St. Olav’s Hart Street
Hart St, London EC3R 7NB

Firefighting

Firefighting

Now begins the practice of blowing up of houses in Tower-streete, those next the Tower, which at first did frighten people more than anything, but it stopped the fire where it was done, it bringing down the houses to the ground in the same places they stood, and then it was easy to quench what little fire was in it.
Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 4 September 1666

 

St Olave's is one of a handful of medieval City churches that escaped the Fire. As the flames came within 100 yards of the building, Sir William Penn, Samuel Pepys’s admiralty colleague, ordered his men to create a firebreak by blowing up houses around it. The wind changed direction and the church was saved.

Overall there was little effective firefighting. The Lord Mayor Thomas Bludworth delayed giving permission to use 'fire hooks' (long hooked sticks) to pull buildings down. London's few heavy fire engines could not manoevure narrow twisting streets or, once London was burning, reach the river to replenish their water supply.

Sir William Penn’s son, also William Penn, founded Pennsylvania in America. His city of Philadelphia adopted one of London's post-Great Fire masterplans – the grid design of Richard Newcourt.