One of the most important moments in London’s history was the Great Fire of London. I wanted to go on a walk where I could be some kind of personification of the flames that burned down the whole city and destroyed many buildings. I searched online of ways that I could be able to imitate the journey that the flames took and I came across a pamphlet provided by the “City of London.” While I used the overall structure of the path that was on the guide, I wanted to see different areas that were not listed. In the process of going on a semi-self guided path, I came across some areas that commemorated buildings that once stood before the Great Fire destroyed them. I had a great walk and was able to vividly see how much the fire spread, the areas that were damaged, and the severity of the flames.
I began my journey at where it all started: Pudding Lane. The Great Fire of London began on the night of September 1 of 1666. The story of the fire begins with a baker, Thomas Faryner, who forgot to properly extinguish the fire in the oven of his bakery, “leaving sparks to set light to spare fuel and flour.” It was surreal to be in the presence of the place where the fire that changed London forever started. All I could do while I stood there in front of a building that stands where the bakery once stood was imagine what it must have looked like during the seventeenth century. Looking around in the area, it seems odd that a bakery would be placed there during modern times. Nevertheless, my journey to discover where the fire spread began.
The closest Tube station to where the fire started at Pudding Lane is Monument Station. I took the Tube from New Cross Gate all the way to Monument Station on the District Line. When I got out of the station, the first thing that I saw was the Monument, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London (The Monument). Today, people are able to go inside and climb the stairs of the Monument by spending about four pounds if you are an adult.
After leaving the Monument, the next place listed on the guide was Leadenhall Market, but I wanted to veer off to see the London Bridge before I made my way to the opposite direction. Before the fire, London Bridge had been crowded with houses. This was not helpful for people to be able to escape the fire because of how dense it was. Fortunately, “the wind direction and a fire break in the bridge meant that the fire did not spread along it to Southwark.” While I walked along the bridge and put myself in the shoes of those who lived there during the Fire, I only imagined how much I would have panicked. Since it was so dense and the fire was easily able to trap people on the bridge, I only thought of how I would have thought about jumping into the Thames. It found it very surreal to be in the areas where people were affected by the Fire and thinking what it would have been to be in that situation.
After leaving London Bridge, I continued to walk on the next place listed on the guide: Leadenhall Market. Leadenhall Market only suffered minor damages during the fire because of its stone construction. This was especially important because since everything around the market was highly combustible, it was able to prevent the fire from spreading past the market. As I was walking toward the market, I saw many buildings and professionals walking around. I also noticed a few coffee shops and food shops. It is very much a busy area and everything is so close together physically, which was able to help spread the fire. When I saw Leadenhall Market, I was able to see why the fire could not fully damage this structure. It was an enclosed market with stone buildings and a very beautiful design of architecture. It was very helpful that the market was able to only suffer minor damages, and the plaque that was placed on the market does not help us forget that.
After I left Leadenhall Market, I continued to walk aimlessly until I reached St. Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside. While on the way there, I was able to come across the Bank of London which was located on Threadneedle Street and about a one-minute walk from Mansion House. While the Bank of London did not exist during the Great Fire of London, it was founded almost thirty years later in 1694 and is known as the “old lady of Threadneedle Street, is the government’s bank and the UK’s central bank.” Mansion House is the place where the mayor’s place of work and residence is, which also opened after the Great Fire of London. When I reached St. Mary-le-Bow, it was a big church and had a courtyard where people could sit and enjoy time outside on a nice day. I passed by many shops, pubs, as well as narrow streets. According to “City of London,” most City streets were as narrow…during the fire…making it extremely hard for firefighters to get through.” This reminded me of how it would have been like on the London Bridge with such dense areas that made it hard for people to escape and evacuate. The St. Mary-le-Bow church was completely destroyed during the Fire and “its successor was built by Wren between 1670 and 1683its successor was built by Wren between 1670 and 1683.” The architecture was beautiful, but my next destination was much more grandiose.
After leaving St. Mary-le-Bow, I reached St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s was about two minutes from St. Mary-le-Bow, so I was able to walk past all of the shops once again. When I saw St. Paul’s, it was my third time being there, but its grand structure never ceases to amaze me. However, according to the guide on “City of London,” “three days after the fire had started, the wooden scaffolding surrounding St Paul’s caught fire and ignited the timbered roof.” I found it amazing that the Cathedral could have potentially survived had the scaffolding not been there, but it gave way to the beautiful design that Wren developed that we all enjoy today. After leaving St. Paul’s my last stop was where the Fire stopped: Golden Boy at Pie Corner.
On the way to Golden Boy at Pie Corner, I walked along Newgate Street where I would meet Giltspur Street and make a right. As I walked along this path, I made the wrong right turn. When I realized that I made the wrong turn, I ended up where the Bank of America was on King Edward Street. As I was walking back to get back onto Newgate Street, I came across a plaque that said “Near this spot stood Poulters’ Hall; 1630-1666.” I snapped a picture of it and looked it up and found out that it was once a Livery Company that now “now operates as a charitable institution.” It was destroyed by the Fire and I found it interesting that I randomly came across a site that commemorated a company whose building was destroyed by the Fire.
As I continued towards the end of my walk, I finally found the street I was looking for. I reached the end of the flames. The flames continue no more. It was interesting to think about how the flames stopped there and how there is a Golden boy placed on the building to symbolize the end. I stood there for about seven minutes just looking at the image and reflecting on how “Great” the fire truly was and how far the flames travelled across the highly combustible city. The boy was originally “a wooden effigy… to ornament Giltspur Street’s Fortune of War tavern” (Hidden London). My walk in total took about two hours. It is amazing to think how the flames spread at such a distance, lasting five days, and damaged so much property at “373 acres within the City walls and 63 acres without.” After finishing my walk and catching the Tube to head home, it is hard to imagine that such a tragedy would occur again with the material that all of the buildings that I walked past are made of.