At the 350th anniversary of the Fire of London, which began on 2 September 1666, this blog post highlights sources in the Library which shed light on this event and its aftermath, including a sermon preached soon after the Fire by William Sancroft, then Dean of St Paul’s (and later Archbishop of Canterbury).
The printed book collection also includes a Book of Common Prayer (this edition dating from 1681) which contains these ‘Forms of Prayer to be used yearly on the second of September, for the dreadful Fire of London’.
The papers of Archbishop Sheldon (volume 1 ff 25-27) include an Order of the King in Council dated 7 November 1666 requiring him to ascertain through the bishops in the Province of Canterbury the sums collected in each parish for the relief of those who have suffered distress in the Fire of London, and to make arrangements for the funds to be sent to the Lord Mayor of London.
Records in the Library also document the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral. MS 670 is an account of income and expenditure covering from 1666 to 1700. MS 2872 folios 44-49 comprise papers of the Commissioners for Rebuilding St. Paul’s Cathedral dating from 1674-5, among them an order approving the new design and requiring them to proceed with the work ‘beginning wth ye East End, or Chore’, that the Surveyor with his assistants and officers should immediately set out the ground and lay the foundations ‘of so much of yt Designe as lies East of ye Cupola, or Tower, & pursue ye work with all Diligence so long as the Season of ye year shall permitt’. The signatories include Sir Christopher Wren.
Among records relating to Doctors’ Commons, the association of ecclesiastical lawyers situated near St Paul’s Cathedral, there is a list (MS 2080 f 56) of those contributing to the reconstruction of their premises after the Fire. The story is further explored in E A Pickard and E Jeffries Davis, ‘The Rebuilding of Doctors’ Commons, 1666-72′, London Topographical Record (1931), xv, 51-77. This later print (dating from 1808), a recent gift from the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, shows the interior as rebuilt.
Some records relate to the effects of the Fire on specific institutions situated within the City. The records of the library of Sion College (Sion L40.2/E58) include catalogues of the printed books and manuscripts saved from the destruction of the College in the Fire and carried to safety at the Charterhouse. They are in the hand of John Spencer, the Librarian. The shelf marks of the printed books differ from the Library’s earlier shelf marks and represent a new post-Fire arrangement of the collection.
Aside from the physical damage caused by the Fire, the records document its consequences for ecclesiastical administration in the City of London. MS 1701 comprises a set of tithe assessments, assessing certain London parishes for a rate in lieu of tithes, made according to the provisions of the Act of Parliament (22 and 23 Chas. II cap. 15) for settling the maintenance of clergy in parishes burnt in the Fire.
One piece of evidence is an absence rather than a presence. The Library holds the records of the Court of Arches, the court of appeal for the Province of Canterbury, which was medieval in origin: but few of its earliest records survive, being destroyed when the Fire ravaged the church of St Mary-le-Bow where the Court sat, and so the surviving archive predominantly dates from after 1666.