About four o’clock in the morning, my Lady Batten sent me a cart to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things, to Sir W. Riders at Bednall-greene. Which I did riding myself in my night-gowne in the cart; and, Lord! to see how the streets and the highways are crowded with people running and riding, and getting of carts at any rate to fetch away things. Samuel Pepys Diary for 3rd September 1666.
By Monday morning, with the fire 24 hours old, the flames are spreading quickly west and north. Yet still no real efforts to contain the fire have been made,
The Duke of York is given command
The Lord Mayor appears to have abandoned any effort to fight the fire. After his failures of Sunday, Bloodworth is not mentioned in any accounts and is not certain what he was doing or where he went. Technically direct authority over the city of London lay in the Mayor’s hands and most definitely NOT the King. Indeed on the Sunday the mayor had turned down offers of direct help from the king. Charles ignored this and did send troops. ON Monday with the Mayor having thrown in the towel, Charles decided to take definitive action and appointed James, Duke of York and his own brother the task of coordinating the fire fighting efforts. James took to the task at once and deployed regiments of his own soldiers on the street. He had to contend with two main problems in order to get near the fire :
Paranoia and Blame
The people of London, terrified of the fire and furious at the destruction did what most men and women do at such times. They try and find someone to blame. In London in September 1666 there were plenty of people to blame. England was at war with both France and Holland in the Second Anglo Dutch War. So any foreigners -especially from Holland or France were set upon in the streets and accused of Arson. They were searched and if matches found were beaten or even threatened with hanging. Astrologers who had predicted a terrible calamity on 1666 were also suspects as were manufacturers of fireworks. Fear of witchcraft meant that some women were attacked – even a poor girl who was caught carrying a chicken in her petticoat which was mistaken for a fireball that she was about to throw. Because of fears of another Gunpowder type plot Catholics were also accused to starting the fire.
Save what you can!
Utter panic set in during Monday as the city folk realised that the destruction could be extensive. Thousands of Londoners evacuated whatever belongings they could in cart, on foot or by boat. Some folk with the eye for making a quick fortune began hiring out carts and boats at exorbitant rates. A cart which before the fire would cost a couple of shillings could be as much at £40 on that monday! The streets were jammed with panicking people, carts, wagons and -Â desperateÂ to keep order – James’ Â troops.
The Fire Spreads
The fire – driven on with strengthening winds had reached the North end of London bridge and destroyed it. Fortunately a fire break on the bridge – the result of a previous fire 30 years before – prevented the fire spreading further south.
Nothing, however, could prevent the fire spreading to engulf the great trade centre of the Royal Exchange on Cornhill which had been build in Queen Elizabeth’s time, nor the loss of the shops on Cheapshide.
“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” John Evelyn
Action at last
Whilst running around protecting foreigners and Catholics and bringing some order to the crowded streets, gradually James establishes working parties – each with orders to pull down houses to slow the spread of the fire. Furthermore wealthy citizens began paying for hired labour to help with the efforts. It was not much but we start to see the types of actions that will eventually save London.
See: Sunday 2nd September - The Fire Starts
Tomorrow: Tuesday 4th September – The Fire at full fury!
This article is one of a series connected with the release in August of the new paperback of The Last Seal my historical fantasy set during the Great Fire of 1666.