In the night of Saturday 1 to Sunday 2 September 1666, a fire broke out in the house of Thomas Farriner, a baker and supplier of ship’s biscuits to His Majesty’s Royal Navy. His bakery was located in Pudding Lane, a narrow London alley. Farriner and his daughter Hannah managed to escape through a skylight, but the maid was afraid to follow them and perished in the flames, the first victim of the Great Fire of London.
The fire spread quickly due to the drought that had persisted since the autumn of 1668, combined with a strong south-east wind. At the time, London still had countless wooden houses, which often stood very close together. Moreover, to create more space, it was the custom to have the upper storeys project out over the lower ones. Therefore, the fire could easily spread from one house to the other.
On Wednesday, when the fire had finally burnt itself out after having raged for five days, five- sixth of London lay in ashes, an area of 1.5 x 0.5 miles (2.4 x 0.8 km). Some13,200 houses had burnt down, as well as 98 churches and four of the seven city gates.
Not everybody grasped at once how serious the situation was. Sir Thomas Bludworth, the Lord Mayor of London, was rather laconic about it at first. When roused from his bed the first night to take stock of the situation, he reacted slightingly: “Pff, a woman could put it out by pissing on it!” Later on, his own house was to go up in flames as well, but he had enough money left to have a splendid new house built in Maiden Lane.
It is noteworthy that the official sources reported a very small number of victims: from four to about nineteen. Four of the victims are known. The first one was Rose, Farriner’s maid. Then there was an old woman whose charred body was found near St Paul’s Cathedral, an old man (mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary) who said he was going to fetch the blanket he had left in church and was caught by the fire there, and finally a watchmaker, whose bones where found together with his keys in Shoe Lane.