Great Fire Walk

2016 has been a busy year for The Baker’s Company with several special commissions to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666.  These have included organ music, a play based on Samuel Pepys’ observations, biscuits using ingredients available at the time and the Events Committee’s Great Fire Walk.
This latter event took place on Tuesday 20th September when 20 members and their guests gathered on the steps of the Royal Exchange to begin a 90 minute fact filled walk with Coutours guide Emma Parker.
We learnt that fires were frequent in the narrow, dry streets where combustible hazards such as kindling and hay lurked on every corner and barrels containing highly inflammable commodities such as tallow and sugar were stacked near the river.
The Lord Mayor seemed unconcerned about the severity of the fire and failed in his duty on two accounts.  Firstly to find a woman with a bladder large enough to quell the flames and secondly to order the destruction of buildings to create a fire break.  Such was his negligence that King Charles II and his brother The Duke of York stepped in to take control of the situation.
Many factors contributed to the magnitude of the fire, starting as it did on a dry night spreading though wooden structures aided by strong winds.  How different the outcome might have been had it been a rainy Thursday afternoon and the buildings above ground were as well built as the cellars below, some of which were discovered in the 1950’s complete with drinkable port.
The destruction of property including houses, churches and businesses is well known but there was some scepticism that the official loss of life was less than 10.  Luckily The Master has been undertaking detailed research into The Fire and thought it more likely to be in the low hundreds to take into account those too ill or infirm to have escaped.
There was far too much information in Emma’s talk to do it justice here but two of the more unusual facts were:
Firstly, the London Gazette in Shoe Lane only managed to print one edition before it was destroyed.  News was then spread by sung ballad.

Secondly, an insurance industry was established with a fire service to put out fires. Initially it was not very effective as the fire fighters were paid in advance in beer.  This was resolved by issuing beer tokens instead to be cashed in after the fire had been extinguished. 

Luckily when the walk ended at Baker’s Hall we were able to enjoy token free refreshments and admire the building work that has taken place over the summer.  This included the installation of a disabled toilet on the ground floor, stair lift to the lower floor and extensive alterations and improvements to the kitchen and serving areas.