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The Great Fire of London 1666 written by Samuel Pepys

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Categories: Fire
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An evaluation on a diary extract on the Great Fire of London 1666 written by Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) had a successful career in public service as a naval administrator and was a confidante of two Kings whom he served – Charles II and James II. He is mostly known for a diary that he kept between the years 1659 and 1669. The diary was written in a code now recognised as a Thomas Shelton system of shorthand called tachygraphy.

The diary is considered essential historical reading as it includes detailed observations of events in 17th century England. The whole diary is considered a primary source of information, mainly due to the fact that it was written in code so only for Pepys personal gratification, but also because the events detailed within are corroborated by others at the time. The extract that I am evaluating details one event, The Great Fire of London 1666.

Pepys lived near the Tower of London which was on the outskirts overlooking the city so commanded a good view of the city.

London of 1666 was a city of half-timbered buildings with pitch covered roofs that were easily ignited, the houses were close-set with little room between them so once a fire started it proved very difficult to put out. The usually method in stopping a fire was to demolish a line of buildings in the way, so as to stop the spread of the fire, but on this occasion this was not tried so the fire got out of control.

On the evening of September 2, 1666 Pepys was woken by his maid and took his first view of the fire, thinking it a common enough matter went back to bed. It was only the following morning that the ferocity of the fire was realised. This is understandable due the makeup of the city buildings being easily flammable. Pepys

states that he was summoned before the King who listened to his account and commanded him to go to the Lord Mayor and get him to demolish a line of buildings so as to create a firebreak. This may be a bit of pomposity on Pepys part, that the King would give him such an important task, in other peoples accounts it is stated that the King did indeed listen to Pepys but then the Duke of York was the one to suggest and approach the Mayor with the order. It is not corroborated that Pepys was given this particular task only that he was called before the King. He was known to the Court and was an acquaintance of the Duke of York through his work within the navy.

John Evelyn’s who lived at that time also kept a personal diary, which corroborates Samuel Pepys account of the fire. Evelyn was learned in classical literature as well as scientific and technical matters. He was known as one of the foremost geniuses of his day and was a founder member of the Royal Society and given a Royal Appointment by James II. In Pepys later years he and Evelyn were good friends and on Pepys death Evelyn wrote:

‘This (day) dyed Mr. Sam: Pepys, a very worthy, Industrious, & curious person,

none in England exceeding him in the

Knowledge of the Navy … universally

beloved, Hospitable, Generous,

Learned in many things, skill’d in Musick,

a very greate Cherisher of Learned men … ‘

More is known today about the extent of the damage caused by the fire and most agree to it beginnings within Pudding Lane. The fire burned unchecked for over three days and in the end over 80% of the city was destroyed.



Ackroyd, P (2000) London: The Biography Vintage, London

Boccaccio, G &

McWilliam, G. (2003) Boccaccia: The Decameron Penguin Classic, London

Bryant, A (1965) The Age of Chilvary The Reprint Society Ltd, London

Hibbert, C (1987) The English Guild Publishing, London

A Social History 1066-1945

Tomalin, C (2002) Samuel Pepys Penguin Books Ltd, London

The Unequalled Self

Cite this essay

The Great Fire of London 1666 written by Samuel Pepys. (2017, Oct 16). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-great-fire-of-london-1666-written-by-samuel-pepys-essay

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