It’s a nice winter’s day, the sun is shining and you feel like being a tourist in your own town…but you want to do something with a bit more meaning, and away from the tourist crowds?
That’s how we felt, and Jess, the History buff of the two decided that what better way to have a walk and see some things we hadn’t seen before put together a ‘Great Fire of London’ route for us.
By the Millenium Bridge (Blackfriars/Mansion House are the closest tube).
- Turn left onto the Thames Path towards London Bridge. THe Thames path used to be a bustling hive of trading stalls, warehouses and banks, it would have been busy with people and products, products brought in on boats, like rope, cloth, oil, alcohol and timber…and what do they all have in common? They’re combustible as hell. When the firs broke out, merchants threw their goods into the Thames to save them from the fires!
- Walk along the Thames Path past Southwark Bridge to London Bridge (don’t cross it but do go and see the Plaque telling you about the fire). London Bridge was the only Bridge that crossed the Thames back in 1666, until 1729! It was built up with houses on both sides and the actual road/walkway was so narrow that once the fire started there was no way that it would be a good enough escape route. Although the wind did cause lots of damage and made the fire spread, it didn’t carry the fire down London Bridge, so it wasn’t destroyed. The one that’s in front of you today is the one re-built in 1973 though.
- Just passed the bridge, turn left towards St Magnus the Martyr church. Back in the 1660s because of how close it was to the Thames, it actually housed some fire fighting equipment, however on the night of the blaz it was the second church to burn. The church you see is one rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, and if you’re lucky, unlike us, and the church is open, inside is a model of the old London Bridge. If not, outside you can feast your eyes on some stones from the Roman Pier and original London Bridge.
- Cross Lower Thames Street and turn left on to Pudding Lane. Pudding Lane, the place you learn in primary school where the bakers shop was that started the fire. Well, that’s where you’re headed. Thomas Farriner was his name, and a plaque on the wall marks the spot where his bakery was. Starting a fire that destroyed the city would surely lead to prison or death right? Well, Farriner managed to avoid it as a Frenchman admitted to starting the fire, even though they couldn’t prove he was in London on the night of the fire (2nd September in case you’re wondering).
- Walk down the end of the road to Monument-that’s the tall column with the golden urn on the top. The thing the tube station is named after! Well you can go inside that, and that’s exactly what we did. Now being someone that’s extremely clumsy and terrified of heights, let me tell you-there’s no lift. Just a single staircase going up but the views at the top (even, if like me you can’t go close to the edge) and the certificate at the bottom definitely make the £4 worth it. Take your student card for cheap entry if you have one! Monument was built to commemorate the fire of London, in 1671 although they didn’t finish it until 1677.
- Once you’ve done that and got your breath back, head up Fishstreet Hill to Leadenhall market. You may recognise this as Diagon Alley but actually in this story it is where the Great Fire of London actually stopped because of the stone construction. There has been a market here since he 14th century! Feel the history and have a look around!
- Head up St Michael’s Alley and left on Cornhill to Royal Exchange. Another of those quirky London places with no pronouns. This was where the trade of all the good brought in on the Thames ended up, from tea and herbs to spices and wool. It burnt down in the fire on the Monday, alongside Cornhill and Lombard Street which was where all the bankers worked (Could we say Karma?).
- Walk up Threadneedle Street and turn left onto Bartholemew Lane, take the first left and on Gresham Street you should be faced with the beautiful building of Guildhall. This was where the City of London government resided and the fire reached here on day three. As it was one of the only stone built buildings in London, most of it survived. We suggest, if you can, going in and having a look around the Great Hall and Art Gallery- both free!
- Walk back on yourself to Milk Street and Cheapside, and turn left. St Mary Le Bow on Cheapside is, and was a church. You can go in for free and see the crypt that was there before the fire but the rest, shockingly burnt down. There’s spots all over to eat, and as is now, was then, Cheapside was a busy trading street wth stalls and sellers, so the fire destroyed everything.
- Turn left and left again until you get to St Paul’s Cathedral. Probably the most famous story aside from the baker and Sam Pepys, St Paul’s Cathedral was used as a refuge for people and goods from across the city. However, because of the wooden scaffolding around it, it was not very safe and on the fourth day of the fire, the scaffolding caught fire and so did the roof, burning down the church and everything inside it. The current church is that of Sir Christopher Wren’s redesign and known worldwide as a London landmark. I would say go in if you like churches, but it is pricey and questionably worth the money.
- The final port of call on our walk was the Museum of London. We were lucky that the “Fire! Fire!” exhibition was still on to top off our day. Every exhibition this museum does is fantastic but even if you aren’t going for that, go for the free history! It’s free to get in and if you’re clever when walking through 450,000 years worth of history, you can find a helmet of a firefighter from 1666 and devices that they used to fight the flames (and you’ll see why it was so unsuccessful.
Have you done anything like this? Are there any other london histories, myths or legends you want to see us feature? Let us know in the comments below.
(Watch out for Instagram stories in the future when we do things like this @fourthousandweeks)