Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, Comprising His Diary from 1659 to 1669, Decipbered by the Rev. J. Smith, and a Selection of His Private Correspondence, Edited by Lord Braybrooke

Author: Samuel Pepys  | Date: 1825

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Samuel Pepys 1825

Samuel Pepys on the Great Fire of London

[1666]

September 2, 1666. Some of our maids sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast to-day, Jane called us up about three in the morning to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose, and slipped on my nightgown, and went to her window; and thought it to be on the back side of Mark Lane at the farthest, and so went to bed again and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was, and further off. . . . By and by Jane comes and tells me that above 300 houses have been burned down, and that it is now burning down all Fish Street by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson’s little son going up with me; and 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 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’s baker’s house in Pudding Lane.

So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat, and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Everybody endeavoring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river, or bringing them into fighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses fill the very fire touched them, and then running into boats or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies fill they burned their wings and fell down. Having stayed and in an hour’s time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavoring to quench it, but to remove their goods and leave all to the fire, and having seen it get as far as the Steelyard, and the wind mighty high and driving into the city; and everything, after so long a drought, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, I to White Hall . . . and there up to the King’s closet in the chapel, where people come about me, and I did give them an account which dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King.

So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of York what I saw; and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. Meeting with Captain Cocke, I in his coach, which he lent me, . . . to Paul’s; and there walked along Watling Street, as well as I could, every creature coming away laden with goods to save, and here and there sick people carried away in beds. Extraordinary good goods carried in carts and on backs.

At last met my Lord Mayor in Canning Street, like a man spent, with a handkercher about his neck. To the King’s message, he cried, like a fainting woman:

"Lord! what can I do? I am spent. People will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it. . . ."

So I walked home, seeing people almost all distracted, and no manner of means to quench the fire. The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tar in Thames Street, and warehouses of oil and wines and brandy and other things.

Soon as I dined, I away, and walked through the City, the streets full of people, and horses and carts loaden with goods. To Paul’s Wharf, where I took boat, and saw the fire was now got further, both below and above bridge, and no likelihood of stopping it. Met with the King and Duke of York in their barge. Their order was only to pull down houses apace; but this little was or could be done, the fire coming so fast. Having seen as much as I could now, I away to White Hail by appointment, and there walked to St. James’s Park; and there met my wife, and Creed and Wood and his wife, and walked to my boat; and there upon the water again, and to the fire up and down, it still increasing, and the wind great. So near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one’s faces in the wind you were almost burned with a shower of fire-drops.

When we could endure no more upon the water, we to a little alehouse on the Bankside over against the Three Cranes and there stayed till it was dark almost, and saw the fire grow; and, as it grew darker, appeared more and more; and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid, malicious, bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire. We stayed 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. The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruin.

So home with a sad heart.

5th. I lay down in the office again upon W. Hewer’s quilt, being mighty weary and sore in my feet with going till I was hardly able to stand. About two in the morning my wife calls me up and tells me of new cries of fire. But, Lord! what a sad sight it was by moonlight to see the whole city almost on fire that you might see it as plain at Woolwich as if you were by it.

Home, and whereas I expected to have seen our house on fire, it being now about seven o’clock, it was not. But to the fire, and there find greater hopes than I expected. I find, by the blowing up of houses and the great help given by the workmen out of the King’s yards, sent up by Sir W. Penn, there is a good stop given to it, as well at Mark Lane end as ours; it having only burned the dial of Barking Church and part of the porch, and was there quenched. I up to the top of Barking steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw; everywhere great fires, oil-cellars and brimstone and other things burning. I became afraid to stay there long, and therefore down again as fast as I could, the fire being spread as far as I could see it; and to Sir W. Penn’s, and there eat a piece of cold meat, having eaten nothing since Sunday, but the remains of Sunday’s dinner.

I walked into the town, and find Fenchurch Street, Gracious Street, and Lombard Street all in dust. The Exchange a sad sight, nothing standing there of all the statues or pillars but Sir Thomas Gresham’s picture in the corner. Into Moorfield’s our feet ready to burn walking through the town among hot coals, and find that full of people and poor wretches carrying their goods there and everybody keeping his goods together by themselves; and a great blessing it is to them that it is fair weather for them to keep abroad night and day; drunk there, and paid twopence for a plain penny loaf. Thence homeward, having passed through Cheapside and Newgate market, all burned; and seen Anthony Joyce’s house in fire; and took up, which I keep by me, a piece of glass of the Mercers’ Chapel in the street, where much more was, so melted and buckled with the heat of the fire like parchment. I also did see a poor cat taken out of a hole in a chimney, joining to the wall of the Exchange, with the hair all burnt off the body, and yet alive.

So home at night.

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Title: Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, Comprising His Diary from 1659 to 1669, Decipbered by the Rev. J. Smith, and a Selection of His Private Correspondence, Edited by Lord Braybrooke

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Chicago: Samuel Pepys, Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, Comprising His Diary from 1659 to 1669, Decipbered by the Rev. J. Smith, and a Selection of His Private Correspondence, Edited by Lord Braybrooke, ed. Samuel Pepys in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2021, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=S3GZFXNJ55R6FMS.

MLA: Pepys, Samuel. Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, Comprising His Diary from 1659 to 1669, Decipbered by the Rev. J. Smith, and a Selection of His Private Correspondence, Edited by Lord Braybrooke, edited by Samuel Pepys, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2021. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=S3GZFXNJ55R6FMS.

Harvard: Pepys, S, Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, Comprising His Diary from 1659 to 1669, Decipbered by the Rev. J. Smith, and a Selection of His Private Correspondence, Edited by Lord Braybrooke, ed. . cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2021, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=S3GZFXNJ55R6FMS.