The only good thing that can be said about the Great Fire of London in 1666 is that it ended the Great Plague in England that started in 1665. The plague was holding England in a death grip, particularly London. The city provided no sanitation services at this time, so residents simply threw perishables and human waste into the streets, keeping the rat population large and well fed. Rat fleas, the vectors for plague, were just a hop, skip, and a jump to human hosts, which lived crowded in squalor. Fifteen percent of London’s population died during the plague before the Great Fire finally burned down the slums, thus grinding the disease to a halt. That was the “good” news.
The bad news is that the Great Fire raged for four days, burning 13,200 homes, 87 churches, and various government buildings to the ground and destroying St. Paul’s Cathedral, as well. Amazingly, few people actually perished in the the fire; however, some theorize that this small number is due to people getting entirely vaporized in the fire, and thus, their absence being unaccountable, or due to the fact that slum-dwellers were considered "unimportant" and not accurately counted. The fire started at the Thomas Farriner bakery—the King’s baker—on Pudding Lane, when his maid forgot to put out the ovens. During this Stuart period, the city, with its medieval layout, consisted of winding, cobbled streets lined by wooden homes, some with illegal thatched roofs, and many industries that were fire hazards, like metal smiths and glassmakers. In short, the town of London was an accident waiting to happen. But the Thomas Farriner bakery provided the match.
(To help you better understand where 1666 was on Britain's cultural timeline: William Shakespeare died fifty years prior; the Globe Theatre, which performed Shakespeare’s works, was closed by the Puritans twenty-four years prior; and John Milton, the English poet and writer, had recently finished Paradise Lost. )
So, what did London look like before the fire, you ask? Well, lucky us, we have a video that was produced by a group of students at De Montfort University, in Leicester, that shows us. After much research, the students created a computer model and a production company—Pudding Lane Productions—to make this video. Their street-view model focuses on the area around Pudding Lane and the Thomas Farriner bakery.