On September 2nd 1666, shortly after midnight, a fire broke out in London England. High winds spread the flames that consumed 80% of the city and changed the course of western civilization. The impacts of the “great fire” are still being felt today in our everyday lives.
HOW IT STARTED
Since England was at war with both the French and the Dutch, many assumed that the fire was deliberately set as part of an invasion by one of those armies. This led to widespread anti-immigrant violence, especially towards the French after a specific rumour spread about them starting the fire with explosives.
Another popular target to blame was the Catholics. At the time there was long-standing friction between the Protestants and the Catholics, which was heightened immediately following the fire. That suspicion lasted for well over a decade.
As the facts slowly came together, it was determined that the fire started in a bakery on Pudding Lane and spread from building to building.
This did not stop the finger-pointing, however; as preachers blamed the public’s sweet tooth for causing the fire and that God would send more fires if the gluttony did not end. Remember, this is medieval London we’re talking about here.
WHAT CHANGED AFTER THE FIRE?
Through tragedy often comes change. The fire of 1666 accelerated the evolution of how buildings and cities deal with fires, and the ripples of these changes are still being felt today with modern loss prevention efforts.
Some of the most notable changes include:
- New laws and technology used to prevent fires.
e. today’s building fire codes and bylaws
- The creation of the city’s first fire brigade
e. today’s municipal fire departments and volunteer firefighters
- Placement of fireplugs throughout the city
e. today’s fire hydrants
THE FIRST FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY
Just like heavy rain makes people want to buy umbrellas, a fire makes people want to buy fire insurance. Seeing the devastation caused to their neighbours and their property, building owners of all types wanted to protect themselves before the next one.
A London physician named Nicholas Bardon stepped up to fill the need by creating the first fire insurance company in the wake of the tragedy. Bardon’s company, just like his modern-day counterparts, promised to reimburse property owners for damages caused by future fires. Bardon used the fire of 1666 as a way to sell policies. As you can imagine business was good.
He even employed a private fire brigade that would protect policyholder buildings, each with a fire mark. When a fire broke out the brigade would go protect any properties with the mark, while others without the mark would be left to burn. History is harsh.
A COMMON MYTH WITH A MODERN CONNECTION
Some still believe that the great fire of 1666 had ended the bubonic plague epidemic that was affecting London at the time because it wiped out London’s rats and fleas who spread the disease.
The truth is the rate of death by the plague had already been on the decline since the winter of 1665 and unfortunately there were still deaths in London caused by the plague after the great fire.
Please contact us with any questions you may have about this or any other topic related to your insurance.