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Fire!

It is three hundred and fifty years ago this September since fire broke out in a bakery in Pudding Lane and swept through the City of London. Contemporary publications in the Library’s collections reveal the extent and impact of the Great Fire. One which shows the sheer scale of the fire most graphically is a map of the city Platte grondt der stadt London produced by Marcus Willemsz Doornick in 1666.

Doornick's 'Platte grondt der stadt London'

Doornick was a Dutch mapmaker, based in Amsterdam, known for his well-illustrated surveys of the history and topography of his home city. The speed with which his map appeared, and the fact that the explanatory text accompanying the map was provided in Dutch, French, and English, suggests that there was a wide popular market for  Great-Fire-related documents. His map is detailed, listing the individual streets and public buildings affected. Buildings left standing around the outskirts of the city are drawn in the three-dimensional  bird’s-eye view typical of maps of the day. The area destroyed by fire stands out in stark contrast; a mere outline of the streets being all that remains following the devastation, presaging the two-dimensional overhead view familiar from the modern streetmap.

Part of Doornick's map, showing the area destroyed by fire.

Accounts of the fire rapidly appeared in print, including some in poetic form. John Dryden’s Annus mirabilis, The Year of Wonders 1666 was published in 1667. He describes each stage of the conflagration: the streets crowded with people running with buckets of water and using fire engines,

Extract from Dryden's poem 'Now streets grow throng'd...'

the ease with which the fire leapt across the narrow streets,

 Extract from Dryden's poem 'The fire, mean time, walks in a broader gross...'

and the deliberate destruction of buildings to create a fire break: a strategy which finally brought the blaze under control.

 Extract from Dryden's poem 'He sees the dire contagion spread so fast...'

Doornick’s map is on display in the Archives Centre from 24 August to 28 September (open to visitors on Wednesdays and Thursdays), along with fascinating documents from the Archives revealing the impact of the Great Fire on the College’s seventeenth-century London properties. 

 

This Special Collections Spotlight article was contributed on 19 August 2016 by the Special Collections Librarian.