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History in the Making
The Great Fire

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The Great Fire

Following the Restoration of the Stuart dynasty in 1660, Britain was to face a series of catastrophes. In 1665, London was struck by the Great Plague. The following year, a huge fire swept through the capital, lasting from Sunday, September 2 to Wednesday, September 5. Over thirteen thousand houses and eighty-seven churches, including the iconic St Paul’s, fell victim to the fire, leaving seven out of eight City inhabitants homeless. Looking for a scapegoat, Londoners attacked French and Dutch immigrants; preachers suggested that London needed to look to its own sins; while optimists saw the disaster, with its relatively low death toll, as yet another sign of God’s Providence.

Wencelsaus Hollar. A true and exact prospect of the famous citty of London ... before the fire. Etching, 1666

These two views show how the City of London looked before (top) and after (below) the Great Fire. The Prague-born etcher Wenceslaus Hollar is alleged to have rushed to capture these images even while the fire was still burning—and to him we owe a view of the immediate aftermath.

Samuel Rolle. Shilhavtiyah. London, 1667

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