Saturday, September 4, 2010

London in Flames, September 4, 1666

The Great Fire of London was blazing 344 years ago today. King Charles II and his brother James, the Duke of York worked hard to direct fire-fighting efforts, but Tuesday, September 4th was the day of greatest destruction, as St. Paul's Cathedral caught fire and was ruined that day. This was the great medieval, Gothic cathedral built between 1089 and 1314, containing wondrous stained glass and with a tall spire. It had of course fallen into disrepair, having been damaged by Puritan forces during the Civil War.
Its destruction gave Sir Christopher Wren the opportunity to design and build a new Anglican Cathedral influenced by the design of St. Peter's in Rome and Val-de-Grace in Paris, along with 50 other Anglican churches.

In the aftermath of the fire, someone had to be blamed, and Catholics were held responsible. A French watchmaker did claim responsibility (as an agent of the Pope) but after he was hung at Tyburn, authorities found out he had arrived in London two days after the fire started. Too late!

Charles II commissioned The Monument to the Great Fire of London, which Sir Christopher Wren also designed. In 1668, words were added to the Monument to reflect fear of Catholics and their role in the Great Fire:
Here by permission of heaven, hell broke loose upon his Protestant city . .
. the most dreadful burning of this City; begun and carried on by the treachery
and malice of the Popish faction . . . Popish frenzy which wrought such horrors,
is not yet quenched.
During the reign of James II, those words were removed; with the invasion and coup d'etat of the Glorious Revolution they were restored and remained there until 1830 after Catholic Emancipation.


  1. I remember reading somewhere that the Duke of York actually manned one of the bucket brigades during the Fire.

  2. You're correct, tubbs, the Duke of York was in the thick of things!

  3. Keep up the great work, Stephanie. These little anniversary vignettes are compulsively readable. And good news for me: my new assignment at work will take me to London several times a year!

  4. One more thing. If I'm not mistaken, the only still-surviving pub/tavern that pre-dates the Fire is the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden, where my wife and I had lunch during my last trip to London five years ago.

  5. Thank you, Rich! And congratulations on the new assignment--tough duty, but somebody's got to do it.