Travel Stories

London Fire

September 2, 1666

Christian clerics viewed the year 1666 with foreboding, believing that "666" symbolized the apocalyptic number of the beast in Revelation. At the time, London was the world's third-largest city, trailing only Constantinople and Paris. Just after midnight on September 2, 1666, a gale was blowing over the English Channel so strong that it scattered an English naval attack on Dutch vessels and blew the decimated navy all the way to the Isle of Wight. When it roared into London, it was strong enough to lift thatch roofs and sent the flames out from a baker's shop on Pudding Lane to greater London.

While fast action could have saved the city, the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, was a weak, indecisive man, and did not authorize blowing up buildings to create firebreaks because he didn't know how to reach the owners for their consent. The conflagration devastated some 430 acres of medieval London, destroying more than 13,000 houses, 87 churches, and the main buildings in the city center, leaving 200,000 people homeless. The fire was later blamed on Catholics, thanks in part to a false confession by Robert Hubert, a Frenchman who had arrived in London two days after the fire had begun, but a parliamentary inquiry confirmed that the fire had been an accident.