The Great Fire of London was a fire which devastated the British city of London in 1666. 13,000 houses alone were destroyed, along with almost 100 churches, and the fire created a stream of refugees who contributed significantly to social unrest in and around London in the months following the fire. The Great Fire of London is widely regarded as a very important point in the city's history, and in British history in general, since it had such a profound impact on 17th century British society.
At the time of the fire, London was still essentially a medieval city, but it had expanded radically. It was a city of extremely narrow streets, riddled with dead-ends and restricted access, and most of the homes were wood or wattle and daub. London had been in the grip of a drought, so the city was tinder dry, and a strong wind from the East set the stage for potentially devastating fire conditions.
On 2 September, a fire started in a bakery on Pudding Lane. The fire was reported, and citizens arrived to start putting it out, and they were unable to control it. Demolition of the neighboring buildings was recommended to stop the fire in its tracks, but the Lord Mayor of London was afraid to give the order, so the fire pushed on, consuming much of the city within the historic Roman Wall, and occasionally jumping across to other neighborhoods. It took three days to put the fire out.
Firefighting was not nearly as advanced in the 17th century as it is now, but some historians have suggested that if the order to demolish had been given sooner, a firebreak could have been created. As it was, the fire was allowed to flow essentially unchecked through the city, spurring a mass evacuation across the Thames and creating thousands of refugees, many of whom were extremely angry about the loss of their homes.
Contemporary accounts of the Great Fire of London are actually quite detailed, thanks to diarists Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, who both wrote extensively about the fire as they saw it. Remarkably few deaths were recorded, which some people have suggested may be due the fact that the deaths of impoverished Londoners probably went unremarked and therefore unrecorded. The fire certainly changed the London landscape forever, and the Great Fire of London is commemorated in numerous London museums.
In the wake of the Great Fire of London, the architect Sir Christopher Wren managed to snag the commission for rebuilding St. Paul's Cathedral, a noted London landmark, and he built an additional 50 churches in the demolished region. Wren was also tasked with constructing the memorial for the fire, a major landmark in modern London.