John Evelyn also kept his diary during the events of September 1666 and, given their length, it seems appropriate to give them a home here. The diary entries below are taken from this source (mirror). I’ve included all of Evelyn’s relevant entries, so, if you know nothing about what happens during the Fire, some of the below might count as SPOILERS!
Many thanks to Terry Foreman for suggesting this article.
Sunday 2 September 1666
This fatal night about ten, began that deplorable fire, neere Fish-streete in London.
I had pub. prayers at home. After dinner the fire continuing, with my Wife & Sonn took Coach & went to the bank side in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal speectaccle, the whole Citty in dreadfull flames neere the Water side, & had now consumed all the houses from the bridge all Thames Streete & up-wards towards Cheape side, downe to the three Cranes, & so returned exceedingly astonishd, what would become of the rest. (Permalink)
Monday 3 September 1666
The Fire having continud all this night (if I may call that night, which was as light as day for 10 miles round about after a dreadfull manner) when consp[ir]ing with a fierce Eastern Wind, in a very drie season, I went on foote to the same place, when I saw the whole South part of the Citty burning from Cheape side to the Thames, & all along Cornehill (for it likewise kindled back against the Wind, as well [as] forward) Tower-Streete, Fen-church-streete, Gracious Streete, & so along to Bainard Castle, and was now taking hold of St. Paules-Church, to which the Scaffalds contributed exceedingly.
The Conflagration was so universal, & the people so astonish’d, that from the beginning (I know not by what desponding or fate), they hardly stirr’d to quench it, so as there was nothing heard or seene but crying out & lamentation, & running about like distracted creatures, without at all attempting to save even their goods; such a strange consternation there was upon them, so as it burned both in breadth & length, The Churches, Publique Halls, Exchange, Hospitals, Monuments, & ornaments, leaping after a prodigious manner from house to house & streete to streete, at greate distance one from the other, for the heate (with a long set of faire & warme weather) had even ignited the aire, & prepared the materials to conceive the fire, which devoured after a[n] incredible manner, houses, furniture, & everything. Here we saw the Thames coverd with goods floating, all the barges & boates laden with what some had time & courage to save, as on the other, the Carts &c carrying out to the fields, which for many miles were strewed with moveables of all sorts, & Tents erecting to shelter both people & what goods they could get away. o the miserable & calamitous speectacle, such as happly the whole world had not seene the like since the foundation of it, nor to be out don, ‘til the universal Conflagration of it, all the skie were of a fiery aspect, like the top of a burning Oven, & the light seene above 40 miles round about for many nights. God grant mine eyes may never behold the like, who now saw above ten thousand houses all in one flame, the noise & crakling & thunder of the impetuous flames, the shreeking of Women & children, the hurry of people, the fall of towers, houses & churches was like an hideous storme, & the aire all about so hot & inflam’d that at the last one was not able to approch it, so as they were force’d [to] stand still, and let the flames consume on which they did for neere two whole mile[s] in length and one in bredth. The Clowds also of Smoke were dismall, & reached upon computation neere 50 miles in length.
Thus I left it this afternoone burning, a resemblance of Sodome, or the last day. It call’d to mind that of 4 Heb: non enim hic habemus stabilem Civitatem; the ruines resembling the picture of Troy. London was, but is no more. Thus I return’d. (Permalink)
Tuesday 4 September 1666
The burning still rages; I went now on horse back, & it was now gotten as far as the Inner Temple, all Fleetestreete, old baily, Ludgate Hill, Warwick Lane, Newgate, Paules Chaine, Wattling-streete now flaming & most of it reduc’d to ashes, the stones of Paules flew like granados, the Lead mealting down the streetes in a streame, & the very pavements of them glowing with a fiery rednesse, so as nor horse nor man was able to tread on them, & the demolitions had stopped all the passages, so as no help could be applied; the Easter[n] Wind still more impetuously driving the flames forewards. Nothing but the almighty power of God was able to stop them, for vaine was the help of man: on the fift it crossed towards White-hall, but o the Confusion was then at that Court.
It pleased his Majestie to command me among the rest to looke after the quenching of fetter-lane end, to preserve (if possible) that part of Holborn, whilst the rest of the Gent. tooke their several posts, some at one part, some at another, for now they began to bestirr themselves, & not ‘til now, who ‘til now had stood as men interdict, with their hands a crosse, & began to consider that nothing was like to put a stop, but the blowing up of so many houses, as might make a [wider] gap, than any had yet ben made by the ordinary method of pulling them downe with Engines. This some stout Seamen proposd early enought to have saved the whole Citty. But some tenacious & avaritious Men, Aldermen &c. would not permitt, because their houses must have ben [of] the first. It was therefore now commanded to be practised, & my conerne being particularly for the Hospital of St. Bartholomeus neere Smithfield, where I had many wounded & sick men, made me the more diligent to promote it; nor was my care for the Savoy lesse. So as it pleased Almighty God by abating of the Wind, & the industrie of people, now when all was lost, infusing a new Spirit into them (& such as had if exerted in time undoubtedly preserved the whole) that the furie of it began sensibly to abate, about noone, so as it came no farther than the Temple West-ward, nor than the enterance of Smithfield North; but continued all this day & night so impetuous toward Cripple-Gate, & The Tower, as made us even all despaire. It also brake out againe in the Temple: but the courage of the multitude persisting, & innumerable houses blown up with Gunpowder, such gaps & desolations were soone made, as also by the former three days consumption, as the back fire did not so vehemently urge upon the rest, as formerly.
There was yet no standing neere the burning & glowing ruines neere a furlongs Space; The Coale & Wood wharfes & magazines of Oyle, rozine, [chandler] &c. did infinite mischiefe; so as the invective I but a little before dedicated to his Majestie & publish’d, giving warning what might probably be the issue of suffering those shops to be in the Citty, was lookd on as prophetic. But there I left this smoking & sultry heape, which mounted up in dismall clowds night & day, the poore Inhabitans dispersd all about St. Georges, Moore filds, as far as higate, & severall miles in Circle, Some under tents, others under miserab[l]e Hutts and Hovells, without a rag, or any necessary utinsils, bed or board, who from delicatnesse, riches & easy accommodations in stately & well furnishd houses, were now reduc’d to extreamest misery & poverty. In this Calamitous Condition I returnd with a sad heart to my house, blessing & adoring the distinguishing mercy of God, to me & mine, who in the midst of all this ruine, was like Lot, in my little Zoar, safe and sound. (Permalink)
Thursday 6 September 1666
Thursday, I represented to his Majestie the Case, of the French Prisoners at War in my Custodie, & besought him, there might be still the same care of Watching at all places contiguous to unseized houses. It is not indeede imaginable how extraordinary the vigilanc[e] & activity of the King & Duke was, even labouring in person, & being present, to command, order, reward, and enourage Workemen; by which he shewed his affection to his people, & gained theirs. Having then disposed of some under Cure, at the Savoy, I return’d to white hall, where I dined at Mr. Offleys, Groome-porter, who was my relation, together with the Knight Martial, where I also lay that night. (Permalink)
Friday 7 September 1666
I went this morning on foote from White hall as far as London bridge, thro the Late fleete streete, Ludgate hill, by St. Paules, Cheape side, Exchange, Bishopsgate, Aldersgate, & out to Morefields, thence thro Cornehill, &c. with extraordinary difficulty, clambring over mountaines of yet smoking rubbish, & frequently mistaking where I was, the ground under my feete so hott, as made me not onely Sweate, but even burnt the soles of my shoes, & put me all over in Sweate. In the meane time his Majestie got to the Tower by Water, to demolish the houses about the Graft, which being built intirely about it, had they taken fire, & attaq’d the white Towre, where the Magazines of Powder lay, would undo[u]btedly have not onely beaten downe & destroyed all the bridge, but sunke & torne all the vessells in the river, & rendred the demolition beyond all expression for severall miles even about the Country at many miles distance.
At my returne I was infinitly concern’d to find that goodly Chur[c]h St. Paules now a sad ruine, & that beautifull Portico (for structure comparable to any in Europ, as not long before repaird by the late King) now rent in pieces, flakes of vast Stone Split in sunder, & nothing remaining intire but the Inscription in the Architrave which shewing by whom it was built, had not one letter of it defac’d: which I could not but take notice of. It was astonishing to see what imense stones the heate had in a manner Calcin’d, so as all the ornaments, Columns, freezes, Capitels & proje[c]tures of massie Portland stone flew off, even to the very roofe, where a Sheete of Leade covering no lesse than 6 akers by measure, being totaly mealted, the ruines of the Vaulted roofe, falling brake into St. Faithes, which being filled with the magazines of bookes, belonging to the Stationer[s], & carried thither for safty, they were all consumed burning for a weeke following. It is also observable, that the lead over the Altar at the East end was untouch’d; and among the divers monuments, the body of one Bishop, remained intire.
Thus lay in ashes that most venerab[l]e Church, one of the [antientest] Pieces of early Piety in the Christian world, beside neere 100 more. The lead, yronworke, bells, plate &c mealted; the exquisitely wrought Mercers Chapell, the Sumptuous Exchange, the august fabricque of Christ church, all the rest of the Companies Halls, sumptuous buildings, Arches, Enteries, all in dust. The fountaines dried up & ruind, whilst the very waters remained boiling; the Voragos of subterranean Cellars Wells & Dungeons, formerly Warehouses, still burning in stench & dark clowds of smoke like hell, so as in five or six miles traversing about, I did not see one load of timber unconsum’d, nor many stones but what were calcind white as snow, so as the people who now walked about the ruines, appeard like men in some dismal desart, or rather in some greate Citty, lay’d wast by an impetuous & cruel Enemy, to which was added the stench that came from some poore Creaturs bodys, beds & other combustible goods.
Sir Tho. Gresshams Statue, though falln to the ground from its nich in the R. Exchange remain’d intire, when all those of the Kings since the Conquest were broken to pieces. Also the Standard in Cornehill, & Q. Elizabeths Effigies, with some armes on Ludgate continud with but little detriment, whilst the vast yron Chaines of the Cittie streetes, vast hinges, barrs & gates of Prisons were many of them mealted, & reduc’d to cinders by the vehement heats. Nor was I yet able to pass through any of the narrower streetes, but kept [to] the widest, the ground & aire, smoake & fiery vapour, continud so intense, my hair being almost seinged, & my feete unsufferably surbated. The bielanes & narrower streetes were quite fill’d up with rubbish, nor could one have possibly knowne where he was, but by the ruines of some church, or hall, that had some remarkable towre or pinacle remaining.
I then went towards Islington, & high-gate, where one might have seene two hundred thousand people of all ranks & degrees, dispersed, & laying along by their heapes of what they could save from the Incendium, deploring their losse, & though ready to perish for hunger & destitution, yet not asking one penny for reliefe, which to me appeard a stranger sight, than any I had yet beheld. His Majestie & Council indeeade tooke all imaginable care for their reliefe, by Proclamation, for the Country to come in & refresh them with provisions: when in the middst of all this Calamity & confusion, there was (I know not how) an Alarme begun, that the French & Dutch (with whom we were now in hostility) were not onely landed, but even entring the Citty; there being in truth, greate suspicion some days before, of those two nations joyning, & even now, that they had ben the occasion of firing the Towne.
This report did so terrifie, that on a suddaine there was such an uprore & tumult, that they ran from their goods, Taking what weapons they could come at, they could not be stop’d from falling on some of those nations whom they casualy met, without sense or reason, the clamor & perill growing so excessive, as made the whole Court amaz’d at it, & they did with infinite paines, & greate difficulty reduce & apease the people, sending Guards & troopes of souldiers, to cause them to retire into the fields againe, where they were watched all this night when I left them pretty quiet, & came home to my house, sufficiently weary & broken. Their spirits thus a little sedated, & the affright abated, they now began to repaire into the suburbs about the Citty, where such as had friends or opportunit[i]e got shelter & harbour for the Present; to which his Majesties Proclamation also invited them. Still the Plage, continuing in our parish, I could not without danger adventure to our Church. (Permalink)
Monday 10 September 1666
I went againe to the ruines, for it was now no longer a Citty. (Permalink)
Tuesday 11 September 1666
Sat at Star Chamber, on the 13, I presented his Majestie with a Survey of the ruines, and a Plot for a new Citty, with a discourse on it, whereupon, after dinner, his Majestie sent for me into the Queenes Bed-chamber, her Majestie & the Duke onely present, where they examind each particular, & discoursed upon them for neere a full houre, seeming to be extreamly pleasd with what I had so early thought on. The Queene was now in her Cavaliers riding habite, hat & feather & horsemans Coate, going to take the aire; so I took leave of his Majestie & visiting the Duke of Albemarle, now newly return’d from Sea, I went home. (Permalink)