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philglossop

Great Fire of London

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Been watching an excellent documentary on the Great Fire of London recently and one thing comes to mind with regards to the weather.

On Days 1 and 2 the fire spread from the East part of the City with a defined path West. However the winds dropped at the end of Day 2 and the spread stopped and instead moved West towards the Tower of London.

There's some other clues about the weather in documentary . The smoke could be seen in Oxford and ash was falling in Beaconsfield.

So as charts wouldn't be around, can we work out that there must have been High Pressure to the North of England and Low Pressure towards the South West? This could have led to these strong E SE winds, but this low slid across France leading to a more Westerly flow?

Obviously this doesn't take into account the wildfire aspect but that the summer of 1666 must also have been pretty dry?

 

Are there any historical weather accounts from that August/September?

Edited by philglossop

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I do know that the Summer of 1666 was hot and dry, with July and I think August both recording CETs of around 18C. IIRC there was a dry spell starting from late-1665 that persisted into the summer which played a big part in the fire.

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After an unusually hot and dry spring, temperatures in the summer of 1666 rose l.5°C above normal, and a precipitation shortfall of 6 inches turned London into a tinderbox. The same conditions prevailed in much of northwestern Europe, giving rise to fires in a score of German cities. Only the spectacular destruction of so much of London has overshadowed the frequency of urban fires elsewhere in 1666.

London was not the only capital city where unusual drought in the mid seventeenth century produced a 'Great Fire'. In Moscow in 1648, after several months without rain, 'within a few hours more than half the city inside the White Wall, and about half the city outside the wall, went up in flames'; while a large part of the new Mughal capital Shahjahanabad (now Delhi) burnt down in 1662. Istanbul suffered more (and more devastating fires) in the seventeenth century than in any other period of its history: one in 1660, once again after a prolonged drought, burned down 280,000 houses and several public buildings15 (Fig. 7).Major blazes also regularly devastated Edo, the largest city in Japan, notably the Meireki fire of 1657 - which, like those in Moscow in 1648, Istanbul in 1660 and London in 1666, broke out after an abnormal drought

Source: Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century. Geoffrey Parker.

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That summer was one of the hottest of the Little Ice Age and a very rare hot summer for the late 1600s.

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I recall reading in Walter George Bell's classic books on the Plague and the Fire, that both 1665 & 1666, were unusually hot summers and autumns. With the Easterly winds blowing inwards to the City, and Pudding Lane being fairly Eastward, the Fire soon took hold and leapt forward, but burned much more slowly against the wind, which helped saved the Tower and the ordinance. 

Moving Westwards though, it was different. Burning embers carried for hundreds of yards and set buildings on fire away from the main seat or source of the flames (as well as combustion from heat radiation). One example of this happening (and thus causing ensuing panic) was the burning of the church of St Lawrence Pountney, just off Cannon Street. The tall steeple caught fire with nothing very close burning and people thought it was arson and looked for scapegoats, etc. 

 

Fascinating histry. By the way, I'm a historian too and the book by Geoffrey Parker , quoted above , is superb. 

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