A Conversation for Topic of the Week: The Great Fire of London, UK

The spread of the fire

Post 1

Lbclaire

As far as I can remember from doing some research for a children's book in my previous job, one of the reasons the fire spread so rapidly was that the houses were built very close together so they just caught light one from another, from another... They were also built of highly combustible materials, with their timber frames and thatched roofs. During the fire, some houses were demolished to create fire breaks to try to stop the progress of the fire.

The thing I always find interesting about the Great Fire is that it cleansed London of the bubonic plague which had claimed so many lives, and would have gone on to claim more were it not for the fire killing most of the rats that carried the plague-bearing fleas.


The spread of the fire

Post 2

Mr. Dreadful - But really I'm not actually your friend, but I am...

It wasn't helped by the massive quarentines in effect because of the plague (not to mention the loss of one third of the population). There just wasn't enough people available to form bucket chains and do other fire fighty stuff.


The spread of the fire

Post 3

Mikey89

from what i remember of history lessions, the fire was started by a baker. must have been putting coal on the fire when somebody was stealing something, turned around to quickly and covered the bakery in burnng coal.
or something along those lines.


The spread of the fire

Post 4

Lbclaire

I think the fire started in the night when everyone was in bed - the baker had forgotten to put out the embers in his oven. According to a website I just found (http://www.angliacampus.com/education/fire/london/history/greatfir.htm ), "Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, King William the Conqueror insisted that all fires should be put out at night to reduce the risk of fire in houses with straw 'carpets' and thatched roofs. William's law of couvre-feu (literally - cover fire) became the modern term curfew."


The spread of the fire

Post 5

Researcher 177704

The strong wind also contributed to the spread of the fire. The London Gazette - a contemporary newspaper - talks of: 'a violent Easterly wind' that 'kept it burning all that day, and the night following'. (http://www.exmsft.com/~davidco/History/fire1.htm, para. 2).

The Gazette also refers to the use of gunpowder to destroy buildings, preventing the further spread of the fire. On the 5 September, Pepys wrote: "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..."

I'm not sure how effective this tactic was. I'm not sure that it was used in all parts of the city. Something to find out...

smiley - rocket


The spread of the fire

Post 6

slightlyfoxed

Interesting article within the beeb's own history pages on the fire...
can't understand why the Mayor was so blase and didn't take the reports seriously, what with London being built mainly of close, timber buildings, having had an exceptionally dry season, and dire warnings for years. smiley - huh


The spread of the fire

Post 7

Lash LeRue

Weren't the house's tatched with tar and straw............idiots.smiley - erm


The spread of the fire

Post 8

Montana Redhead (now with letters)

Another interesting thing to note is that the streets of London were, at the time, quite badly laid out. Haphazard would be the nicest term one could have used...bl**dy awful was what most folks said. Windy, twisty, and with multiple dead ends.

In addition, most folks had outdoor privies. Think about it. What's that smell when you go into a portable toilet? The gases those privies contained were quite volitile.


The spread of the fire

Post 9

arg862

I think it spread so quickly because the city planners didn't take into account the closeness of the buildings to one another. As stated in a previous post most houses back then were constructed of wood and thatch, the lanes and streets were layed out in a willy-nilly fashion and they didn't have trained fire brigades. Due to these factors a lot of historical structures, including some famous churches and other public buildings were lost. The only good thing that came out of it was the end of the plague that had festered for over a year.
If such a fire were to occur today losses would still be quite high even with modern fire fighting equipment due to the fact that space is at such a premium that buildings are still built close together. Look how much was damaged in the fire bombings during WWII.


The spread of the fire

Post 10

Montana Redhead (now with letters)

I would argue that the other "good" thing to come out of it was Christopher Wren's incredible architecture.


The spread of the fire

Post 11

slightlyfoxed

Hear, Hear, St.Paul's for one - quite crafty that he made sure he built his design as he desired, after initial rejection, by covering the area in scaffolding.smiley - winkeye


The spread of the fire

Post 12

Brian_Whatcott

This morning, I was explaining the custom of burning Guido Fawkes in effergy, each November, every two or three streets over each English town.
Being an American, my audience opined that this would be good for the fire-fighting business, to which I responded: "Au contraire: an effort to start a fire that actually succeeds, earns a boy scout immediate promotion to the rank of Eagle, don't you know: the ground is permadamp, the walls are brick, the rooves of tile or slate."

In Amuriga, the walls are wood or fiber, sometimes plastic, backed by dry sticks, the rooves of heavy duty tar-felt or 'shakes' which are chopped up dry wood slats, so the municipalities are somewhat nervous on July fourth, which is American Guy Fawkes day (sometimes called Independence Day there). To cut finally to the chase (if that can still be spoken of in politic circles...) it needs a dry season, thatch roof and tarred timber, in close proximity and a thriving throng of smokers and fire-raisers: and that's what came to pass just in time for the Great Fire.

Brian Whatcott
Altus Okla/


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The spread of the fire

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