There I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side end of the bridge…. So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King’d baker’s house in Pudding-lane, and that it hath burned St. Magnus’s Church and most part of Fish-street already. So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire…. Having staid, and in an horu’s time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire.
Three hundred fifty years ago this month, the Great Fire of London destroyed much of the medieval city. Here we have the panoramic views of London created by Prague-born artist and cartographer Wenceslaus Hollar. As the British Library describes, Hollar copied a view of London that he had completed in the 1640s to illustrate London before the fire, and used knowledge gained from his official work mapping the damage to create the scene of destruction. Zooming in on the image, we can see the flattened and destroyed buildings, and St. Paul’s with its roof caved in just as described in Pepys’ famous account of the Great Fire.
Walked thence, and saw all the towne burned, and a miserable sight of Paul’s church, with all the roofs fallen, and the body of the quire fallen into St. Fayth’s; Paul’s school also, Ludgate, and Fleet-street, my father’s house, and the church, and a good part of the Temple the like.
Interesting, the British Library discusses how the panoramic view of London from the south across the Thames was a traditional depiction by artists and cartographers since the 1540s, lasting until the mid-19th century when aerial views became the more common depiction.
Hollar also created this overhead view of London. We can see the footprint of St Paul’s, and the place the fire started on Pudding Lane near London Bridge (where the monument to the Great Fire is now). Hollar moved to England in 1637 and stayed in London until 1642, when he left for Antwerp. He returned to England in 1652 and lived there until his death in 1677. He was extremely productive, creating about 2700 etchings during his life.
Christopher Wren’s plans for rebuilding the city after the fire, one of the first proposals to be submitted, utilized Hollar’s panoramic views to highlight suggested changes to the medieval city – with buildings plotted in orderly fashion, wide avenues, and open piazzas. Wren’s plans were never used, but he was of course able to make his mark on the rebuilt cityscape.
Round up of sources on the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London:
- Teaching resources at the National Archives
- List of buildings that survived from Historic UK and a similar article from the Guardian
- Museum of London’s reconstructed 17th century fire engine
- From the V&A: Conservation of a 17th century facade that survived the fire
- 350th anniversary in pictures
We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side of the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it.