Sir John Evelyn's Plan for Rebuilding the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, circa 1777
Sir John Evelyn's Plan for Rebuilding the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, engraved for Harrison's History of London, circa 1777.
The Great London Fire of 1666 began at the Thomas Farynor's bakery shortly after midnight on September 2. It spread rapidly through the overcrowded timber city, fueled by a strong easterly wind. Efforts to stop the fire's spread were not enacted quickly enough, due to the Lord Mayor's hesitation to demolish buildings to create fire breaks. By the time such demolitions were ordered the fire had grown so large and hot that their efforts were largely in vain. King Charles II and his brother the Duke of York set to work organizing men to help contain the fire and extinguish the flames. After four days of burning, the wind relented and this, combined with the efforts of the firemen, finally put an end to the fire. Many were left homeless and the property damage was extensive. The panic that had seized those trying to escape the burning city had led to a surge of violence toward foreigners and Catholics, as many Londoners blamed them for having started the blaze. King Charles II appointed several commissioners to redesign the city using brick instead of timber. Several people, including Sir John Evelyn and Sir Christopher Wren, submitted designs to the commissioners.
Sir John Evelyn (1620-1706) was a gardner, diarist, and prolific author, who's works have provided a great deal of insight into life during Stuart England. He had served briefly in the Royalist Army before going abroad to escape further involvement in the English Civil Wars. Evelyn spent a great deal of time traveling throughout Italy. In 1647, he married Mary Browne and the couple settled in Deptford London in 1652. Following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 he became a very active member of society. He was a founding member of the Royal Society and in 1661 he published the first book addressing air pollution in London. His diary, along with that of Samuel Pepys, provides a great deal of information on the Fire of 1666, and offers a glimpse as to the terrible devastation it caused.
- Naomi Bean