Site Unseen: When the fat boy hits the fire . . .

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Indy Lifestyle Online
'The Battle of Hastings, 1066' is one of the few historical facts which can claim to be widely known. Another, perhaps, is that the Great Fire of London in September 1666 started in a baker's shop in Pudding Lane.

So where did it end? Trick question. A fire which fanned out and in the process destroyed 13,200 houses, 87 churches and four/fifths of the City of London could not have halted in any one place.

It stopped, for instance, on old London Bridge where gaps in the buildings created a firebreak and prevented the conflagration spreading south of the river. It stopped in Drapers Gardens when the flames could not leap across the gap, as was the case in the churchyard of St Giles, Cripplegate. In Fleet Street, the blaze burnt itself out beside Inner Temple Lane.

Over in the Smithfield direction, a timely change of wind direction saved St Bartholomew the Great Church and St Bartholomew's Hospital from destruction (what the Great Fire couldn't accomplish, Mrs Bottomley undoubtedly will). The precise spot at which this miracle happened was called Pie Corner.

After the Fire was over,

people speculated on its origins. It was not long before

bigots found their target: it was the Roman Catholics.

So strong was this belief that when the Monument to the Fire was put up, part of the inscription blamed 'Papist frenzy'. This slur wasn't chiselled out until the 1820s - you can see the empty space on its north side.

Other explanations were also put forward. Pudding Lane, Pie Corner? Absolutely. One zealous preacher put two and two together: 'The calamity could not have been occasioned by the sin of blasphemy, for in that case it had begun at Billingsgate; nor lewdness for then Drury Lane would have been first on fire; nor lying, for then the flames had reached the City from Westminster Hall. No, my beloved, it was occasioned by the sin of gluttony, for it began at Pudding Lane and ended at Pie Corner.'

So what did cause the Great Fire? In the measured words of the parliamentary inquiry, 'a great wind, and a season so very dry'. Prosaic, but true.

The Little Fat Boy is on the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane, facing Bart's.

(Photograph omitted)

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