Remembering the Great Fire of London

At midnight on 2 September 1666 a fire began that razed the medieval heart of London to the ground. Over the next four days, assisted by official blunders, a minor accident turned into a major conflagration in which many people lost their homes, their livelihoods and, in some cases, their lives. The previous year Bubonic Plague, the Black Death, had killed tens of thousands of people in London.

The Great Fire of London started in the King’s bakery in Pudding Lane, near London Bridge. The summer had been very hot and the wooden houses in the narrow streets were very dry. The Lord Mayor underestimated the seriousness of the fire and failed to give the order to pull houses down to prevent the fire from spreading. By the time King Charles II gave the order to pull houses down it was too late to stop the fire spreading. By 4 September half of London was in flames. St Paul’s Cathedral was destroyed.

By the time the fire was brought under control only one fifth of London was left standing. Most civic buildings were destroyed and 13,000 homes, but amazingly the official figure was that only 6 people had died. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless; 89 parish churches, the Guildhall, jails and markets had become burnt-out shells. The loss of property was estimated at between £5 and £7 million. However, although the Great Fire was a catastrophe, overcrowded and disease ridden streets were destroyed and a new London emerged. Sir Christopher Wren was given the task of re-building the city and the new St. Paul’s Cathedral was completed in 1711.

It is not easy to understand why some things in this life happen. When we pass through dark times, however, it is good to bring our sadness to God and to trust him to give us strength in the present and hope for the future. The Bible tells the story of a man called Job. He was a man of complete integrity who feared God and stayed away from evil. Yet, in a mysterious way, through a series of disasters, he suffered the loss of everything he had, including his 10 children. When he heard his children had died, Job was heart-broken. He fell to the ground in worship and said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”

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