(From last week) 

Lord Mayor Bludworth, who had been back between the sheets only half an hour, was again called out.

This time, his coach had considerable difficulty in getting through the throng of people, all pushing and shoving, with squealing pigs, flapping hens and geese and whinnying horses all adding to the general pandemonium: and all going in the opposite direction – away from the fire.

What he saw and heard now horrified him, for as he arrived at the outer edge of the fireground the cry went up: ‘The water pipes are dry!’ The massive wooden waterwheels, located under London Bridge, which operated the pumps providing the water supply to the City were alight, as were parts of the very fabric of the bridge itself. Diarist Samuel Pepys awoke at 7am and, as he looked out the window at the fire, his maid told him that she heard 300 houses had been burned down during the night.

Alarmed, he ordered a boat for a better look at the extent of the fire and then travelled on to Westminster: “And did tell the King and the Duke of York (the future King James II) what I saw, and that unless His Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire.” The king commanded Pepys to find the Lord Mayor and order him to take whatever drastic action was necessary, including the demolition of buildings. Pepys eventually caught up with Bludworth in the chaotic streets where: “(I) met my Lord Mayor in Canning Street like a man spent, with a handkerchief about his neck. To the King’s message, he cried like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent! People will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’.

So he left me, and I him, and walked home, seeing people almost distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire.” By midnight on 3 September, the fire had spread half a mile west along the Thames, then curved north in a great bow of flame, up through the City to Cornhill and Cheapside. When it finally raced down Ludgate Hill, leaping the walls and jumping the filthy Fleet ditch, it left in its wake the old, decrepit, St Paul’s Cathedral, where so many had taken refuge and stored their (highly-flammable) possessions. Over the howling wind of the firestorm came the eerie, frightened baying of the caged animals in the menagerie at the Tower of London. King Charles now decided to adopt a more hands-on approach. Side-lining the inept Lord Mayor, whose nerves were shattered, he put his brother, the Duke of York, in charge of fire-fighting, assisted by Pepys who directed tactics in the East End.

The fire-fighting effort now took on the appearance of a military operation. Using troops and sailors, eight ‘Fire Posts’, at which firebreaks were to be created, were set up at strategic points around the perimeter of the fire zone. Nor was the king himself averse to rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in.

Charles and his brother were very much in evidence throughout the crisis, taking part in bucket-chains, up to their ankles in water, and working the levers on the manual fire engines, all the time providing supervision and encouragement.

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