Monday 26 April 1669

Up, having lain long, and then by coach with W. Hewer to the Excise Office, and so to Lilly’s, the Varnisher; who is lately dead, and his wife and brother keep up the trade, and there I left my French prints to be put on boards:, and, while I was there, a fire burst out in a chimney of a house over against his house, but it was with a gun quickly put out. So to White Hall, and did a little business there at the Treasury chamber, and so homeward, calling at the laceman’s for some lace for my new suit, and at my tailor’s, and so home, where to dinner, and Mr. Sheres dined, with us, who come hither to-day to teach my wife the rules of perspective; but I think, upon trial, he thinks it too hard to teach her, being ignorant of the principles of lines. After dinner comes one Colonel Macnachan, one that I see often at Court, a Scotchman, but know him not; only he brings me a letter from my Lord Middleton, who, he says, is in great distress for 500l. to relieve my Lord Morton with, but upon, what account I know not; and he would have me advance it without order upon his pay for Tangier, which I was astonished at, but had the grace to deny him with an excuse. And so he went away, leaving me a little troubled that I was thus driven, on a sudden, to do any thing herein; but Creed, coming just now to see me, he approves of what I have done. And then to talk of general matters, and, by and by, Sheres being gone, my wife, and he, and I out, and I set him down at Temple Bar, and myself and wife went down the Temple upon seeming business, only to put him off, and just at the Temple gate I spied Deb. with another gentlewoman, and Deb. winked on me and smiled, but undiscovered, and I was glad to see her. So my wife and I to the ’Change, about things for her; and here, at Mrs. Burnett’s shop, I am told by Betty, who was all undressed, of a great fire happened in Durham-Yard last night, burning the house of one Lady Hungerford, who was to come to town to it this night; and so the house is burned, new furnished, by carelessness of the girl sent to take off a candle from a bunch of candles, which she did by burning it off, and left the rest, as is supposed, on fire. The King and Court were here, it seems, and stopped the fire by blowing up of the next house.

The King and Court went out of town to Newmarket this morning betimes, for a week. So home, and there to my chamber, and got my wife to read to me a little, and so to supper and to bed.

Coming home this night I did call at the coachmaker’s, and do resolve upon having the standards of my coach gilt with this new sort of varnish, which will come but to 40s.; and, contrary to my expectation, the doing of the biggest coach all over comes not to above 6l., which is [not] very much.

31 Annotations

First Reading

Paul Chapin  •  Link

How do you put out a fire with a gun?

Linda F  •  Link

Don't know. If an obstruction was burning in the chimney, could they have shot through it to break the mass into parts that fell to the hearth? (Doubt this, given the risk of bits flying out to ignite other buildings, and to the person shooting up, or down, the chimney.) And the King and court lose no time in blowing up one house to contain fire in another. The Great Fire left its mark.

Claire  •  Link

Could they possibly have had some sort of pump or squirt gun at the ready?

Mary  •  Link

Guns and chimneys.

I have heard (in comparatively modern times) of a shotgun being used to loosen the soot in a chimney prior to sweeping, but this was done before any fire was lit, of course.

GrahamT  •  Link

Guns and Chimneys

I wondered if maybe the blast of Carbon dioxide from a well primed musket (without the ball) would be enough to "blow out" a chimney fire. There is probably more to it than that.

Bryan M  •  Link

"Could they possibly have had some sort of pump or squirt gun at the ready?"

Oh yes, indeed. Fire engines were invented in the early seventeenth century. The link below has a picture of a Stuart era fire engine at the bottom of the page.…

James Warnock  •  Link

Guns and chimneys

In Dorothy Sayers' murder mystery Busman's Honeymoon there's a long, tense #what's blocking the chimney?# and eventually comic scene involving the use of a shotgun to clear a blocked chimney - it's presented as common practice, but not recommended #you stand or lie in the fireplace, fire off the shotgun vertically upwards, the compacted soot falls into the fireplace immediately....#. So if it's the compacted material that's caught fire, a shotgun blast will bring it down.

Mark S  •  Link

I think the fire may have been put by firing a musket up the chimney, probably without a musket ball. That would have produced a short but very powerful blast of air, which in the confined space of a chimney would have been enough to blow it out.

Andrew Hamilton  •  Link

As for that other, unextinguished fire:

"Deb. winked on me and smiled"

languagehat  •  Link

"Deb. winked on me and smiled"

Clearly I was wrong about her being an unwilling victim of Sam's attentions. Live and learn.

Larry  •  Link

It seems impractical that a firearm of any type could be fired up a chimney from a hearth with an active fire in it. I think Bryan M is right on target. Does anyone have further information about blowing up houses to stop fires spreading? In a city of densely packed houses how was collateral damage contained?

Clement  •  Link

“Deb. winked on me and smiled”

Remember that we're reading Sam's perspective through his admittedly poor eyesight--not the most reliable narrator.

Clement  •  Link

Chimney fires are generally not due to an obstruciton, but unburned tars from tree sap that accumulate on the chimney wall, and eventually ignite if not cleaned sufficiently.

A gun shot (large powder ignition) may be intended to extinguish an active flame of this type briefly removing oxygen and smothering it.

But a water cannon as shown in the interesting link provided by Bryan M would have had a difficult time getting into a house and aimed up a chimney, so seems even more unlikely.

Regarding Larry's question about collateral damage we have read in the diary other instances of buildings adjacent to a fire being "blown up" or "brought down" to create a fire break and limit the spread.

Sam reporting his role fighting the Great Fire of 1666:

"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."…

Dorothy Willis  •  Link

A Google search for "fire a gun up a chimney" (without quotes) found a very interesting passage in Google Books from the Athenaeum of 1824 in which a gun is fired up a chimney to stop a fire. In regard to blowing up houses to keep a fire from spreading, I know it was done in San Francisco to control the fire after the big earthquake.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Before I nominate poor Deb for the Bagwell award...It could just be she was desperately relieved to see Bess with Sam likely preventing a new "brief encounter". After all, she hasn't hit Sam with appeals for cash or favors...That we know of... (But for those who saw Gay's and my video, this is of course where I got the idea for the wink at the end).

AnnieC  •  Link

"...and Deb. winked on me and smiled,..."
What exactly does Sam mean by "winked on"? From what we know of Deb it's unlikely to be a "Hello, sailor" kind of wink (however apt that might be!), or even a wink at all in 21stC parlance.
And as RG has just pointed out, Deb can be relaxed and unflustered because there's no chance of being accosted.

Maurie Beck  •  Link

Perhaps Sam mistook a smirk for a wink.

Mark S  •  Link

@Larry "It seems impractical that a firearm of any type could be fired up a chimney from a hearth with an active fire in it."

No, the fire in the hearth would have been easily put out. But a fire was still burning some distance up the chimney, with a danger that it might break through and spread to the whole house.

The play "The Changeling" (1622) by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley has the following lines:

I will be ready with a piece high-charg'd
As 'twere to clean the chimney

The notes in the University of Pennsylvania Press edition…

'A heavily loaded musket. A crude but effective method of clearing soot from a flue and thus putting out a chimney fire was to discharge a gun up through it.'

Bryan M  •  Link

Thanks for that follow up Mark. I'll be Languagehat's echo: Live and learn. (Although I'm not entirely convinced that Sam's eyesight allowed him to tell the difference between a wink and a grimace.)

languagehat  •  Link

True, we can't be sure what exactly she was doing, but she clearly was neither fleeing nor ostentatiously ignoring him, the reactions I would have expected.

nix  •  Link

Perhaps she got a cinder in her eye.

Jim  •  Link

“ . . . , Deb. winked on me and smiled . . . ”

Perhaps she was winking at her co-conspirator, Elizabeth.

Australian Susan  •  Link

Fires today - here in Queensland, we have many "Queenslanders" which is the name given to the characteristic wooden, raised houses. Even now, the modern firefighting service knows that once a Queenslander is alight, they can never save it, but aim to save the houses on either side.

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"a great fire happened in Durham-Yard last night, burning the house of one Lady Hungerford,"

L&M correct that the house was not Lady Hungerford's (Hungerford House), but one of those in the nearby Durham Yard built on a part of the former Durham House and grounds, owned, since 1641, by the Earls of Pembroke, and leased in building plots by the 5th Earl soon after the Restoration. By a coincidence the lessee of the one burnt was a Rachel Hungerford, widow: BM, Add. 5098 (60).

psw  •  Link

Much to my chagrin about a week after the masons had re-fronted a fireplace with new brick I wanted to test the draw and in do doing started a chimney fire...with a roar. It acts like a ram jet and frighted me well. Had only water to throw on the fire which immediately extinguished it...and (chagrin) the thermal shock of the water cracked my newly fronted fireplace forever.

A smoky gun blast would server better cutting off for a moment the oxygen supply. Never thought of that before.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"The King and Court went out of town to Newmarket this morning betimes, for a week."

L&M: They returned on 1 May: London Gazette, 3 May.

Elisabeth  •  Link

Hungerford House and Hungerford Market

Hungerford House and some surrounding properties belonged to Sir Edward Hungerford (1632-1711), described by the ODNB as “politician, merchant, and spendthrift”. In 1677 he obtained permission to hold a market in the area, prompting this piece of wit:

“Thriftless himself, but lyke the goode manure,

His rotten waste did fertilise the lande,

And others' thriftye toile hath wrought the cure,

A goodlie mercatt joines the busie Strand.”
(Quoted in “Survey of London: Volume 18, St-Martin-in-the-Fields II: the Strand”, London County Council, 1937;…)

However the market was not a success and passed through other hands, including, for a time, Sir Christopher Wren. A new market building was erected in 1833 and was delightfully described by Henry Mayhew in 1862 on the eve of its destruction (Henry Mayhew and John Binny, “The Criminal Prisons of London”, 1862;…). The area is now covered by Charing Cross Station.

john  •  Link

Let me add to the winking confusion (from the OED). I offer no opinion on interpretation.

wink, v.1
1. a. intr. To close one's eyes. (Also in fig. context: cf. 5, 6.) Obs.
6. a. to wink at. (a) To ‘shut one's eyes to’ (an offence, fault, defect, impropriety, or irregularity); to connive at.

   1537 Cromwell in Merriman Life & Lett. (1902) II. 108 Persons that‥by‥wynkyng at his preparacions‥encoraged hym to be the bolder.    1540 Elyot Image Gov. xxxiii. (1541) 76 b, Ye secretely winkyng at the sayd faultes.    1644 Milton Judgm. Bucer xlvii. 24 When as all kind of unchastity is tolerated, fornications and adulteries winkt at.    a 1708 T. Ward Eng. Ref. i. (1710) 112 If I this saucyness in you, Shou'd seem to wink-at or allow.    1775 Sheridan Rivals iii. iii, Suppose you were to wink at her corresponding with him for a little time.    1815 Scott Guy M. xxxiv, You had the price of half a cargo for winking at our job.    1861 Trollope La Beata I. ix. 250 A very evident tendency‥to wink at the shortcomings of their friends.

†b. (a) to wink on, upon: = a (a), above. Obs.

   1546 J. Heywood Prov. (1867) 19 She can wynke on the yew, and wery the lam.    1591 Shakes. Two Gent. ii. iv. 98 Vpon a homely obiect, Loue can winke.    1634 Milton Comus 401 You may as well‥bid me hope Danger will wink on Opportunity.    1824 Landor Imag. Conv. I. Cromwell & Noble 59, I acknowledge his weaknesses, and cannot wink upon his crimes.    1835 Lytton Rienzi i. v, Justice must never wink upon great offenders.

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