Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Great Fire In London

 
The following story of the Great Fire of London is reprinted from an old Children's Magazine I have that was printed in 1885.  A lesson learned by the main character is the uncertain nature of riches.   
 
In this sketch, from the 1885 Children's Magazine,
people are seen throwing their possesions out the
windows of the buildings.
     Nearly two hundred years ago, Little Amy Seymour and her brother Herbert had come up from the country with their mother, to pass a few weeks in London. They were spending the day with their aunt, Mrs. Marsden, who lived in the suburbs of the city, about a mile from London Bridge. It was the 2nd of September, 1666, and the children were delighted, as children usually are, with the novelty of a visit to the city. Their aunt was very kind to them, and they enjoyed themselves very much. In the evening, she was telling them of the dreadful plague which had visited the city the year before, when 130,000 people died of it in London alone.
It was getting late, quite time for the children to go to bed, when Mrs. Marsden's servant, Rachel, came in, looking very much frightened.
"What is the matter?" said Mrs. Marsden, anxiously.
"Oh dear! ma'am," said Rachel, "I have just heard there is such a fire in London! it has burnt down a baker's shop near the bridge, and the engine they used for bringing up the water out of the Thames is burnt too! and they are afraid it will reach the wooden storehouses."
"Oh! I hope it is not so bad as you make out, Rachel," said Mrs. Marsden, in a cheerful voice, for she saw that Amy looked frightened; "there have been fires in London before today; at all events, we are far enough from the danger; so go to bed, my dear children, and I hope you will enjoy comfortable and refreshing sleep."
"I do not think I shall sleep much, Herbert," whispered Amy as they left the room; "that dreadful account of the plague, and now this terrible fire, will be in my thoughts all night."
 
     "Oh! dear Amy, don't be frightened," replied Herbert, in a soothing tone. "The plague was last year, you know, so that is over; and as to the fire, very likely it has baked some of the bakers loaves for him, and is put out by this time. Poor Rachel is a poor timid creature, and, I suppose, has made the most of the story. Good night, dear sister, and pleasant dreams to you."
 
      Though Herbert spoke so lightly of the fire to reassure Amy, yet he did not think lightly of it. He knew that most of the houses being built of wood, there was much danger of the flames spreading. On reaching his bedroom, he opened his window and looked out. He distinctly saw the fire, which appeared a large one, and cast a red glare on all around it. There was a strong gale of wind blowing at the time, which every now and then dispersed the thick clouds of smoke, and increased the violence of the flames. The shouts and yells of the mob, the church bells ringing an alarm, the people hurrying along to see the fire, the cry from some one, "That all Fishstreet was in a blaze, and the pipes from the New River were found to be dry," proved altogether so exciting to Herbert, that it was hours before he could close his eyes in sleep; and even when he did, he was constantly startled by the loud and awful cry of "Fire, fire."
 
      At an early hour the next morning, all in Mrs. Marsden's house were stirring. Early as it was, people were seen hurrying from the city, some with such small articles of furniture as they had been able to save, others, who, in that fearful night, with children or aged parents, had lost their all. From these poor wanderers they learned that the fire was raging with increased fury; that all attempts to stop its progress were vain, and that the people were nearly out of their senses with terror. The weather for some time previously had been very dry, and this, added to the wind, the want of water, and the rapidity with which the wooden storehouses ignited, seemed to render all efforts fruitless.
"My mother must be alarmed," said Herbert; "she has no one with her; she will be thinking of us I must go to her."
 
     "Impossible, my dear boy said his aunt; "your mother is at the West-end, far away from the fire. It would be exceedingly dangerous for you to attempt such a thing."
 
    "But suppose she should be terribly frightened, and should come to seek us? Oh! aunt, pray let me go to my dear mother, I will take care of myself! Goodbye; farewell, dearest Amy;" an without another word the boy rushed from the house.
 
     Old London Bridge was very different from the present one. Crowded with ill-built houses, it was in a blaze when Herbert arrived there. The scene was truly lamentable. Mothers screaming for their missing children, old people imploring help, goods tossed about in all directions, and no one seeming to know what to do in terrific confusion. The atmosphere was of a fiery darkness, and the thick smoke hid the sky from view. The river was crowded with every description of barges, boats, rafts, timber, furniture, bedding; the heat was intense, and altogether, the horrors of the scene made poor Herbert so sick and giddy, he was glad to sit down on a stone to recover himself. Finding it impossible to continue his perilous walk, he slowly retraced his steps to Mrs. Marsden's.
 
     Thames-street was now a heap of red-hot ruins, Grace-church-street was all in a blaze, and Lombard and Fen-church streets were on fire. The churches, towering above all, were blazing to their very summits.


     O the horrors of that day! The bewildered and terrified people gazed at the burning mass of houses with a kin of stupefied awe; the streets were choked up with furniture; and the hours rolled on amidst shrieks, lamentations, and the noise of falling buildings.

     And all that day, and all the following night, the dreadful devastation continued. Cheapside, Bucklersbury, Walbrook, Threadneedle-street, the Royal Exchange, were all a mass of smoking ruins.

     The next morning, the multitude gazed with awe on the sublime sight of the magnificent St. Paul's on fire. The wild roar of the flames as they shot upwards, the lead melting on the roof and running down in streams, the deafening uproar of the falling masses of stone, the feeling of utter uselessness of all efforts to save the stupendous structure, the horror-stricken, silent multitude, as the bright-red volleys of flame leaped higher and higher, formed a grand and striking spectacle.
 
     The fire at this time could be seen at forty miles' distance from London, and the thick, black clouds of smoke spread around for fifty miles.
 
     The sky above was like a vault of red-hot brass; the air was stifling with the oppressive heat; the pavement of the streets glowed so intensely, that it was painful for man or horse to stand upon it. The people, who appeared stunned with the greatness of the calamity, were recalled to recollection by the spirited and noble conduct of King Charles and his brother, the Duke of York. Going on horseback down to the burning mass, they gave orders that whole rows of houses be pulled down. By thus cutting off communication between the fire and its aliment, it was at length stayed. Charles showed great presence of mind and activity in the measures he took to save his capital from total destruction; and by his presence, early and late, encouraged the workmen to persevere.
      Thus, after raging for three days and three nights, this great fire was subdued; terrible as it was while it lasted, nothing could surpass the dreadful magnificence of the sight! Thirteen thousand two hundred houses, with eighty-nine churches were reduced to ashes in that fearful conflagration!
      The flames commencing at London Bridge, burnt every thing westward as far as Temple-bar, and extended northward to Smithfield and Holborn.
     On the 8th of September, Herbert again attempted to join his mother. Crossing the river in a boat, he proceeded onwards, though with great difficulty; the scene of desolation was most melancholy! The falling ruins, the dust and heaps of rubbish, rendered the road at times impassable, and so altered was the aspect of the city, that frequently the boy knew not where he was. The ground was so hot that the soles of his shoes were burnt; and the smell of consumed and consuming substances was almost unbearable. But the love for his mother impelled Herbert forward. As he walked, he thought of the mercy of God, which spared him, and of the uncertain nature of worldly riches. Many, who three days before had been worth thousands, were now beggars!
     Over calcined stones, amidst blackened and falling timbers, and through sad groups of desolation and misery, Herbert at length arrived at his mother's lodgings. Her heart had been overwhelmed with anxiety for her children; and she clasped her boy in her arms with heartfelt gratitude.
     In a few days Amy joined them, and the following week they were all glad to return to their peaceful home in the country. Amy never forgot the description she had heard of the plague, nor what she had witnessed of The Great Fire.
     Fortunately, few lives were lost; but the distress of so many people, thus driven into the streets, most of them with the loss of all their property, is past description.
     The monument, now standing in London, was built by Sir Christopher Wren, (the great architect who rebuilt St. Paul's Cathedral.) It was placed on the very spot where the fire commenced. May God in His mercy spare the city another such calamity!
      "Go to now, ye that say, To-day or to-marrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."
                                                        St. James, iv. 13-15.

Source: The Children's Magazine Volume XXVII .....For 1885 Edited by  J. A. Spencer, D.D.

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