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Track down the key sites, commemorations and even surviving fragments from the Great Fire of London.
The Great Fire of London of 1666 needs little introduction. In one combustable nutshell, the four-day fire destroyed much of the ancient heart of the city, taking with it 87 churches, 13,000 houses and St Paul's cathedral. It's one of THE monumental episodes in London's past, rivalled only by the Blitz in recorded history. Needless to say, it's well commemorated.
The following article is a guide to 10 locations with strong connections to the fire. Some are monuments or sculptures, others plaques, and others places that survived the fire. Ordinarily, the Museum of London would be the recommended place to start, but as that's closed until 2026, we'll begin at the source of the fire itself.
This map shows extent of the Great Fire on a contemporary map (cleared area), the 10 locations we've picked out (blue text), and other buildings that survive from before the Great Fire (red).
1. The Monument To The Great Fire
The obvious place to start is the Monument to the Great Fire, immediately outside Monument underground station. The splendid free-standing column was designed by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke to commemorate the blaze. It became one of London's earliest tourist attractions, and still opens its door to any visitors willing to climb the 345 steps to the viewing gallery.
At 62 metres (202 feet) the Monument was briefly London's tallest structure (if the burned out shell of Old St Paul's is excluded). The height is deliberate. If laid down flat, the column would reach precisely to the place where the Great Fire started...
2. Where The Great Fire Started On Pudding Lane
As any school child will tell you, the Great Fire began on Pudding Lane at the premises of the baker Thomas Farriner (or Faryner). You'll find this rather lifeless explanatory plaque marking the spot, on an old concrete building. (See an earlier article for a "secret" bit of Pudding Lane that'll take you up through the neighbouring buildings and out to the Thames.)
3. The "real" location where the Great Fire started
BUT, the plaque says only that it's "near" the spot. Taking measurements from the Monument and using old maps, historians now think that Farriner's oven was just around the corner on what is now Monument Street. Look carefully in the roadway and you'll find this newer plaque, which corresponds more closely to the deduced location.
4. The Olde Wine Shades
Although the Great Fire destroyed almost everything in its path, here and there a building survived. Most of these are round the periphery of the fire, but there is one apparently flame-retardant premises that would have been right at the centre of the blaze. The charming Olde Wine Shades pub (or wine bar), just a short walk west of the Monument, reckons to date from 1663, three years before the fire. It says so on the website, and this is repeated all over the web. Sadly, Historic England disagrees. The official entry for its Grade II listing puts the date at late 17th century, with many features dating from the 18th and 19th. Still, it's become part of Great Fire lore, perhaps helped by the strange oven-like structure protruding from its southern wall.
5. Blocks of Old St Paul's
St Paul's Cathedral itself can be considered a monument to the Great Fire. Its rebuilding by Christopher Wren is the ultimate symbol of recovery following the devastating conflagration. Indeed, it sports the likeness of a phoenix on the southern side, the traditional symbol of rebirth. The cathedral holds the most extensive remnants of the Great Fire — a motley collection of hundreds of charred blocks from the medieval cathedral, which met its end in the fire. Sadly, they're not always publicly accessible. You have to book onto a tour of the Triforium which, at the time of writing, is not currently possible.
6. The Golden Boy of Pye Corner
The Monument isn't the only monument to the Great Fire. Another, much smaller commemoration can be found at the site of the fire's north-westerly clutches. On the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane you'll spy a small niche containing the gilded likeness of a child. He's known as the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, and he's presided over the junction since the late 17th century. A modern inscription (repeating an older one) declares: "This Boy is in Memmory Put up for the late FIRE of LONDON Occasion'd by the Sin of Gluttony 1666."
7. St Bartholomew's Gatehouse
One of the most obvious ancient buildings can be found close to the Golden Boy in Smithfield. This is the gatehouse to St Bartholomew-the-Great, a delightful Tudor confection that can be traced back to 1595. The nearby church (through the arch) is of even older vintage, harking back to the 12th century (do wander in, it's one of London's most atmospheric spaces). A third survivor is number 41-42 Cloth Fair, said to be the oldest house in the Square Mile, with elements dating back to the 16th century. It remains a private residence today, and has been visited by everyone from the Queen Mum to Ken Livingstone (who got locked in the toilet).
8. St Bride's crypt museum
St Bride's is one of many churches that were gutted by the fire. Wren's rebuild is the one with the famous wedding-cake steeple. But head down into its excellent crypt museum and you'll find a handful of fragments from the burned church, including pieces of wood (pictured), warped window glass and melted bell metal (and much else besides, including a Roman pavement).
9. Temple column
The Monument is, far and away, the most famous column marking the Great Fire, but there is another. Head into Inner Temple and there, just south of Temple church (more widely famous from the Da Vinci Code), stands this peculiar thing. It's partly a commemoration of the Knights Templar, who once owned the land, but also serves as a marker showing where the Great Fire was eventually stopped in this region. Another column in Paternoster Square near St Paul's might also count. It's flamed top is clearly suggestive of the Monument, though its purpose is more as a centrepiece and ventilation pipe than an official commemoration.
10. 229-230 Strand
Often overlooked, this protruding timber-framed building was built some 50 years before the Great Fire. A plaque over the door points out that this is the only Strand building to survive the Great Fire. It's badly worded. Every building on Strand survived the Great Fire. Check any map online, and you'll see the blaze stopped roughly where Fetter Lane meets Fleet Street. It never came this far west. The plaque should really say 'the only Strand building still surviving from the time of the Great Fire'. Nearby on Fleet Street, the building often called Prince Henry's Rooms is another pre-fire gem.
All images by Matt Brown