Discovering the archaeology of the Great Fire of London
In this blog, Nigel Jeffries, Post-Roman Pottery Specialist here at MOLA, tells us what archaeology has revealed about the notorious Great Fire of London.
The Great Fire of London, 1666, is one of the most infamous events in our capital’s tumultuous history. Whilst a new metropolis quickly emerged from the smouldering ruins – one largely built along the same property boundaries and streets as before – debris from the Great Fire itself was quickly swept aside, allowing for the process of renewal to begin.
Over the 40 years and more that MOLA has been excavating London’s archaeology, we have frequently encountered evidence of the devastation of the Great Fire. Perhaps the most evocative remains to have emerged are that of 20 burnt pitch barrels stored in the cellar of a property on Pudding Lane, close to Thomas Farriner’s bakery where the fire started. The barrels still contained highly flammable pitch or ‘Stockholm Tar’.
A variety of artefacts and architectural fragments have been found in amongst burnt debris in chalk-lined wells, privies and stone-built cellars. This material accumulated as buildings above collapsed and as a result of the subsequent tidy up of debris post-Fire.
Amongst the archaeological evidence we have uncovered the remains of many of the City’s destroyed buildings, lost to the Great Fire and never to be rebuilt, including parish churches and drinking establishment. Examples include St Benet Shorehog on Poultry, the White Bear Inn that once stood on Basinghall Street and a probable alehouse on Rood Lane.
Archaeology continues to shed light on pre-Great Fire London and illustrates the huge destruction wrought on the City. Recent excavations at St Barts – situated at the northerly extent of the Fire – have shown exactly where the Great Fire stopped in this area and provided new information about the last unlucky residents and local businesses to have their homes and workplaces razed to the ground.
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