London: A Brief History - Part 3: Disaster Strikes

London: A Brief History - Part 3: Disaster Strikes

Disaster: The Great Plague and the Great Fire of London

Image Source: Wikipeda - Painter Unknown

By the 1600s, the growth and continued expansion of London led to the influx of all classes of people and there were a large number of people who lived in extreme poverty in the city.

Poverty became so rife that city sanitation was adversely affected as people disposed of their waste (both organic and human) out in the streets of the city and as a consequence, London became filthy and infested with rats and fleas.

In 1665, the early victims of The Great Plague were first discovered in the poorer areas of London due to the deplorable living conditions. The spread of the plague was aided by the overpopulation of the area, which encouraged close contact between healthy and infected people, and even contact with rats and fleas. The disease spread quickly; the rich relocated to the countryside for safety while the poor had no choice but to stay put.

As a response to the disease, some new laws were created to help curb the spread of the plague: the military guarding certain areas, painting red crosses on doors of the infected, killing dogs, and searchers who hunted down dead bodies for mass burials etc. The climax of the plague was in September 1665 when the summer heat peaked. The next winter halted the spread of the plague as the cold took its toll on the rats and fleas.
Though the real tragedy had passed by the tail end of 1665, the demise of the disease was in part due to the Great Fire of London in 1666. The fire destroyed the infested areas where rats had multiplied. The fire was reported to have burnt down over 13,000 houses, 88 parish churches, and left over 70,000 inhabitants of London homeless.

Only 6 people were reported to be killed by the fire which lasted from the 2nd to 5th September 1666.

The rebuilding of the city after The Great Fire was swift; King Charles appointed commissioners including Christopher Wren to supervise the rebuilding. The supervisors determined the length of streets, quality of materials and positioning of important public structures like markets, churches, and secular buildings.

Wren’s grand plan for London was never used, but by the end of 1670, over 6000 houses had been built. Christopher Wren, who was knighted in 1673, supervised the construction of fifty-one parish churches and started the construction of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Another notable name in the rebuilding of London is John Nash, who designed Buckingham Palace and Regent Street, as well as Marble Arch in 1827, to be the official pathway to the Cour d’Honneur of Buckingham Palace.

The Bank of England was established towards the end of the 17th century, and London was now handling 80% of England’s imports and almost 70% of its exports.
It should be noted that London was never a place where goods were manufactured, but a place where goods were traded.

Back to Part 2 - Roman London / Read Part 4 - The Industrial Revolution


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