London’s Burning, continued

Evelyn was wrong, of course.

Within days, everyone from the King down to the poorest tradesmen were keen to get the city up and running again. The King needed the customs revenue generated by the Port of London. The merchants, financiers and shipowners whose capital was tied up in trade wanted to get the Port operating again. Ordinary tradesmen and shopkeepers needed to be working again too. As soon as possible, people were out on the streets, clearing debris and rubble, trying to identify the boundaries of their tenements in order to begin the process of rebuilding.

Men such as Evelyn and Wren devised plans to do away with the old narrow streets and alleys and lay out an entirely new street plan based on wide, straight boulevards. The plans were admired but not carried out; it would have taken too long and cost too much.


Steps were taken to try to prevent a repeat of the fire. Under the 1667 and 1670 London Building Acts, streets were to be widened. The narrowest lanes were to be at least sixteen feet wide. Buildings were to be of brick and overhanging jetties and bow windows were banned. Many of the houses built under these new regulations survive around the outskirts of the City today.


Disputes arose between landlords and leaseholders as to who was to meet the cost of rebuilding. Most leases contained clauses requiring the tenant to keep the property in good repair, but of course no-one had anticipated such catastrophic destruction. In January 1667 Parliament passed an act to set up a Fire Court to arbitrate and adjudicate on disputes between landlords and tenants. Landlords were encouraged to extend leases and/or reduce rents, to give tenants an incentive to rebuild. Tenants who would not, or could not, rebuild were required to surrender their leases.

The Fire Court dealt with all types of property, from mansions to sheds,  including wharves, warehouses, inns, rows of shops and cottages.

Richard Hickman, citizen and draper, who occupied a messuage in Abchurch Lane, argued that the property would lose a foot and half at the front due to road widening, and would be deprived of further floorspace because of the ban on jetties.

Two men, Richard Hackett and Richard Hawkins, seem to have been what would now be regarded as unscrupulous property developers. They appear to have been trying to force out tenants of two very small messuages, Richard Blaney and Ann Wilmore, so they could throw the two plots together and build a bigger property. Mr Jenner, the lawyer representing the tenants, told the court the two men ‘had used much industry to gaine the possession of the ground to promote their said designes’. The court found in favour of the tenants.

There was obviously a great deal of work for the lawyers; Mr Jenner appeared frequetly, as did a Mr Sturges.

While the affairs of private landlords and tenants were  dealt with, the rebuilding of public and official buildings also proceeded; the Guildhall, the halls of the City Livery Companies, and the churches. It was recognised that there had been too many churches in the city, so 51 new churches were to replace the 86 that had been destroyed.  Christopher Wren was put in overall charge of the rebuilding; some individual designs may have been carried out by men working under him.


Some of Wren’s City churches were demolished in the nineteenth century, as they became redundant and the land was needed for other purposes.  Others were destroyed during the Second World War. Of those that survive, most had to be extensively rebuilt after the War. About half of Wren’s churches survive today.

And above all, of course, there is St Paul’s.










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