By Permission of Heaven: The True Story of the Great Fire of London

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9780712668477: By Permission of Heaven: The True Story of the Great Fire of London

A work of dynamic history that depicts in fascinating detail the cataclysm that was the Great Fire of London and the modern European capital that rose from its ashes.

By Permission of Heaven is a thrilling account of the Great Fire of London that makes terrific use of a vast array of first-person accounts and forensic investigation. The result is an impeccable achievement in historical storytelling that calls to mind equal parts Patricia Cornwell, Sebastian Junger, and Iain Pears.

By Permission of Heaven follows the conflagration from its beginnings in a Pudding Lane baker's kitchen in 1666 through the extreme devastation it wreaked. Adrian Tinniswood recounts the horror and wonder that gripped the city as the flames spread, destroying 13,200 homes, ninety-three churches, St. Paul's Cathedral, and every administrative building in the capital. While looting, savage violence, panic, and chaos reigned within the city and war raged without, hundreds of thousands buried their most precious possessions and fled, never again to see the Lon-don they knew.

Finely depicted here are the towering figures of Restoration England, such as Charles II, Samuel Pepys, and Christopher Wren, who played critical roles in the fire and its aftermath. Tinnis-wood also brings to life the schoolchildren, servants, clerks, and courtiers of the day as they watched the streets run with fire and the greatest city in Britain disappear before their eyes.

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About the Author:

Adrian Tinniswood is the author of His Invention So Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren and Visions of Power: Ambition and Architecture from Ancient Times to the Present. He is a respected author, lecturer, and broadcaster in Britain and the United States.

From The Washington Post:

The Great Fire of 1666 is one of the pivotal events in the long history of London. It did appalling damage to the cityscape and inflicted considerable psychological distress on the populace -- though it caused astonishingly few deaths -- but those were the short-term effects. The long-term ramifications were almost entirely positive. Like San Francisco after the fire and earthquake of 1906, London was forced after the Great Fire not merely to rebuild but to modernize, to redesign its public spaces and impose regulations on private ones, the net effect of which was to make it stronger, safer and more habitable.

"London in 1666 was by far the largest city in the British Isles," Adrian Tinniswood writes, and in the rest of the Western world "surpassed only by Constantinople and Paris," with a population of around 300,000, of whom only about 80,000 lived in the central City of London. But it "was not a pleasant place in which to live. It was noisy, filthy and smelly, and most Englishmen agreed that only Paris was worse. Charnel houses stood side by side with stately mansions; butchers' offal lay rotting in the narrow streets, and human waste blocked open drains." It was visited all too often by the plague, indeed had had a nasty bout with bubonic plague in 1665 in which 20 percent of its population died.

London was still recovering from the plague a year later -- there were, in fact, cases still being reported -- and was not helped by the "long, tinder-dry summer" of 1666 and a breakdown in its water supply. Then, sometime in the early hours of Sept. 2, fire broke out in the bakery of Thomas Farriner "on Pudding Lane, a narrow thoroughfare less than 100 yards long which ran north-to-south from the meat markets and butchers' stalls of Little Eastcheap down to Thames Street with its riverside wharves and warehouses." Fire was a common occurrence "in a society where most houses were timber-framed, in an age when every home had several open fires and every chamber was lit by naked flame," but this was no common fire because powerful easterly gales "were still blowing hard across south-east England," prompting one contemporary observer to write: "the fire gets mastery, and burns dreadfully; and God with his great bellows blows upon it."

It didn't help that the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bludworth, "didn't have the experience, the leadership skills or the natural authority to take command of the situation." Bludworth diddled while London burned. For several days the fire raced through the city, sparks and flames leaping from rooftop to rooftop, finally making their way to the one place that everyone assumed was invulnerable, St. Paul's Cathedral atop Ludgate Hill. It was "the City's most revered landmark . . . the dominant feature of the London skyline, immediately identifiable in every contemporary print, towering over the rest of the City." Within a couple of days of the fire at Farriner's, flames were seen on its roof:

"Within less than half a hour the fire spreading along its roof was melting the lead, so that it dripped and then cascaded down into the body of the cathedral, 'as if it had been snow before the sun.' The stonework split and popped and crashed down with explosive force. The lead ran down Ludgate Hill in a stream, 'the very pavements glowing with fiery rednesse, so as no horse nor man was able to tread on them.' As the mountains of tightly packed books and bundles of paper caught, the whole building went up with a huge roar, and by nine o'clock the blaze was so bright that it lit up the entire sky."

The books and bundles of paper were there because "the printers, stationers and booksellers of Paternoster Row [had] rushed to move their stock into the crypt of the cathedral for safe keeping, [since] no one thought that St. Paul's would come to any serious harm." Thus the damage the fire caused to the city's storehouse of printed works was devastating, which in turn only intensified the psychological blow that had been inflicted on all of its residents, who had been reduced to what one preacher called "fearfulness and terror."

Not surprisingly, a search for scapegoats promptly got under way. England was at war with Holland and France, and there was widespread animosity toward the many foreigners in the city. From out of nowhere came a 26-year-old Frenchman eager to confess to the crime. Almost no one believed him, but he insisted that he was the culprit, so soon enough he was convicted and hanged, which did almost nothing to ease popular fears. Restoration England seethed with anti-Catholicism, so -- also not surprisingly -- there was much talk about "this devilish Popish Plot," though Charles II, his brother the Duke of York and most others in positions of influence insisted adamantly, and no doubt accurately, that the fire was an accident pure and simple.

The king and his brother behaved admirably throughout the crisis. "Private letters of the time," Tinniswood writes, "marvel over the fact that the two men stood up to their ankles in water and manned pumps for hours on end." An unknown witness reported that "with incredible magnanimity [they] rode up and down giving orders for blowing up of Houses with Gunpowder to make voyd spaces for the fire to dye in, and standing still to see those orders executed, exposing their persons not only to the multitude but to the very flames themselves, and the Ruines of buildings ready to fall upon them and sometimes labouring with their own hands to give example to others."

Relatively few among the privileged behaved so selflessly, but the ordinary folk weren't much better. There were rioting, violence, looting, profiteering -- all the usual unpleasantness that accompanies large-scale disasters. But if the city at times seemed deranged, there was reason for it: "A survey carried out soon after the Fire found that 13,200 houses had been burned down or demolished in 400 streets and courts. That meant that somewhere in the region of 70,000-80,000 people had lost their homes. Of the area within the [old Roman] walls, 373 acres had gone -- well over 80 per cent -- along with a further 63 acres in the extra-mural parishes to the north and west."

That the city rebuilt so quickly and for the most part so well is testimony to its proud character and its leadership, not merely the royal brothers but also various men -- Christopher Wren most notable among them -- who managed the redesign and reconstruction. A royal proclamation less than two weeks after the fire began "set out the scale of the Crown's ambition for the new city, and by establishing the principle that national and civic government intended to regulate individual efforts within a just framework, it launched England on a course which would involve executive, legislature and judiciary in half a century of activity." Not merely was the city saved, it came through the ordeal a better place, more prepared for the changed world of the next three centuries.

Adrian Tinniswood has done a heroic amount of research and, as the quoted extracts make plain, writes well. By Permission of Heaven is interesting and informative, but unfortunately it has little narrative cohesion or force. One reads the story more for its own inherent interest than because Tinniswood draws one into it. That is a pity, but it is still a useful book.


Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

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Descripción Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2004. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. There had, of course, been other fires, Four Hundred and fifty years before, the city had almost burned to the ground. Yet the signs from the heavens in 1666 were ominous: comets, pyramids of flame, monsters born in city slums. Then, in the early hours on 2 September, a small fire broke out on the ground floor of a baker s house in Pudding Lane. In five days that small fire would devastate the third largest city in the Western world. Adrian Tinniswood s magnificent new account of the Great Fire of London explores the history of a cataclysm and its consequences. It pieces together the untold human story of the Fire and its aftermath - the panic, the search for scapegoats, and the rebirth of a city. Above all, it provides an unsurpassable recreation of what happened to schoolchildren and servants, courtiers and clergyman when the streets of London ran with fire. Nº de ref. de la librería AAZ9780712668477

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Descripción Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2004. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. There had, of course, been other fires, Four Hundred and fifty years before, the city had almost burned to the ground. Yet the signs from the heavens in 1666 were ominous: comets, pyramids of flame, monsters born in city slums. Then, in the early hours on 2 September, a small fire broke out on the ground floor of a baker s house in Pudding Lane. In five days that small fire would devastate the third largest city in the Western world. Adrian Tinniswood s magnificent new account of the Great Fire of London explores the history of a cataclysm and its consequences. It pieces together the untold human story of the Fire and its aftermath - the panic, the search for scapegoats, and the rebirth of a city. Above all, it provides an unsurpassable recreation of what happened to schoolchildren and servants, courtiers and clergyman when the streets of London ran with fire. Nº de ref. de la librería AAZ9780712668477

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