See How London Might Have Been Rebuilt After The Great Fire

By M@ Last edited 20 months ago

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See How London Might Have Been Rebuilt After The Great Fire

One of the joys of London, so long as you don't need to get anywhere fast, is the haphazard arrangement of streets and alleys. One sees this most in the Square Mile, the ancient heart of London, whose street pattern was largely fixed in medieval times. It is an area of curving lanes, inviting alleyways and evocative names like Crutched Friars, French Ordinary Court and Ironmonger Lane.

But imagine if the City instead looked like this:

The map show's Christopher Wren's scheme for rebuilding London after the Great Fire of 1666 (in fact, he started work on it before the fire... hello conspiracy theorists). The architect imagines grand boulevards and radial focal points. It would have been a city very different from the one we know today. It was not to be. The City quickly rebuilt along the existing street patterns, when landowners engaged in piecemeal redevelopment before a masterplan could be deployed.

Wren's map, along with four other suggestions for rebuilding the City in 1666, are on show at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) on Portland Place. If Wren's scheme seems radical, take a look at this yawnfest by Richard Newcourt:

It's a city of squares and churches and tedium, unless you like playing hide-and-seek in religious buildings. Yeah, it would have been a godsend for Google's driverless cars, or for rapidly crossing the city — but what is there to fire the curiosity?

London did finally get its grid systems in places like Marylebone and Pimlico, but the ancient centre of the city remains delightfully jumbled. Pop along to the free Creation From Catastrophe exhibition to get an ogle of how London might have been, and also to learn how other cities have replanned following major disasters (18th century Lisbon, 19th century Chicago, 20th century Skopje...).

Creation From Catastrophe, is at RIBA, 66 Portland Place, 27 January to 24 April 2016. Entrance is free. The Guardian looks at the exhibition in more detail.

Last Updated 26 September 2016


Good find. Shame it never happened.


Newcourt's grid scheme is absolutely genius, a good few centuries before Eixample or the Commissioner's plan Manhattan. The symmetry is beautiful, the perfect embodiment of function over form. Beauty through simplicity. In one universe a version of me is walking down the grid streets of London taking it all in.

Mark Rowland

A couple of years ago a BBC (Four, natch) series called Dreaming the Impossible: Unbuilt Britian featured the post Great Fire plans for the rebuilding of London and Wren's Vista Plan was put to the scrutiny of modern-day town planning software to measure the efficiency of traffic flows. It passed. With flying colours (from memory the planning consultant talking head described it as "better than most modern ones designed with software such as this").

It also featured a guy called Paul Draper, an architectural illustrator who has gone to the trouble of rendering an impression of what it might have actually looked like ( - go to "historical reconstructions" on his page menu for some fascinating detail close-ups). I'm with you though, Matt, I love the little switchbacks and hidden alleys of The City, makes it much more interesting.

Steven Stewart

The Swiftian,
I have been considering the possibility of it actually occurring if a major catastrophy hit London. Although an amateur enthusiast I am also a novice looking for enthusiastic and positive guidance. I don't believe those the Corporation of London choose have the beautiful city we share in mind only what makes money for themselves.Who agrees?