[ Note that this does not set out to be an account of The Fire of London - but only of the river aspects of it. ]

Map of fire 1666
Extent of 1666 fire of London.

1632: A previous fire

34 years before the Great Fire of 1666 -
1632: from The Great Fire of London by Walter George Bell (1914) -

A hundred fires had occurred before, burning themselves out after more or less damage had occasioned. ...
The carelessness of one Briggs, a needle-maker living there, in leaving at night a tub of hot ashes under the stairs had been responsible for this [1632] fire, which consumed forty-two houses, and burnt for eight hours.
St Magnus Church, though in the gravest peril, escaped on that occasion, and in gratitude therefor a devout parishioner, Susanna Chambers, left to the parson a yearly sum of twenty shillings for a sermon to be preached in commemoration of God's providence.
The progress of the [1632] fire was only stayed when the flames reached the first clear space above the water.

1632: The Chronicle of London Bridge (1825) -

This engraving bears the name of Rombout Vanden Hoege, and shews us, with great minuteness, on rather a large scale, the Group Of Buildings On London Bridge, Burned Down In 1632-33

London Bridge 1632
Group Of Buildings On London Bridge, Burned Down In 1632-33

[The 1632 fire] extended to the first opening, and which, from the very appearance which they present, must have contained a considerable number of inhabitants; but of the fire itself, and of all the distressing events attending it, I am about to give you a very particular and interesting account, from the pen of an eyewitness of the conflagration. This narrative is contained in a coarse paper Manuscript volume written in the print-hand of the 17th century, with some lines of faded red ink and chalk interspersed. "A Record of the Mercies of God" or, "A Thankefull Remembrance"; it being a collection, or journal, of remarkable providences and reflections, made by one Nehemiah Wallington, a Puritan Citizen and Turner, who lived in Little Eastcheap. At pages 479 — 488, is an article entitled "Of the great firec upon the Bridge"
1633. It is the bounden dutie of us all that have beene the beholders of the wonderfull workes of the Lord our God, his mercyes and Judgements shewed heretofore; and now of late of a fearefull fire, wee should not forgett itt ourselves, and we should declare it to all others, even to ye generations to come.
On the XI day of February, (being Monday, 1633) began, by God's just hand, a fearefull fire in the house of one Mr. John Brigges, neere tenn of the clocke att night, it burnt down his house and the next house, with all the goods that were in them; and, as I heere, that Briggs, his wife, and childe, escaped with their lives very hardly, having nothing on their bodies but their shurt and smoke: and the fire burnt so fearcely, that itt could not be quenched till it had burnt downe all the houses on both sides of the way, from S. Magnes Church to the first open place.
And allthough there was water enough very neere, yet they could not safely come at it, but all the conduittes neere were opened, and the pipes that carried watter through the streets were cutt open, and the watter swept down with broomes with helpe enough; but it was the will of God it should not prevaile. And the hand of God was the more seene in this, in as much as no meanes would prosper. For the 3 Engines, which are such excellent things, that nothing that ever was devised could do so much good, yet none of these did prosper, for they were all broken, and the tide was verie low that they could get no watter; and the pipes that were cutt yeilded but littel watter. Some ladders were broke to the hurt of many, for some had their legges broke, some had their armes, and some their ribbes broken, and many lost their lives.
This fire burnt fiercely all night, and part of the next day (for my man was there about twelve a cloke, and he said he did see the fardest house on fire) till all was burnt and pulled downe to the ground. Yet the timber, and wood, and coales in the sellers, could not be quenched all that weeke, till the Tuesday following, in the afternoone, the XIX of February, for I was there then my selfe, and had a live cole of fire in my hand, and burnt my finger with it.
Notwithstanding there were as many night and day as could labour one by another to carry away timber, and brickes, and tiles, and rubbish cast downe into the liters. So that on Wensday the Bridge was cleared that passengers might goe over." ...
I did heere that on the other side of ye Bridge, the Bruers brought abundance of watter in vessells on their draies, which did, with the blissing of God, much good; and this mircie of God I thought on, that there was but littel wind; for had ye wind bin as high as it was a weeke before, I thinke it would have indangered ye most part of the Citie; for in Thames Street there is much pitch, tarre, rosen, and oyle, in their houses: Therefore, as God remembers mercy in justice, let us remember thankefullnes in sorrow.

He goes on to name the householders who lost their homes and businesses in this 1633 fire.
So the warning was there - what would happen if the same occurred but also, as Pepys said, "the wind was mighty high"?
1633: The extent of the damage to the bridge was shown in a plan in The Chronicle of London (1825) -

Of the ground-plot of London Bridge, after the damage done by this [1632] fire is yet extant a very curious survey, preserved under the care of Mr. Smith, in the British Museum. It consists of an unpublished drawing on parchment. It was executed, as I suppose, soon after this fatal conflagration, since there is a note written in an ancient hand attached to the seventh pier from the City end, stating that 'the Fire burnt to the prickt line', which is drawn from it; and which accords with all the subsequent views taken of the platform, and houses on the Bridge.

London Bridge Plan after fire 1632
London Bridge "the fire burnt to the prickt line" 1632


1666: Samuel Pepys' Diary [ Pepys Diary excerpts are edited to maybe one third of the original, giving just the river related sections and the bare story ] -

2nd [September 1666] (Lord's day).
Some of our mayds 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 nightgowne, and went to her window, and thought it to be on the backside of Marke-lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep.

The Great Fire of London by Walter George Bell (1914) -

The Great Fire ... had then less than two hours' growth. It seemed nothing. Could Pepys have known that no man would ever again see London as it was that hour before dawn, doubtless he would have stayed longer, but he was little concerned by the spectacle of fire with which the populace were unhappily familiar.
From the upper window the city had spread out before him - a city of narrow streets and timber-framed houses massed closely together, losing all separate identity in the mystery of the deep shadows, and against the heavens a silhouette formed of innumerable roof-gables, carried upward at a hundred points by church spires and towers. ...
I know no reason to suppress the historical remark of Sir Thomas Bludworth, the Lord Mayor, when first he surveyed the flames of what became the Great Fire of London. "Pish!" he said, "a woman might piss it out".

Samuel Pepys' Diary (continued) -

[2nd September 1666 (Lord's day) continued]
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. So to my closett to set things to rights after yesterday's cleaning.

The Great Fire of London by Walter George Bell (1914) -

London awoke that Sunday morning not greatly perturbed, rising earlier, it is true, than is now the custom. We are told that the day was bright and sunny, with a cloudless sky.
The night - contemporary writers have pictured its alarms.
"The fire begins", says Vincent breathlessly, "is quickly taken notice of, though in the midst of night.
'Fire! fire! fire!' doth resound the streets; many citizens start out of their sleep, look out of their windows; some dress themselves, and run to the place.
The Lord Mayor of the city comes with his officers; a confusion there is; counsel is taken away; and London, so famous for wisdom and dexterity, can now find neither brains nor hands to prevent its ruin."
Samuel Wiseman, writer of a poetic broadside, is in the same strain -

And now the doleful, dreadfull, hideous note
Of Fire, is screamed out with a deep strained throat;
Horror, and fear, and sad distracted cries
Chide Sloth away, and bid the Sluggard rise;
Most direfull acclamations are let flye
From every tongue, tears stand in every Eye.

Samuel Pepys' Diary (continued) -

[2nd September 1666 (Lord's day) continued]
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 the end of the bridge; which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Michell and our Sarah on the bridge.

The Great Fire of London by Walter George Bell (1914) -

The flames of 1666 followed the same course [as the fire of 1632 see above], burning through the [bridge] gate-tower and laying low the new houses, rebuilt three storeys high and again timber-framed and timber-strutted. Overhanging portions fell into the flood below, and floated away, the rest collapsing upon their fundations.
The [bridge] road was thus blocked, the way being made impassable to any who might have combated the flames.
Fortunately the open-space which served so well in 1632 served again thirty-four years later, and there the Fire stopped.
Sparks blown from the debris set alight a stable in Horse Shoe Alley, Southwark. After two houses had been involved, the Fire across the river was stayed by the pulling down of a third.

And so the river was effectively the southern boundary of the fire and London Bridge itself survived - though with some considerable damage.

Samuel Pepys' Diary (continued) -

[2nd September 1666 (Lord's day) continued]
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, and that it hath burned St. Magnus's Church and most part of Fish-street already. So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michell's house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Steeleyard, while I was there.
Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; poor people staying in their houses as long as till 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 balconys till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down. Having staid, and in an hour's time seen the fire: rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire, and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the City; and every thing, after so long a drought, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs. -- lives, and whereof my old school-fellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top, and there burned till it fell down:
I to White Hall (with a gentleman with me who desired to go off from the Tower, to see the fire, in my boat); and there up to the Kings closett in the Chappell, where people come about me, and did give them an account dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King. So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of Yorke 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 [Sir Thomas Bludworth] from him, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him that if he would have any more soldiers he shall; ...
I to Paul's Wharf, where I had appointed a boat to attend me, and took in Mr. Carcasse and his brother, whom I met in the streets and carried them below and above bridge to and again to see the fire, which was now got further, both below and above and no likelihood of stopping it.
Met with the King and Duke of York in their barge, and with them to Queenhith and there called Sir Richard Browne to them. Their order was only to pull down houses apace, and so below bridge the water-side; but little was or could be done, the fire coming upon them so fast. Good hopes there was of stopping it at the Three Cranes above, and at Buttolph's Wharf below bridge, if care be used; but the wind carries it into the City so as we know not by the water-side what it do there.
River full of lighters and boats taking in goods, and good goods swimming in the water, and only I observed that hardly one lighter or boat in three that had the goods of a house in, but there was a pair of Virginalls in it. [keyboard instrument, an early square piano] ...
walked to my boat; and there upon the water again, and to the fire up and down, it still encreasing, and the wind great. So near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one's face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops. This is very true; so as houses were burned by these drops and flakes of fire, three or four, nay, five or six houses, one from another. When we could endure no more upon the water; we to a little ale-house on the Bankside, over against the 'Three Cranes, and there staid 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 staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side 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 ruins.

London Burning by Night, 1666
London Burning by Night, 1666. From a German Print in the Goss Collection. In "The Great Fire of London by Walter George bell, 1914.

Samuel Pepys' Diary (continued) -

3rd. [Monday - Day 2 of fire] ...
all this day [my wife] and I, and all my people labouring to get away the rest of our things, and did get Mr. Tooker to get me a lighter to take them in, and we did carry them (myself some) over Tower Hill, which was by this time full of people's goods, bringing their goods thither; and down to the lighter, which lay at next quay, above the Tower Docke. ...
4th. [Tuesday, Day 3 of fire]
Up by break of day to get away the remainder of my things; which I did by a lighter at the Iron gate and my hands so few, that it was the afternoon before we could get them all away. ...
Only now and then walking into the garden, and saw how horridly the sky looks, all on a fire in the night, was enough to put us out of our wits; and, indeed, it was extremely dreadful, for it looks just as if it was at us; and the whole heaven on fire. I after supper walked in the darke down to Tower-streete, and there saw it all on fire, at the Trinity House on that side, and the Dolphin Taverne on this side, which was very near us; and the fire with extraordinary vehemence.
Now begins the practice of blowing up of houses in Tower-streete, those next the Tower, which at first did frighten people more than anything, but it stopped the fire where it was done, it bringing down the houses to the ground in the same places they stood, and then it was easy to quench what little fire was in it, though it kindled nothing almost. ...
Paul's is burned, and all Cheapside. I wrote to my father this night, but the post-house being burned, the letter could not go.

London Burning by Day, 1666
London Burning by Day, 1666. From a German Print in the Goss Collection. In "The Great Fire of London by Walter George bell, 1914.

Samuel Pepys' Diary (continued) -

5th. [Wednesday, Day 4 of fire]
About two in the morning my wife calls me up and tells me of new cryes of fire, it being come to Barkeing Church, which is the bottom of our lane. I up, and finding it so, resolved presently to take her away, and did, and took my gold, which was about £2350, W. Newer, and Jane, down by Proundy's boat to Woolwich; but, Lord! what sad sight it was by moone-light to see, the whole City almost on fire, that you might see it plain at Woolwich, as if you were by it. ...
So back again, by the way seeing my goods well in the lighters at Deptford, and watched well by people. 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 fyre, and there find greater hopes than I expected; ...
But going to the fire, I find by the blowing up of houses, and the great helpe given by the workmen out of the King's yards, sent up by Sir W. Pen, there is a good stop given to it, as well as at Marke-lane end as ours; it having only burned the dyall 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; every where great fires, oyle-cellars, and brimstone, and other things burning. I became afeard to stay there long, and therefore down again as fast as I could, the fire being spread as far as I could see it; ...
received good hopes that the fire at our end is stopped, they and I walked into the town, and find Fanchurch-streete, Gracious-streete; and Lumbard-streete all in dust. The Exchange a sad sight, nothing standing there, ... Walked into Moorefields (our feet ready to burn, walking through the towne among the hot coles), ... Thence homeward, having passed through Cheapside and Newgate Market, all burned, and seen Anthony Joyce's House in fire. ...
6th. [Thursday. Day 5 of fire] ...
I took boat, and over to Southwarke, and took boat on the other side the bridge, and so to Westminster, ... and then to White Hall, but saw nobody; and so home. A sad sight to see how the River looks: no houses nor church near it, to the Temple, where it stopped. ...
7th. [Friday. Day 6]
Up by five o'clock; and, blessed be God! find all well, and by water to Paul's Wharfe. Walked thence, and saw, all the towne burned, and a miserable sight of Paul's church; with all the roofs fallen, and the body of the quire fallen into St. Fayth's; Paul's school also, Ludgate, and Fleet-street, my father's house, and the church, and a good part of the Temple the like. ...
Much dispute where the Custome-house shall be thereby the growth of the City again to be foreseen. My Lord Treasurer, they say, and others; would have it at the other end of the towne. ... ...
Dec 1, 1666 [90 days after the fire started]
Walking to the Old Swan, I did see a cellar in Tower Street in a very fresh fire, the late great winds having blown it up. It seemed to be only of logwood, that hath kept the fire all this while in it. ...
Dec 14. [104 days after the fire started]
By coach to Whitehall, seeing many smokes of the fire by the way yet. ...
Jan. 17 1667 [138 days after the fire started]
I observe still in many places, the smoking remains of the late fire; the ways mighty bad and dirty. ...
March 16 1667 [196 days after the fire started]
The weather is now grown warm again, after much cold; and it is observable that within these eight days I did see smoke remaining, coming out of some cellars, from the late great fire, now above six months since.

Map of fire 1666
Extent of 1666 fire of London.

The Great Fire of London by Walter George Bell (1914) -

It was long before the full extent of the calamity could be made known, after a complete survey of the ruins. The table given by Jonas Moore and Ralph Gatrix, the City Surveyors, needs no comment. This was the destruction wrought and the area saved -
373 acres burnt within the walls,
63 acres 3 roods without the walls.
87 parish churches, besides chapels burnt.
13,200 houses burnt in over 400 streets and courts.
75 acres 3 roods still standing within the walls unburnt.
11 parishes without the walls still standing.
In rough computation, the flames destroyed an area equal to an oblong with its greatest length a mile and a half, and in depth half a mile. This does not overestimate the destruction. ...
About one-third the length of [London Bridge] was cleared of the buildings encoumbering it, but the damage went down. Arches and piers that had stood firm with centuries' use were left insecure when the stones had cooled.
The Bridge House [Estate - the trust managing London Bridge] spent £1,500 in necessary repairs before the leaseholders could attempt to rebuild.
The keyed wooden structure known as Nonsuch House, which was the wonder of the Bridge, the drawbridge, and the remaining houses towards Southwark were not touched by the fire

Nonsuch House
Nonsuch House on London Bridge.


When the fire of London completed the destruction of the remainder [of the houses untouched by the 1632 fire], except a few old ones on the south end the corporation, instead of availing themselves of this opportunity of getting rid of the nuisance, did every thing in their power to encourage the purblind policy of loading the bridge with houses again ; they "let it at ten shillings a foot for sixty- one years, and, that it might be uniform, purchased some old leases; to complete the measure of this absurdity, it became, when finished; "the admiration of all who beheld it".

When the Cerulean god these things survayed,
He shook his trident and astonished said;
"Let the whole earth now all the wonders count,
This bridge, of wonders, is the paramount".

Twenty feet was the space left, on this bridge of wonders, for carriages and foot passengers; the latter generally sought their safety by following the carriages, to prevent being crushed to death against the houses: "these overhung and leaned in a most terrific manner; in most places they hid the arches, and nothing appeared but the rude piers". ...
The city, ever mindful of the safety of their fellow subjects, and prompted by the many misfortunes occasioned by the numerous carriages, which are continually passing and repassing this great thoroughfare, where it had been forgot to make provision for a footway, projected another plan for loading this ill-fated bridge with houses once more, and a colonnade for foot passengers.

Since so many people had been financially ruined by the fire there was a legal problem. Some parties bound by law to rebuild were not able to do so. A law enabling a special court to override the usual contract between owners and tenants was passed and this greatly facilitated the rebuilding.
Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt St Paul's (and put forward an ambitious plan for the rebuilding of the whole city. Unfortunately it rode roughshod over too many remaining legal rights for it to be feasible - it would have been a grander, spacious and more logical city - with better sewers if he had had his way.)

London after the Great Fire, by John Dryden 1631 - 1700

Methinks already from this chymic flame
I see a city of more precious mould,
Rich as the town which gives the Indies name,
With silver paved and all divine with gold.

Already, labouring with a mighty fate,
She shakes the rubbish from her mounting brow,
And seems to have renewed her charter’s date,
Which Heaven will to the death of time allow.

More great than human now and more August,
New deified she from her fires does rise:
Hew widening streets on new foundations trust,
And, opening, into larger parts she flies.

Before, she like some shepherdess did show
Who sat to bathe her by a river’s side,
Not answering to her fame, but rude and low,
Nor taught the beauteous arts of modern pride.

Now like a maiden queen she will behold
From her high turrets hourly suitors come;
The East with incense and the West with gold
Will stand like suppliants to receive her doom.

The silver Thames, her own domestic flood,
Shall bear her vessels like a sweeping train,
And often wind, as of his mistress proud,
With longing eyes to meet her face again.

The wealthy Tagus and the wealthier Rhine
The glory of their towns no more shall boast,
And Seine, that would with Belgian rivers join,
Shall find her lustre stained and traffic lost.

The venturous merchant who designed more far
And touches on our hospitable shore,
Charmed with the splendour of this northern star,
Shall here unlade him and depart no more.