Samuel Pepys' diary contains the most popular eyewitness account of the Great Fire of London. His detailed account mixes reports of his actions when safeguarding his possessions and combating the fire he carried information to the king and organised firefighting teams - with observances made as he toured around London to see what was happening.
From the Daily Telegraph:
'Few literary novels tell us as much about the history of modern humans, or have such charity'
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
'Fascinating...a sprawling epic'
From the Orlando Sentinel:
'A tour de force...LONDON tracks the history of the English capital from the days of the Celts until the present time...breathtaking'
Lisa Jardine in the Times:
'Here are 800 pages of hold-your-breath suspense, buccaneering adventure, and passionate tales of love and war set on London from the birth of time to the present day...The detail is beautifully researched...But the author does not labour the authenticity. Instead he allows the reader to absorb the bustle and colour of London life generation by generation, acculmulating a sense of the city constantly in change.
Rutherfurd's technique for holding out attention is to entice us into the lives of individuals... We are introduced to a cluster of families from divers backgrounds and geographical origins whose fortunes criss-cross the centuries... On the one hand, these families pass on inherited traits which allow the reader to spot them in each generation... On the other hand, character is certainly not inherited... As each story unfolds, we gradually discover who, in this generation, are the heroes; who the villains.
Then there's the fabric of London itself, the persistence of landmarks and street patterns... Coins or artefacts stolen or lost in one chronicle raise the reader's expectations that they might be recovered in another, at a later date...
Rutherfurd's is a marathon task... I think that he pulls it off. LONDON: the Novel could hook you on history for life.'
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times:
'Edward Rutherfurd's grand new novel, which traces the English city's history from the Druids to the Blitz... is consciously trying to apply James Michener's techniques to the United Kingdom. He gives the characters in 'London' prominent physical traits like the long noses that characterize all the members of the Silversleeves family, or the patches of silver hair and webbed fingers that keep showing up on the Duckets, or rememberable surnames like Bull, Penny and Barnikel (so-called because one ancestor, a fearsome Viking warrior, disliked killing children and gave the order before each raid, 'Bairn ni kel,' or 'Don't kill the children.').
Each episode is a punchy tale made up of bite-size chunks ending in tiny cliffhangers... And telling of greed, lust, revenge, loyalty, bravery, cleanliness and reverence... The purpose of 'London' is to weave together the great events of English history... The fun of it all is seeing the pieces fall into place... Yet for all the fun of the novel, Mr. Rutherfurd has some serious points to make: as the god of his creation, he sits back and pares his fingernails, allowing villainy to be rewarded and virtue to be punished, and passing no final moral judgments on his characters. More important to him is the wonderful distinctiveness of London. As one character representing his views puts it: 'London was always a city of large numbers of aliens who quickly assimilated... A genetic river, if you like, fed by any number of streams.'
And he pulls off some remarkable effects. Typical of them a description of a Puritan character named O Be Joyful Carpenter listening to the chiming of London's bells:
'Louder and louder now their mighty ringing grew, clanging and crashing down the major scale, drowning out every puny tune, until even the dome of St. Paul's itself seemed to be resonating in the din. And as he listened to this tremendous sound echoing all around him, so strident and so strong, it suddenly seemed to Carpenter that he could hear therein a thousand other voices: the Puritan voices of Bunyan and his pilgrim, the voice of his father Gideon and his saints, of Martha, why even of the Protestant Almighty himself. And, lost in their massive chorus, for a moment forgetting everything, even his own poor soul, he hugged his grandchildren and cried out in exultation: 'Hear! Oh, hear the voice of the Lord!' Then all the bells of London rang, and then O Be Joyful was joyful indeed.' What a delightful way to get the feel of London and of English history.'
2nd. Some of our mayds sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast to-day, Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose and slipped on my nightgowne, and went to her window, and thought it to be on the backside of Marke-lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was and further off. So to my closett to set things to rights after yesterday's cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge.
So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of Yorke what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him that if he would have any more soldiers he shall; and so did my Lord Arlington afterwards, as a great secret.
The Great Fire laid waste to much of medieval London and prompted a transformation in the layout and appearance of the streets. How did the city recover and was the fire as devastating as history depicts?
By February 1666, the Great Plague had nearly run its course. It died out during the Great Fire that same year and never returned. Central parts of London were rebuilt with wider streets to relieve crowding and better sewage systems to improve sanitation. London’s Privy Council issued new Plague Orders in May 1666, which banned the burial of future plague victims in parish churches and small churchyards, enforced the use of quicklime at designated burial sites, and strictly prohibited opening graves less than one year after interment as a safeguard against .
Here I saw Mr. Isaake Houblon, the handsome man, prettily dressed and dirty, at his door at Dowgate, receiving some of his brothers' things, whose houses were on fire; and, as he says, have been removed twice already; and he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in a little time removed from his house also, which was a sad consideration.
Jack London’s “To Build A Fire,” both 1902 and 1908 versions, cause distress in readers’ minds and make them wonder how a simple topic of surviving in the cold can turn out so horrific.
The Great Fire of September 1666 laid waste five sixths of the walled area of the medieval city, from Fleet Street in the west to the Tower of London in the east, and north from the bank of the Thames to the wall at Cripplegate. London Bridge was not affected, as a previous fire of 1633 had cleared an area at its north end which stopped the flames of 1666 spreading. Within the area of the fire no buildings survived intact above ground, though churches of stone, and especially their towers, were only partly destroyed and now stood as gaunt and smoking ruins. In many places the ground was too hot to walk on for several days afterwards.
And to see the churches all filling with goods by people who themselves should have been quietly there at this time. By this time it was about twelve o'clock; and so home, and there find my guests, which was Mr. Wood and his wife Barbary Sheldon, and also Mr. Moons: she mighty fine, and her husband; for aught I see, a likely man. But Mr. Moone's design and mine, which was to look over my closett and please him with the sight thereof, which he hath long desired, was wholly disappointed; for we were in great trouble and disturbance at this fire, not knowing what to think of it. However, we had an extraordinary good dinner, and as merry, as at this time we could be.
Isaccke Houblon, that handsome man - prettily dressed and dirty at his door at Dowgate, receiving some of his brother's things whose houses were on fire; and as he says have been removed twice already, and he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in a little time removed from his house also.
At least 65,000 people had been made homeless by the Fire. At first they camped in the fields outside the walls, but within days had dispersed to surrounding villages or other parts of London. Rents soared in the unburnt area, but somehow accommodation was found for all who needed it. Much merchandise had been destroyed, and there was virtually no fire insurance, so many people were ruined, and some moved away permanently.