I’ve started reading several Restoration-related books with the intention of reviewing each of them once I’m done. However, since I seem to keep starting new ones before finishing the old ones, I thought I’d go ahead and write about some of them as readings-in-progress.

Fire of London The first is Stephen Porter’s The Great Fire of London (Sutton Publishing, 1996). The Great Fire occured in 1666, “raged for our days and destroyed 13,200 houses, 87 churches, and 44 of the City of London’s great livery halls.” It is one of the most important disasters in British history and had a profound effect on the subsequent development of London as a city. Most students of Restoration literature are familiar with Samuel Pepys’s narration of the fire in his Diary.

Porter’s The Great Fire of London begins by surveying the dangers of fire in 1660s London and recounting the precautions people took to avoid these dangers. One of the things I’ve already learned from reading it is just how prevalent fires were in the seventeenth century. Like so many disasters throughout history, this one was not unforeseen nor did it come out of no where. I’ve also been interested to learn about fire fighting techniques (if that phrase isn’t a misnomer) in 1660s London — let’s just say that they were surprisingly rudimentary and chaotic compared to those of the other great cities of Europe at the time.

I’m currently reading Porter’s chapter on the fire itself. It almost reads as a comedy of errors. Again, like so many other disasters, this one was made worse by a lack of leadership in the early moments of the fire. I’m also struck by just how much we know about the fire’s origins and progress. An inquiry shortly after the fire certainly helps us recover much of this information, but the fact that we know where it started and how is spread, especially considering the chaos that characterized the four days in which it blazed, some 350 years later astounds me.

The rest of The Great Fire of London analyzes the aftermath of the fire, particularly focusing on the rebuilding of London. One of the other books I’m reading right now also focuses on this rebuilding effort. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I think London Studies is a fascinating scholarly area. These books are certainly fueling that interest, if if I haveno intention of joining the ranks of scholars writing about London.

So far, Porter’s study is readable, interesting, and informative. It’s a book I could imagine someone assigning for a history class, but it’s not an especially scholarly book. I’m really enjoying it and recommend it to anyone who is interested in London, disasters, architecture, and/or city planning. I think general readers will find this book interesting and a good read.

For more information on the fire, Channel 4 has a great interactive website about it. I especially recommend clicking on “Watch London Burn.” This takes you to a map of London. You can then click on a historical site to learn more about it, click on “Fire” to watch it spread, or click on “Plague” to see what parts of London were affected by the plague in 1665. Watching the fire burn is particularly affecting — it shows you the growth of the fire over time.