The fire spread with alarming speed, due to a spell of dry weather, the high wind, and the Mayor of London’s failure to take decisive action at an early stage. Realising that his own home could be at risk Pepys put iron chests in the cellar; took many valuables to a friend at Bethnal Green; moved his wife Elizabeth to safety at Woolwich and buried his wine and ‘Parmezan’ cheese in the garden.
It’s the small details like this which bring the scene life: in the middle of the fire they had no fire to cook on, so he bought cooked mutton from a shop for a picnic with neighbours; he wrote a letter to his father, but couldn’t send it because the post office had burned down and he picked up a piece of twisted, melted glass from a chapel window.
|Old St Paul's Cathedral in London, from An introduction to English church architecture from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, (Volume 2) by Francis Bond (1852-1918), London: H. Milford, 1913.|
He himself seems to have suffered from some form of what we would now call post traumatic stress syndrome, and for months afterwards he suffered from nightmares and was terrified of fire and scared that his house would fall down.
He goes on to write: “The noise and cracking and thunder of the impetuous flames, the shrieking of women and children, the hurry of people, the fall of towers, houses, and churches, was like a hideous storm, and the air all about so hot and inflamed, that at the last one was not able to approach it.”
Evelyn also writes movingly about the aftermath of the blaze, and the difficulty of moving about London ‘clambering over heaps of yet smoking rubbish’ and losing his way as familiar landmarks had disappeared, while the ground was still so hot it burnt the soles of his shoes. Around Islington and Highgate he saw as many as 200,000 people ‘lying along by their heaps of what they could save from the fire’ facing hunger and destitution, but not asking for help. However, some help was at hand because Charles II issued a proclamation for the country to provide provisions for victims of the fire.
|The new St Paul's Catherl designed by Christopher Wren. http://www.tourist-information-uk.com/st-pauls-cathedral.htm |
Public buildings were created first, including Wren’s masterpiece, the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral, and he also designed the flame-topped Monument which stands at he junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill, near the spot where the fire started.
Should you wish to mark the day I suggest you do so with toasted cheese (from the fridge, not the garden), wine and new shoes!