Great Fire of London 1212
‘Great Fire of London’ is nowadays taken to refer to the terrible events of 1666 , though for all the massive loss of property that disaster only cost a handful of lives. London has seen many more conflagrations, some of them with far greater death tolls: Boudicca razed the city to the ground in 60AD; Saxon London suffered several catastrophic fires, notably in 675 and 989; the Normans fared little better, a blaze in 1087 with St Paul’s Cathedral its most famous victim. In 1135 London Bridge was destroyed by flames.
Little wonder London suffered from fires: housing and commercial premises existed together; a Norman law banned house fires after dark but was probably ignored; buildings were largely made of wood and thatch; and no organised fire brigade existed.
The fire of 1212 started south of the Thames , in Southwark; St Mary Overie, Southwark’s Cathedral church, was destroyed along with most of Borough High Street; the blaze reached London Bridge , rebuilt in stone following the 1135 disaster. But the bridge was covered with wooden shops and houses which slowed movement. It appears people fleeing northwards from Southwark, and brave souls heading in the opposite direction to fight the fire, were trapped on the bridge when embers carried by strong southerly winds ignited timbers at the northern end, the southern side already ablaze. Though the figure is doubtless exaggerated legend has it 3,000 died that day on London Bridge, caught in the inferno or drowned in the Thames. The City of London was badly hit by spreading flames, householders wondering if they should have followed the strictures of Henry FitzAilwin, London’s first mayor, who had promoted the use of stone over wood in building.
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