On this day, on September 2nd, 1666, in the early hours of the morning, a fire broke out in the house of King Charles II’s baker on Pudding Lane near London Bridge. It spread to Thames Street, a street full of warehouses containing combustible items. A September wind carried the blaze, and the fire evolved into an inferno. It wasn’t till five days later the blaze was finally extinguished. It left more than four-fifths of the city destroyed and luckily killing only 16 people.
So what does this have to do with the Black Death?
The fire that engulfed London destroyed 13,000 houses, nearly 30 churches and public houses. Historic landmarks such as St Paul’s cathedral were burned to the ground. According to reports, the fire left 100,000 people homeless. John Evelyn, courtier and diarist, wrote:
“The whole city in dreadful flames near the water-side; all the houses from the bridge, all Thames-street, and upwards towards Cheapside, down to the Three Cranes, were now consumed."
In 1665, just a year before the Great Fire the so-called great plague hit London hardest, it spread through the streets of an over-populated London laying siege to the poorest inhabitants of the city. Filth and squalor of a packed city aided The Black Death’s infiltration, as the disease spread by fleas carried by the rats of the city. Though historians disagree, the disease is thought to have been controlled after the Great Fire burnt through the most affected areas, killing all the rats and fleas that carried the dreaded disease.
So how does Australia tie into this?
Because the Great Fire demolished so many homes, it left a large number of the poorest communities homeless. Crime and petty theft were rampant in the ruined city, as more and more jails filled to the brim. Though the eventual colonisation and invasion by the English in Australia wasn’t till much later, the ripple effect started with the destruction and homelessness caused by the Great Fire of London.
Header: Great Fire London, Wikimedia Commons