Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Unofficial London - Then and Now, Pudding Lane.

"For years there had been warnings of the total destruction of London by fire."
This weeks blog post was inspired by a visit to the where The Great Fire of London started - Pudding Lane - to see how it looks today. But first, a little history...
In 1666 the predictions came true and the city of London was devastated by The Great Fire of London. Given the dry summer, close packed timber framed buildings, abundance of hay, and use of candles, this was hardly a surprise. It is now widely acknowledged that the fire started in a bakery in Pudding Lane, but at the time rumours were rife of political intrigue; of the French, or Dutch, or even Catholics setting fire bombs through shop windows to start the conflagration.

            It was at 2am on Sunday 2nd September that a workman at Thomas Faryner's bakery, Pudding Lane, near London Bridge, smelt smoke and woke the household. Modern experiments have shown that under certain conditions fine particles of flour suspended in the air can become explosive, and it seems likely just such a cloud came into contact with an ember and did indeed explode. The fire took rapid hold, jumping from building to building with startling speed. The mayor, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, was woken with the news but remained unimpressed.
 "A woman might piss it out."

He was wrong. By dawn part of London Bridge was burning and by the time it was exstinguished on Wednesday 5th September, an estimated 13,000 houses and 89 churches, including the Old St Pauls, had been destroyed.

Samuel Pepys records the experience:  

.. all over the Thames, with one's face in the wind you were almost burned with a shower of Firedrops - this is very true - so as houses were burned by these drops and flakes of fire, three or four, nay five or six houses, one from another. When we could endure no more upon the water, we to a little alehouse on the Bankside over against the Three Cranes, and there stayed till it was dark almost and saw the fire grow; and as it grow darker, appeared more and more, and, in Corners and upon steeples and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the city, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire.
We stayed till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side of the bridge, and in a bow up the hill, for an arch of above a mile long. It made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once, and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruin.

 The Great Fire cleared such vaste swathes of buildings that a rebuild of approximately ten million pounds in the 17th century, took place. The fire was commerated by building a monument in 1671, designed by Sir Christopher Wren to mark the regeneration of the city. The Monument was exactly 61 metres tall, which is the distance from the monument to the site of Thomas Faryner's bakery.
The Monument in 1794.
So how does the remodelled city appear today?
The Monument - there....behind the stack of portakabins!
And Pudding Lane? Surely some great architectural wonders must celebrate perhaps one of the most well-known streets in London? Sadly not...
Here, ladies and gentlemen, is modern day Pudding Lane -
note the portakabins to the left and street sign on the right.
But I won't leave you feeling totally desolate about this wasted opportunity, there is at least is one beautiful building to rise out of the ashes, the new St Pauls Cathedral.


  1. Absolutely loved this post, Grace. Thank you x I so love your blogs. They really do bring history to life. x

    1. You are too kind, Elizabeth, glad you enjoyed the post.
      Grace x

  2. Flour dust explosions are nasty and dangerous. My hometown, Bremen in North Germany, suffered a big flour dust explosion in 1979, which leveled a flour mill and part of the harbour, damaged houses and broke windows up to half a kilometer away, killed 14 people and covered the working class neighbourhood adjacent to the harbour with flour. The resulting fire burned for a month - and fire fighting technology in the 1970s was a lot better than in the 1660s. So if a flour dust explosion could cause so much damage in 1979, it's easy to believe how it could have destroyed the densely packed City of London back in 1666.

    The London fire is also the reason why there are hardly any pre-17th century buildings left in London today. There's the Tower, Westminster Abbey, Lambeth Palace and that's about it. And those buildings only survived because they were outside the city limits in 1666.

    The City of London suffered badly both from WWII bombing damage and from badly planned postwar rebuilding. I've always thought it's a shame how the Monument has been wedged in by nondescript office blocks and Paternoster Square in the immediate neighbourhood of St. Paul's Cathedral used to be another example of horrible postwar urban planning. Paternoster Square redeveloped in the late 1990s and now looks much better and many of the ugly office blocks from the 1960s and 1970s in the City are now being torn down and replaced by new office blocks which are more aesthetically pleasing than the old buildings, e.g. Norman Foster's Gherkin. But the Monument is still covered up by buildings that are much too high.

    1. How fascinating, and frightening - that you know of a more recent flour dust explosion.
      And you are right, it is such a pity that the postwar planning wasnt more sensitively handled - plenty of scope their for future generations to correct.
      thank you for leaving a commment,
      Grace x

  3. lovely post Grace. I remember being taken on a school trip to the monument, the view was pretty good from the top then but it doesn't look like it would be today.

    1. Judith, I'm glad you got to the top!
      When I was at school, my best friend had a birthday trip into London which involved going up the Monument. I got about a quarter of the way up and froze. It was something to do with being up in the air but not knowing how far off the ground - anyhow I had to slide down on my bottom and all I remember was overwhelming fear and a lot of grumpy people.
      G x

  4. The City of London isn’t very pretty, is it?!

    I used to live in an alley just off Fleet Street, in a building rebuilt the year after the Great Fire (Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, to be precise!), so the whole event is kind of morbidly fascinating to me.

    I’ve climbed “the Monument” more times than I can count, and still can’t figure out how ladies in the past got up and down that narrow thing in their enormous dresses!
    I'm assuming they did, because there're engravings of it...

    1. I'm impressed you went up the Monument - as they say, familiarity breeds contempt and it's often all too easy to ignore the attractions on your doorstep.
      Thank you for visiting,
      Grace x

  5. I love this! My daughter is in Year 2 and studying the Great Fire of London, so I was really interested to read it.

    1. Oh, I'm glad she enjoyed the post and hopefully it brought some history to life and whetted her appetite for more.
      Kind regards,
      Grace x

  6. Wow, this site helped me a lot for my homework.
    Thanks a lot for putting it up, now I have got a high grade!!
    It is so interesting to learn about our history, and how time has changed.
    This site is really good!!


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