Wednesday 5 September 1666

I lay down in the office again upon W. Hewer’s, quilt, being mighty weary, and sore in my feet with going till I was hardly able to stand. About two in the morning my wife calls me up and tells me of new cryes of fire, it being come to Barkeing Church, which is the bottom of our lane. I up, and finding it so, resolved presently to take her away, and did, and took my gold, which was about 2350l., W. Hewer, and Jane, down by Proundy’s boat to Woolwich; but, Lord! what sad sight it was by moone-light to see, the whole City almost on fire, that you might see it plain at Woolwich, as if you were by it. There, when I come, I find the gates shut, but no guard kept at all, which troubled me, because of discourse now begun, that there is plot in it, and that the French had done it. I got the gates open, and to Mr. Shelden’s, where I locked up my gold, and charged my wife and W. Hewer never to leave the room without one of them in it, night, or day. So back again, by the way seeing my goods well in the lighters at Deptford, and watched well by people. Home; and whereas I expected to have seen our house on fire, it being now about seven o’clock, it was not. But to the fyre, and there find greater hopes than I expected; for my confidence of finding our Office on fire was such, that I durst not ask any body how it was with us, till I come and saw it not burned. But going to the fire, I find by the blowing up of houses, and the great helpe given by the workmen out of the King’s yards, sent up by Sir W. Pen, there is a good stop given to it, as well as at Marke-lane end as ours; it having only burned the dyall of Barking Church, and part of the porch, and was there quenched. I up to the top of Barking steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw; every where great fires, oyle-cellars, and brimstone, and other things burning. I became afeard to stay there long, and therefore down again as fast as I could, the fire being spread as far as I could see it; and to Sir W. Pen’s, and there eat a piece of cold meat, having eaten nothing since Sunday, but the remains of Sunday’s dinner.

Here I met with Mr. Young and Whistler; and having removed all my things, and received good hopes that the fire at our end is stopped, they and I walked into the town, and find Fanchurch-streete, Gracious-streete; and Lumbard-streete all in dust. The Exchange a sad sight, nothing standing there, of all the statues or pillars, but Sir Thomas Gresham’s picture in the corner. Walked into Moorefields (our feet ready to burn, walking through the towne among the hot coles), and find that full of people, and poor wretches carrying their good there, and every body keeping his goods together by themselves (and a great blessing it is to them that it is fair weather for them to keep abroad night and day); drank there, and paid two-pence for a plain penny loaf.

Thence homeward, having passed through Cheapside and Newgate Market, all burned, and seen Anthony Joyce’s House in fire. And took up (which I keep by me) a piece of glasse of Mercers’ Chappell in the streete, where much more was, so melted and buckled with the heat of the fire like parchment. I also did see a poor cat taken out of a hole in the chimney, joyning to the wall of the Exchange; with, the hair all burned off the body, and yet alive. So home at night, and find there good hopes of saving our office; but great endeavours of watching all night, and having men ready; and so we lodged them in the office, and had drink and bread and cheese for them. And I lay down and slept a good night about midnight, though when I rose I heard that there had been a great alarme of French and Dutch being risen, which proved, nothing. But it is a strange thing to see how long this time did look since Sunday, having been always full of variety of actions, and little sleep, that it looked like a week or more, and I had forgot, almost the day of the week.

45 Annotations

Robert Gertz  •  Link

"...resolved presently to take her away, and did, and took my gold, which was about 2350l., W. Hewer, and Jane, down by Proundy’s boat to Woolwich..."


"Oh, damn...Knew I forgot something..."

"...went back by Proundy's boat from Woolwich. Picked up my raging wife...Who was though, rather glad at seeing me..."

Robert Gertz  •  Link

"...because of discourse now begun, that there is plot in it, and that the French had done it."

cut shot to Paris...

"Moi?!...I am shocked, sir...Shocked!" Louis shakes wig curls.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

"Will?...It is 2350Ls in gold..." Bess eyes Will.


Wait...How would she know that?

"This is a test, isn't Mrs. P.?" Will, nervously. "I said I was sorry about not coming in the other day."

Yeah, right...Bess sighs.

Merde...Mercer would have taken the money and gone with me to Paris...

Maura  •  Link

"and paid two-pence for a plain penny loaf."

Disasters always raise prices and this one's no exception.

JWB  •  Link

"...a sad sight, nothing standing there, of all the statues or pillars, but Sir Thomas Gresham’s picture in the corner."

In times of conflagration, does bad art survive good?

A. De Araujo  •  Link

"and that the French had done it"
Methinks Nero got a bad press with the burning of Rome;just because he used to burn Christians does not necessarily leads to the conclusion that he burned Rome.

JWB  •  Link


From squareheads, frogs & knee-bending mackerel snappers we've come down round to blaming Mayor Boodworth today. I would like to put in a good word for this lumber merchant who respected other men's property and refused the King's troops- two taits that'll serve mankind well in all times no matter the calamity.

Nate  •  Link

“…because of discourse now begun, that there is plot in it, and that the French had done it.”

To deflect criticism and possibly follow hidden agenda put the blame on outsiders. A time honored reaction practiced up and into the 21st century.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

People always want an answer to inexplicable catastrophe...One might say it's how religion took off. Sam is on edge, like others he can't help feeling this tragedy too huge to simply have arisen from minor mischance...And of course it is wartime, there is always reason to fear agents might be operating in England and from that can spring almost any kind of panic. I'm sure we all remember the paranoia that sprang up after 9/11...I think of a tale of a normally intelligent and sane NPR reporter who admitted she had glared a poor Sikh man into panic simply because of his turban and brown skin. A doctor friend of mine, a Pakistani-American living in Illinois got hit in the face with a rock by the feeble-minded son of an elderly long-time patient who told her later that her (piece of crap) son was simply being "patriotic".

By the way, Sam...You might want to be careful...You do have a half-French wife with Papist inclinations, a French father-in-law...

"That navy bloke Pepys...He did it...I hear his wife's a Frenchy, always speakin' the lingo..."

"They're always out together late at night in their garden, pretending to sing badly...With others sometimes speakin' God knows what language and..."

"They fired my daughter...She saw a crucifix in the house...And Mrs. Pepys is always reading French books and missin' church."

"Mr. Pepys was always trying to get a 'gift' out of me...I have reason to suspect my contract was denied because my hemp was too good."

"My son was lured to evil by a French witch from Hell!"

"Mr. Pepys, why did you do it? Why did you sell yourself to France, betray our navy, and burn London down?"

"You forgot the plague, my Lord."

"Right...And why did you join in league with the Anti-Christ of Rome to murder hundreds of thousands...?"

"My Lord...I came here to discuss the fiscal crisis..."


Certainly the next great disaster will be the action of a foreign power, complete with some plotting (to win over desperate English seamen etc).

Robert Gertz  •  Link

"..seen Anthony Joyce’s House in fire..."


So few words for what will become another tragedy in this series of tragic events...

Rex Gordon  •  Link

All Hallows Barking

This church still stands, although much restored after being damaged in the Blitz. William Penn, son of Sam's colleague, was baptized there. President John Quincy Adams was married there. I guess it's a must-stop on the Pepys walk.

Bloodworth was making up for his early hesitation on this day of the fire, tearing down houses as fast as he could in Cripplegate, where the fire was now the fiercest. (His respect for other men's property had come face to face with necessity.) The high winds which had driven the fire were abating throughout the day and faded away completely by four or five o'clock.

I wonder how Sam's Parmesan cheese will taste when he digs it up.

CGS  •  Link

gold coin only weighs 75 lbs or there about, the strong box weighs more most likely.

CGS  •  Link

'umans are just an orb with ability to 'ear , taste, smell,see and feel[?]and attached to this ball, be a food possessor and means of finding other life forms to devour.
Thus disasters always bring out that side of the genetic defects. "Not me and My kind 'tis thee that do not speak or look like me", Every set back is riddled with mans inhumanity to solve why a disaster happened.
From the ancient Gods that brought the winds of Siberia to solve the evils of the Court, fornication and sexual sins .
As for those 2000+ preachers that lost their livings, a great opportunity to call the firers to task.
For every political persuasion there was ammo to be put in every pipe of moaning minnie .
Hysteria has always ran rampant in times of crisis.

Ruben  •  Link

"I wonder how Sam’s Parmesan cheese will taste when he digs it up."
And what about some heated wine?

A. De Araujo  •  Link

"I also did see a poor cat......with the hair all burned off the body and yet alive"
There was one here in New York some years ago and the firefighters named her "Scarlet"after Scarlet O'Hara from "Gone with the wind".

Australian Susan  •  Link

The cat

Some of you may remember the burned koala (misnamed Sam - it was a girl) who became famous when filmed being given water by a fireman after the Victorian bushfires. A memorial is to be erected to Sam, who, recently died of disease (nothing to do with the fires) whilst still in animal rehab. See…

From this url, there are a lot of other links to stories associated with the Victorian bushfires, which, I think, give an idea of what London went though during those terrible days in September 1666.

Australian Susan  •  Link

Just a footnote to the above: someone has been charged with arson and causing the death of 11 people for the fire in Gippsland, Victoria in February - so the fears and suspicions of arson in the Fire of London were not out of place and the country was at war. It seems there is a certain type of person who has a compulsion to set fires, but the 17th century Londoners were suffering from the Reds Under the Beds paranoia regarding Dutchmen and Frenchmen and looking for scapegoats in those directions, not to disturbed persons.

Nate  •  Link

“And what about some heated wine? “

If it's buried more than 20 cm of soil on it away from a burning building it should be all right. We buried instruments that deep (it was HARD to bury them that deep) when we were instrumenting brush fires in the 1970s and they survived just fine. Soil is a good insulator.

Mary  •  Link

heated wine?

And besides, the fire didn't get as far as the Navy Office. Sam was very lucky that it broke out in a street west of his home/office and that the strong, easterly wind kept it travelling away from Seething Lane and towards Westminster for the duration.

Mary  •  Link

News of the fire reaches Earl's Colne.

I've just looked at Ralph Josselin's diary entry for this week and see that he notes that the great fire began in a *French* baker's shop! No mention of a foreign plot, but the half-truth shows how rumour has spread like a Chinese whisper.

CGS  •  Link

RE: soil for insulating against cold and heat: 'twas common practice by us turnips to bury foodstuffs , mangols, spuds and other roots also even green tomatoes, apples under a layer of clods provided by spade work by us unschooled ones.
A nice deep hand made sod cave [perhaps] 20 feet down would provide storage for wines made from the local hedgerows of fruits.

60 feet down in London clay provides a beautiful temperature controlled environment of 11 deg Celsius.

CGS  •  Link

The flip side of the coin of human responses is that so many people were helping their fellow man in this hour of crisis, while on the proverbial edge side others were lost and waiting for guidelines, of course it is more exciting to hear of the evil running rampant.

Erik Gunnarsson  •  Link

SP locks up his gold and leaves his wife quite often in the hands of Wm Sheldon. Pepys really trust this Clerk of the cheque. Was Sheldon a long time friend of the Pepys family or what? Well...who was this man, Sheldon?

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Calendar of State Papers Domestic Series, of the Reign of Charles II Sept. 5 1666

93. Silas Taylor to Williamson. On Saturday the fleet sailed, narrowly escaping the Galloper and Longsand ; the wind that was north veered south, and two or three ships have come in much injured. There is a report of a great fire in London on Sunday, believed to be the doing of the Dutch and French; they should be found out and made examples of.

Warrant for removing the Exchequer to N onsuch, Surrey, as many lighters and carriages as needful to be hired, and all mayors, bailiffs, 850., to assist therein, at their peril. [Eat Book 23, p. 288.]

The King to the Lord Lieuts. of Middlesex, Surrey, and Hertfordshire. The hand of God being laid on the city by a raging fire, enjoins them, for prevention of unhappy consequences in the disturbance of peace and quiet, to draw together the militia of those counties at the most fitting rendezvous, giving timely notice of all that occuis. [Ent Book 20, p. 130.]

94!. Lord Arlington to Sir Thos. Clifi'ord. God has visited the city with a heavy calamity; a fire began on Sunday at one a.m. in Pudding Lane, and has burned since both ways, towards the Tower and \Vestminster, and as far into the body of the city as Paul’s, with such violence that no art can meddle with it. All hopes now rest in cutting off a part of the town by Holborn bridge down to Bridewell. The consequences are terrible by the disorders likely to follow. The King, with the unanimous concurrence of the Council, wishes the Lord General were here, and Sec. Morice is sounding him to know whether he would be willing to be ordered home. Is confident, could he see the condition they are in, he would think it more honour to be called home than to stay in the fleet, where he may not have an opportunity of fighting ; he would have it in his hands to give the King his kingdom a second time, and the world would see the value the King sets on him. \Vishes this to be urged upon him, only with the reserve that His Majesty leaves him to make the choice himself Sends a French gazette. then they hear this sad story of London, they will give all the trouble they can. [2 pages]…

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"when I come, I find the gates shut"

L&M: Of the dockyard at Woolwich.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"no guard kept at all, which troubled me, because of discourse now begun, that there is plot in it, and that the French had done it"

L&M: It was said that 50,000 French and Dutch had landed and were entering th city: Evelyn, 7 September: W. Sandys to Viscount Scudamore, n.d., qu., Bell, Fire, p. 317.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"I got the gates open, and to Mr. Shelden’s"

L&M: Clerk of the Cheque, Woolwich: Mrs Pepys's host during the Plague. She now appears to have stayed there until 13 September.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"it having only burned the dyall of Barking Church, and part of the porch"

L&M: Bell (Fire, pp. 160-1) gives reason for doubting the statement about the porch.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"I walked into the town, and find Fanchurch-streete, Gracious-streete; and Lumbard-streete all in dust."

L&M: Cf. Evelyn's account of his walk in the city on the 7th:

7th September, 1666. I went this morning on foot from Whitehall as far as London Bridge, through the late Fleet street, Ludgate hill by St. Paul's, Cheapside, Exchange, Bishops-gate, Aldersgate, and out to Moorfields, thence through Cornhill, etc., with extraordinary difficulty, clambering over heaps of yet smoking rubbish, and frequently mistaking where I was; the ground under my feet so hot, that it even burnt the soles of my shoes. In the meantime, his Majesty got to the Tower by water, to demolish the houses about the graff, which, being built entirely about it, had they taken fire and attacked the White Tower, where the magazine of powder lay, would undoubtedly not only have beaten down and destroyed all the bridge, but sunk and torn the vessels in the river, and rendered the demolition beyond all expression for several miles about the country.

At my return, I was infinitely concerned to find that[Pg 24] goodly Church, St. Paul's—now a sad ruin, and that beautiful portico (for structure comparable to any in Europe, as not long before repaired by the late King) now rent in pieces, flakes of large stones split asunder, and nothing remaining entire but the inscription in the architrave showing by whom it was built, which had not one letter of it defaced! It was astonishing to see what immense stones the heat had in a manner calcined, so that all the ornaments, columns, friezes, capitals, and projectures of massy Portland stone, flew off, even to the very roof, where a sheet of lead covering a great space (no less than six acres by measure) was totally melted. The ruins of the vaulted roof falling, broke into St. Faith's, which being filled with the magazines of books belonging to the Stationers, and carried thither for safety, they were all consumed, burning for a week following. It is also observable that the lead over the altar at the east end was untouched, and among the divers monuments the body of one bishop remained entire. Thus lay in ashes that most venerable church, one of the most ancient pieces of early piety in the Christian world, besides near one hundred more. The lead, ironwork, bells, plate, etc., melted, the exquisitely wrought Mercers' Chapel, the sumptuous Exchange, the august fabric of Christ Church, all the rest of the Companies' Halls, splendid buildings, arches, entries, all in dust; the fountains dried up and ruined, while the very waters remained boiling; the voragos of subterranean cellars, wells, and dungeons, formerly warehouses, still burning in stench and dark clouds of smoke; so that in five or six miles traversing about I did not see one load of timber unconsumed, nor many stones but what were calcined white as snow.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Evelyn's account of his walk in the city on the 7th (cont

The people, who now walked about the ruins, appeared like men in some dismal desert, or rather, in some great city laid waste by a cruel enemy; to which was added the stench that came from some poor creatures' bodies, beds, and other combustible goods. Sir Thomas Gresham's statue, though fallen from its niche in the Royal Exchange, remained entire, when all those of the Kings since the Conquest were broken to pieces. Also the standard in Cornhill, and Queen Elizabeth's effigies, with some arms on Ludgate, continued with but little detriment, while the vast iron chains of the city streets, hinges, bars, and gates[Pg 25] of prisons, were many of them melted and reduced to cinders by the vehement heat. Nor was I yet able to pass through any of the narrow streets, but kept the widest; the ground and air, smoke and fiery vapor, continued so intense, that my hair was almost singed, and my feet insufferably surbated. The by-lanes and narrow streets were quite filled up with rubbish; nor could one have possibly known where he was, but by the ruins of some Church, or Hall, that had some remarkable tower, or pinnacle remaining.

I then went towards Islington and Highgate, where one might have seen 200,000 people of all ranks and degrees dispersed, and lying along by their heaps of what they could save from the fire, deploring their loss; and, though ready to perish for hunger and destitution, yet not asking one penny for relief, which to me appeared a stranger sight than any I had yet beheld. His Majesty and Council indeed took all imaginable care for their relief, by proclamation for the country to come in, and refresh them with provisions.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Evelyn's account of his walk in the city on the 7th (continued):

In the midst of all this calamity and confusion, there was, I know not how, an alarm begun that the French and Dutch, with whom we were now in hostility, were not only landed, but even entering the city. There was, in truth, some days before, great suspicion of those two nations joining; and now that they had been the occasion of firing the town. This report did so terrify, that on a sudden there was such an uproar and tumult that they ran from their goods, and, taking what weapons they could come at, they could not be stopped from falling on some of those nations whom they casually met, without sense or reason. The clamor and peril grew so excessive, that it made the whole Court amazed, and they did with infinite pains and great difficulty, reduce and appease the people, sending troops of soldiers and guards, to cause them to retire into the fields again, where they were watched all this night. I left them pretty quiet, and came home sufficiently weary and broken. Their spirits thus a little calmed, and the affright abated, they now began to repair into the suburbs about the city, where such as had friends, or opportunity, got shelter for the present to which his Majesty's proclamation also invited them.[Pg 26]

Still, the plague continuing in our parish, I could not, without danger, adventure to our church.…

Terry Foreman  •  Link

" The Exchange a sad sight, nothing standing there, of all the statues or pillars, but Sir Thomas Gresham’s picture in the corner."

L&M: Along the sides of the quadrangle, above the arcades, had stood statues of the sovereigns from Edward the Confessor to Charles II. All were destroyed -- only that og Gresham, the founder, remained: a fact which provoked comment. Evekyn saw it on the 7th.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"Walked into Moorefields ...and find that full of people, and poor wretches carrying their good there, and every body keeping his goods together by themselves (and a great blessing it is to them that it is fair weathe for them to keep abroad night and day); drank there, and paid two-pence for a plain penny loaf. "

The King made a reassuring speech to the crowds on the following morning: Evelyn, 7 September.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"There, when I come, I find the gates shut, but no guard kept at all, which troubled me, because of discourse now begun, that there is plot in it, and that the French had done it."

Pepys should be worried ... Woolwich was home to a Royal Naval Dockyard. If the Dutch or the French invaded -- as we know they planned to do -- what's to stop them?

My question is really bigger than Woolwich -- why didn't the French and/or the Dutch take advantage of this disaster? The French were not really serious about doing it, and their fleet was still a week's sailing time away, doing their best to avoid the fights. But the Dutch had troops ready. Maybe some of their ships were still under refit? Seems like this was a lost opportunity for the de Witts who were under attack at the time for mishandling the summer's campaign. Am I guessing the correct answers?

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Over time, Terry has done sterling work adding detail to this awful day. Thanks, Terry.

On item #94 above, the end of the post should read: "Wishes this to be urged upon him, only with the reserve that His Majesty leaves him to make the choice himself. Sends a French gazette. When they hear this sad story of London, they will give all the trouble they can."

The original says that Henry Bennet, Lord Arlington is at Whitehall, and he wrote this update to his colleague, Sir Thomas Clifford MP. Clifford is the Deputy Lieutenant for Devonshire, and a Commissioner for the Sick and Wounded with his relative, John Evelyn. So my guess is that Bennet is on point in the West Country, in case the fighting goes there.

Since I don't think a French gazette is a type of boat sent to pick up Monck, I'm guessing it's a newsletter enclosed for Clifford to see. Evidently Charles II doesn't know his cousin Louis isn't exactly pursuing this war yet.

Arthur Perry  •  Link

Evelyn’s account of the destruction of Old Saint Paul’s cathedral reminds me of accounts of the damage to Norte Dame de Paris, an even older church, when the roof caught fire on 15 April 2019.

James Morgan  •  Link

I was wondering if there were other great fires in cities that rival this one in London. Chicago 1893 comes to mind, and the great earthquake fires in San Francisco 1906 and Tokyo 1923, but it seems like there should be other famous ones. Perhaps Pepys Diary keeps this one famous.

There's a long list in wikipedia of city and town at….
Some of them are smaller fires, and many were in war, especially WWII, but I was surprised by many I'd never heard of, such as the two medieval Great Fires of London.

Gerald Berg  •  Link

The cat's full name? Scarlet No Haira.

Jonathan V  •  Link

James Morgan - Most people have never heard of the Peshtigo (Wisconsin) Fire of 1871 - which took place on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire a couple of hundred miles to the south. It was a great point of pride among Wisconsinites that our fire was bigger than Chicago's, which overshadowed the one in Peshtigo.

Arthur Perry  •  Link

@Jonathon - Not sure why anyone would brag about such destruction but Wisconsinites are a unique breed. The Chicago fire of 1871 was surely as transformative as the London fire of 1666. I’ll have to read up on the Peshtigo fire.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

1666 end of August -- The Generals-at-Sea, Prince Rupert and the Duke of Albemarle, were anxious to score one last victory during the fighting season. The ships were repaired and victualed, and went cruising off the Dutch coast.

By the end of August the duc de Beaufort and the French fleet has progressed as far as the Bay of Biscay. They were further away than even the Dutch appreciated. Their plan was to join the two fleets and attack the English fleet by stealth and by numbers.

Following some skirmishes the English fleet, anticipating the combined Dutch and French fleets, by the beginning of September was staying close to Portsmouth, with several ships needing repairs.

Then on September 5, the Duke of Albemarle received a letter from Secretary of State Sir William Morrice telling him that Charles II needed him back in London because "God had visited the city with a heavy calamity."

Albemarle surrendered control of the fleet to Prince Rupert and began his 75-mile return to London the next morning.

More information see 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire by Rebecca Rideal -- St. Martin' Press, New York -- 2016 -- ISBN 978-1-250-09707-2 (hard back) -- page 165-166

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