In the early hours of the morning of September 2nd in 1666, a fire started at a bakery on Pudding Lane.
It was suspected that the fire could have been caused by a spark from Thomas Farriner’s bakery oven falling onto a pile of fuel nearby. Due to London having experienced an incredibly dry, long, hot summer that year, the fire spread drastically. It didn’t help the surrounding areas either, which were full of warehouses containing highly flammable materials such as timber and oil.
When the Great Fire of London was finally extinguished an astonishing 4 days later, more than four-fifths of London had been destroyed. Remarkably, only 16 people were known to have died as a result.
The fire was a disaster waiting to happen. The city in 1666 consisted of medieval houses made mostly of wood with some even covered with tar to keep out the rain, but making the homes almost powerless to flames. The streets were narrow and firefighters were almost unheard of.
Why the Great Fire of London probably won’t happen in the 21st century
The destruction caused by the Great Fire was mind-blowing. A whopping 436 acres of London were destroyed, which included over 13,200 houses and 90% of the churches. Some places were still smouldering for months after the fire ended. Many historic landmarks, such as St Paul’s cathedral were destroyed beyond repair.
With advancements in fire safety and technology, while not impossible, it is almost certain that a fire of this size would be stopped much quicker before the blaze could get out of control like it did in 1666.
The rise in insurance
The fire of London caused over £10 million worth of damage (£1.5 billion in today’s money) and caused almost 100,000 residents to be homeless. In 2021, it’s a great advantage that most of us will naturally have a home or building insurance policy that can cover our losses in the event of a fire.
Until the fire occurred, insurance companies were non-existent. In the aftermath, the first official insurance company was set up just a year later. After that, the Great Fire of London would become the reason that the city is now one of the biggest insurance hubs in the world.
In an article with the BBC, James Dalton from the Association of British Insurers said: “The Great Fire of London led to the modern insurance industry we know today.” If a fire this big were to occur today, those with insurance would be protected from damages and could receive a claim to cover any losses or damage – something that was not possible in 1666.
It’s been said that you could even see King Charles II tackling the flames during the Fire of London, and townsmen from all over the city were attempting to put out the blaze with leather buckets, axes and water squirts – but due to its immensity, the fire was undoing their efforts fast.
It is incredibly unlikely that you would see any of the locals doing so today, but that is mainly because the first ever insurance companies began to form fire brigades after the events that occurred that fateful September. These would be the start of organised firefighting services that would prevent or stop fires on insured buildings from happening and is now something that has expanded to great heights today.
Fortunately, after the introduction of fire brigades, Londoners soon realised that if an uninsured building were to catch fire, it could quickly spread to insured buildings – which would prove costly – so they began putting out fires on all buildings to be safe.
Firefighting technology has advanced
Although privately run fire brigades were finally introduced after the fire, these firefighters were not trained properly and only had basic equipment to work with. The quickest way of demolishing houses was to blow them up with gunpowder, but this technique was not used until Tuesday 4th September, three days into the fire. Today, the advancements in firefighting technology have developed drastically, with still plenty of room for improvement. The introduction of fire curtains, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and more have all aided in the prevention or extinguishing of fires.
Technology, in general, has advanced too
Resources we now use in everyday life, such as electric heating and lightbulbs, were non-existent in the 17th century. People relied on open fireplaces for warmth and candles for light during the darker hours.
Ovens, although still a cause of fires, are now safer to use as they are contained and heated electrically. The bread oven that started the Great Fire, however, would have been heated with an open fire at the time.
Buildings are built differently
It’s still possible that buildings can catch fire, but now they are built with stronger materials like bricks, rather than with wood or thatched roofs. It was already against the law to build smithies, glaziers and foundries at the time, but the lack of safety concern meant that people continued to build them anyway.
Many homes were full of gunpowder that had been stored since the English Civil War. The reason that we no longer live in flammable matchboxes full of reactive chemicals alone reassures today’s society that we are more protected from similar events happening.
People were still clearing the area for years to come, and a lot of dedicated time went into planning new street layouts and drawing up new regulations for buildings so it wouldn’t happen again. By the end of 1667, only 150 new houses had been built to replace the 13,200 homes that were destroyed.
The new regulations encouraged houses to be faced in brick instead of wood, with some streets enlarged to create a safer environment.
With today’s fantastic fire protection services and advanced fire equipment, the Great Fire of London is hopefully an event that will never happen again. Fire and smoke curtains are simply one of the ways to protect your building from fire and smoke, and this solution helps compartmentalise space without affecting the building layout or architecture.
Coopers Fire is one of the UK’s leading fire and smoke curtain manufacturers, approved by an Independent Third Party Accreditation to carry out the installation and servicing of fire curtains and smoke barrier curtains. Get in touch with us today to find out more.