] the Bishop of London confirmed the dedication in 1924,"

For this and more see the church's own web site:
http://www.stmagnusmartyr.org.uk/

Robert Gertz   Link to this

"...the usual interpretation that Pepys is saving the city."

I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone suggest that. Even Tomalin expresses a bit of puzzlement that Sam simply returns to walking about, observing after passing the King's order on to the exhausted Lord Mayor. Certainly Bludworth appears to have been hard at it by this time, though his link suggests heavy criticism for "inaction" during the early stages of the fire (rightly or wrongly...Which will I'm sure become lively topics of discussion soon). Both his primary activity and Sam's immediate thought are right...Pulling down houses is the only hope...The means of doing so quickly and completely enough have just not (spoiler....)

Yet...Occured to them. We could wonder why Sam doesn't stay with Bludworth or better yet rush to the office and organize teams of sailors and workmen to fight the fire or evacuate citizens but Bludworth claims to have ample men and the simple answer may be that it's not Sam's or their job (no organization ready, no men immediately at hand, no equipment) and the rapidly deteriorating situation isn't allowing for thinking outside the box...(spoiler...)

Yet...

Spoiler....

(Enter the heroic Admiral Sir Will Penn...Man of action...)

Robert Gertz   Link to this

And in fairness to Sam, he was ready to resume duty as the King needed him...There just was little he could conceive of that could be done.

Kudos to Charlie and Jamie by the way for at least trying to stay close at hand and provide some command and control support in their limited way...They could have just fled.

And of course even with trained teams and equipment the state of California is hard put even today to manage wildfires near her great cities. It's amazing Pepys' fellow Londoners managed at all in such an overwhelming disaster.

rob   Link to this

The Great Fire is together with the plague and the Chatham Raid (I'm Dutch) one of the three absolute highpoints in the diary.

I remember reading a book by Edith Sitwell with an essay of the aftermath of the fire. The tons and tons of ashes and charred remains of the city were dumped in a field nearby and a small village was founded by people making their living from sifting through the ashes looking for valuables.

Robert Gertz   Link to this

Of course there's always the Hollywood version...

"But Pepys...My corrupt financiers would never stand for allowing the troops to demolish houses." Charles, cravenly.

"Sire!!" fist on royal desk. "Only if we pull down houses immediately can we save London!!"

"No, no...Louis will have me killed...Guards!!"

"Go, Sam!" James grabs Charles... "Save London...I shall deal with my brother."

***
Sam, carrying saved children, is greeted by Lord Mayor...

"Mr. Pepys, if we could only get this ton of powder to the top of that house, we could still save part of the City and all these thousands of people..."

Sam (Ewen McGregor in periwig) eyes top of house...Flashback to boy Sam gamely climbing all over the rooftops of old London... "Hand me that powder and a rope, Bludworth."

"Did I mention a crazed, heavily-armed, mastermind of the fire plot played by Alan Rickman is up there with his minions, too?" Bludworth hastily adds.

"Then it may be a little harder. Bludworth...Tell my wife...She was the only Betty for me, in the end..." Sam turns to face the burning building. Slow mo moment...

***

djc   Link to this

not a spoiler to post this link I think:
http://www.themonument.info/panorama/

Rex Gordon   Link to this

Sir Thomas Bludworth: Wrong Man for the Job

The Lord Mayor had been called to the original scene of the fire in Pudding Lane, where for an hour or so it appeared that the fire could easily be confined to the bakery where it started, with minor damage to the adjacent homes. But it got worse. As chief magistrate, it was Bludworth's job to authorize any radical measures involving citizens' property, and the constables at the scene, uneasy at the speed with which the flames were consuming the bakery, were looking for permission to override the wishes of neighbors and pull down buildings to prevent the spread of the fire.

But Bludworth was a weak man, lacking the leadership skills or the natural authority to take command of the situation. He told the firefighters that he dared not authorize the demolition of buildings to create firebreaks without the consent of the owners. As most of the shops and houses were rented, the owners were God knows where.

Pressed to reconsider, Sir Thomas took refuge in bluster. The fire wasn't that serious, he said. "A woman could piss it out." And with that he went home to bed.

Thus he ensured his place in history. His failure of nerve was crucial. As the sun rose on Sunday morning he could still have authorized the demolition of houses in Fish Street and Pudding Lane. If he had, the history of London would have been quite different.

Seething Lane, where Jane woke Sam at 3 am, was seven streets away.

SOURCE: Tinniswood, "By Permission of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire of London," Pimlico edition, 2004, pp 44-53.

Mary   Link to this

"being unused to such fires as followed"

This must count as the understatement of the 17th century.

Phoenix   Link to this

This entry written (when, days later?) is so well developed dramatically - middle of the night alarm, a lull, more ominous news, first view, our hero springs into action, warns authority, has a dramatic meeting at the edge of the infernal with harried official, interlude, personal stories to humanize the drama, revelation of the horror at night - that clearly Sam has thought it through before entry into diary. It is wonderfully paced, vivid, intense and planned (how many drafts?).
Time taken from work at the theatre pays off.

Phoenix   Link to this

This entry written (when, days later?) is so well developed dramatically - middle of the night alarm, a lull, more ominous news, first view, our hero springs into action, warns authority, has a dramatic meeting at the edge of the infernal with harried official, interlude, personal stories to humanize the drama, revelation of the horror at night - that clearly Sam has thought it through before entry into diary. It is wonderfully paced, vivid, intense and planned (how many drafts?).
Time taken from work to spend at the theatre pays off.

Phoenix   Link to this

This entry written (when, days later?) is so well developed dramatically - middle of the night alarm, a lull, more ominous news, first view, our hero springs into action, warns authority, has a dramatic meeting at the edge of the infernal with harried official, interlude, personal stories to humanize the drama, revelation of the horror at night - that clearly Sam has thought it through before entry into diary. It is wonderfully paced, vivid, intense and planned (how many drafts?).
Time taken from work to spend at the theatre pays off.

Andrew Hamilton   Link to this

For those who missed it earlier, here is the link to the essay on the fire recently posted at the free site of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

http://www.oxforddnb.com/public/themes/95/95647...

Alec   Link to this

>> Realistically, it was just a political squabble that killed Magnus, but in Orkney and beyond he was revered as a saint after his death, partly for how he met his fate. See George Mackay Brown’s books, for an example of just how seriously people have taken this.

Oh, today, when barborous were the gulls, my morning broke. Furthermore, I walked along Hakon Road and Magnus Drive today.

I'm not up on my hagiography, but I suspect churches could only be dedicated to those saints who had died for their faith. Magnus certainly did have an association with London, having passed through there when he was in exile in the early 12th Century, but was not killed for his faith (even if he was recorded as dying in prayer).

JWB   Link to this

"It can excite no surprise that London shold have been almost wholly destroyed in the great fire of 1666, when such were the machines..."
http://books.google.com/books?id=FpUAAAAAMAAJ&l...

CGS   Link to this

Samuell was still without a commission or a warrant to make actions happen, only his common sense and personnel persuasive powers to get any actions done, thus this is just like a newspaper reporter, reports and adds an opinion.
In times of crisis where action is needed is when we find true leaders who can move the mountains of indecision. History is full of inept people whom clog up the daily routines that have to be altered to save the day. Wars show time and time again new solutions.
T Vincent has one version and the orange girls have other versions of this conflagration, we all see the day thru our narrow filtered blinkered views based on 'luverly' bespectacled untutored lens of "'insite".
Lessons learnt are usually the only means that will not repeat the ghastly lessons of life, but only after disaster has shown the consequences of lack of foresight and Knowledge.
The Bible, to best of my lack of knowledge has never a lesson on how to save a city from fire.
Thus, this is a new learning curve for society to study and be prepared and be ready for the repeat.

This is life, to solve new problems that we fail tosee coming.

There be always a minimum of three versions of any situation, the teller, the victim and the rest of hindsighters.

Rex Gordon   Link to this

The Fire's Toll: First Day

Although the Pudding Lane baker, Thomas Farriner, and his daughter Hanna, in whose shop the fire started, escaped by clambering out the upstairs windows and crawling across the gutters to a neighbor's bedroom window, their maid was too disoriented or too frightened to follow them. She became the first fatal casualty of the fire. Her name is lost to history.

Pepys almost certainly knew Farriner, or of him. Farriner's chief source of income was a contract with the Navy Victualling Office to produce ship's biscuit, an unleavened bread which was baked, sliced and then oven-dried.

By late Sunday night the fire had been burning for about 18 hours. It had destroyed 22 alleys and wharves, almost 1000 homes and shops, and six Livery Company halls, including those of the Vintners (Sir Thomas Bludworth's company), Watermen and the powerful Fishmongers. Nine churches were in ruins along with their parishes: St Margaret Fish Street, St Magnus the Martyr, St Laurence Pountney, St Botolph Billingsgate, All Hallows the Great and All Hallows the Less, St Mary Bothaw (where London's first mayor, Henry Fitz Ailwyn, was buried in 1212), St Martin Vintry (beautifully glazed in the 15th century, per Stow), and St Michael Crooked Lane (last resting place of another famous Lord Mayor - William Walworth, who preferred to stab Wat Tyler rather than negotiate with him, thus bringing the 1381 peasants' revolt to an abrupt end). Only All Hallows the Great, St Magnus and St Michael would be rebuilt.

London had already been irrevocably changed.

SOURCE: Tinniswood, "By Permission of Heaven," Pimlico ed., 2004, ch. 3.

CGS   Link to this

Thanks JWB. a foot note says knowledge of fighting fires with a pumper was printed in London 1659. But as usual it was another case of NIH thus not looked into , a foreign contraption.

mary k mcintyre   Link to this

Can't read this w/o feeling hot ashes in the back of my throat.

The Museum of London has this amazing diorama of the city on fire -- a scale model, tiny and perfect, backlit with flickering red and orange. Over the sound system, an actor reads excerpts from today's diary entry. Had tears in my eyes.

PHE   Link to this

What amazes me about his writing is how he describes from the begining how the enormity of the fire only gradually dawned on him. So the drama builds up for us readers as it did for him. You would expect most reporters of such an event to focus on the main drama itself. You wonder how at the end of perhaps the most dramatic day of his life, he had the composure to recall the details of how he was first awoken by the maids, and then went back to bed. Superb story-telling and journalism.

Mary   Link to this

In addition to its drama, what this account reaffirms for us is the fact that Pepys had a very orderly mind. He had something very important to record and he recorded it brilliantly.

jeannine   Link to this

This is such an amazing historical event that Sam recorded magnificently, right down to the poor pigeons. What differs from this than his recording of the plague events is that is unfolds over a short period of time and all of the details of the actual fire are therefore ‘condensed’. It also is incredible that he had the ability to actually sit down and record it all in such detail. I am guessing that he had to do it on that day to capture it all, but we’ll never really know.

It occurred to me that it would be interesting to pull out all of Sam’s comments from the time period of the plague and put them into one document and read that. Where the plague unfolded over time, it was well detailed by Sam, but still didn’t have the punch of a short term 2 day event unfolding. Many of his comments during that episode were incredibly well written and also painted pieces of a picture of a tragedy, but were more spread out.

I do remember reading somewhere (so it’s not an original thought, but I can’t recall who to give credit to) that Sam was not always a ‘valid’ source of historical information and you had to weed through what he reported on. When he got information second hand, he wasn’t exactly a witness to it (i.e. gossip) but when he witnessed it he usually recorded things quite accurately. This is an exceptional example of ‘the truth’ as it’s the fire, albeit through his eyes, but catches the details of the event in wonderful detail and accuracy from his vantage point.

Phoenix   Link to this

"It also is incredible that he had the ability to actually sit down and record it all in such detail. I am guessing that he had to do it on that day to capture it all, but we’ll never really know."

We do.

"...and among others I now saw my little goldsmith, Stokes, receiving some friend’s goods, whose house itself was burned the day after."

At least a day, probably more which is why it is so dramatic. Carefully planned and presented.

FJA   Link to this

It seems inferred by some annotators, but I do not read this entry to say that our Sam was the first to inform the King about the fire, nor that he had authority to do anything more than convey a message from the King to the Lord Mayor. The fact that people of the court were dismayed to hear Sam's report does not mean that they had been oblivious to the fact of the fire prior to his arrival. Was not the smoke already blowing in their direction? But just as we are transfixed by Sam's detailed account these nearly 450 years later, people whose station or duties kept them at court on the very day of the fire would have been increasingly alarmed with each new report, especially from such an excellent reporter as he. Having lived through several recent fires, I know that on the first day people grasp onto any news in order to pinpoint where it is burning, how bad it is, how it started, whom do they know has already been affected and whether it is time to start fearing for their own safety and that of their homes and possessions and loved ones. Radios or television sets are left on a good part of the day, even after these questions are answered.
The fact that Sam gives himself credit for suggesting houses be pulled down does not mean he was the first to put that idea into the King's head. The Lord Mayor may have already sent word as to whether or no such drastic steps were yet necessary. Perhaps it was already being done, but in an haphazard manner. Our chief of organization, Samuel Pepys, upon being queried by the King and Duke of York, then synthesized all he had seen and heard and agreed with the necessity of organizing a lot of men to this plan of action.
I am not familiar with this period of history and have never read any other accounts of the Fire. I just think we should be careful not to give Sam more credit for reporting to the King than he gives himself. As has often been noted on this site, Sam was always looking for the main chance to ingratiate himself with his betters, and he does seem to have had a first-rate mind.

Pedro   Link to this

So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of Yorke what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down nothing could stop the fire.

Thanks FJA for the above entry, intentional or not it does seem that Sam is recording advice to the King.

Here are some points from Antonia Frazer’s biography of King Charles II.

“…it was a favourite suspicion that conspirators would fire the city…Charles had always shown himself extremely concerned on the subject. In April, like Cassandra, he had written to the Lord Mayor warning them of the dangers of fire inherent in such narrow streets, overhung by wooden houses. They had his royal authority to pull such perilous excrescences down, and imprison those who contravened the Buildings Act. Like Cassandra, he was not heeded…”

“… The King himself was intimately concerned. When he first learned of the news, he sent in his own Guards. In the afternoon, with the Duke of York, he was rowed down from Whitehall in the royal barge, and, from the roof of a tall building watched the Waterman’s Hall burning. He went as far as Queenshithe, where he repeatedly urged the people to pull down the houses and strip the highly combustible market: he was afterwards said to have imperilled his life in his eagerness to give orders…”

(To be continued…)

language hat   Link to this

"intentional or not it does seem that Sam is recording advice to the King."

Yes, of course; the question is whether he was the first to bring the news, and I agree with FJA that it seems unlikely. They could have been hearing about it for hours and still reacted with fresh horror to a detailed eyewitness report. For that matter, they may have sent other people off previously to order houses pulled down, which was the obvious and only course of action.

Pedro   Link to this

“intentional or not it does seem that Sam is recording advice to the King.”

Yes I also agree with FJA that Sam gives himself credit for suggesting houses be pulled down, and why I cited the the action by the King back in April.


Pedro   Link to this

Frazer also says this…

“At the Palace of Whitehall, the bend in the river concealed the burning buildings, although later the glow of the fire at night, and the shooting flames, would be visible from the Palace windows. At any rate the King knew first of the crisis was the noise of Londoners crying out on Sunday night, “Fire, fire! God and the King save us.”

Terry Foreman   Link to this

Letter in the Carte Papers

Arlington to Ormond
Written from: Whitehall

Date: 4 o'clock, PM, 4 September 1666

Shelfmark: MS. Carte 46, fol(s). 361

Document type: Original; subscribed & signed

Describes the origin and progress of the great fire in London. ... "We begin to despair of an attempt we were beginning at noon of a traverse beyond Somerset House. Just now, we are beginning to work at Scotland Yard, to see whether by pulling down houses there, we can save this house. I am afraid this attempt will be as unsuccessful as all the rest; for the fire is far advanced in Fleet Street already". .
http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/projects...

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