A TOTALLY UNRECORDED PANORAMA OF THE AFTERMATH OF THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON. This engraving is undoubtedly drawn from that of Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77) published late in 1666. That work records London before and after the Great Fire of 1666. It takes in London from Temple Church just below Fleet Street to the Tower of London and is taken from the perspective of the steeple of Southwark Cathedral which at the time was known as the church of St. Mary Overy. Within just a couple of months of the fire the print was available. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) records in his diary for 22 November 1666:
‘Up, and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and my Lord Bruncker did show me Hollar’s new print of the City, with a pretty representation of that part which is burnt, very fine indeed; and tells me that he was yesterday sworn the King’s servant, and that the King hath commanded him to go on with his great map of the City, which he was upon before the City was burned’.
It was sold by John Overton (1640-1713) who had only been made free in 1663 and acquired Peter Stent’s stock in 1665. The Hollar print is extremely rare, only one example has been seen at auction in twenty-three years, at Christies New York, 29 January 2019, where it fetched $32,500. We had an example in 2022.
This engraving is entirely unknown. The engraver and publisher are unidentified. Closer examination reveals that a second panorama, like the Hollar, was below this one. The images are here reversed with that of the aftermath being depicted on top. It is reasonable to presume that this engraving was issued shortly after that of Hollar to meet the demand. The most likely candidates are Thomas Jenner (fl.1621-72) or Robert Walton (1618-88), both active printsellers. The lack of an imprint might be explained by its possible presence on the lower half, let us hope one is discovered some day. Further evidence might come to light by a study of the keyed numbers on the plate. They do not match any plan of London of the period or pagination to any book we can think of.
Closer examination of the view reveals the level of devastation caused. The fire lasted 4 days and consumed 436 acres, 13,200 houses and 87 churches including St. Paul’s Cathedral. Contemporary accounts relate that only church spires and chimney stacks seem to have survived. John Evelyn (1620-1706) wrote in his diary on the 3 September, describing London the day after it started as:
‘a resemblance of Sodome, or the last day. It call’d to mind that of 4 Heb: non enim hic habemus stabilem Civitatem; the ruines resembling the picture of Troy. London was, but is no more’
On 7 September 1666, the day after the fire ended, he walked through the city and reported his hair almost singed:
‘I went this morning on foote from White hall as far as London bridge … with extraordinary difficulty, clambring over mountaines of yet smoking rubbish, & frequently mistaking where I was, the ground under my feete so hott, as made me not onely Sweate, but even burnt the soles of my shoes’.
As in interesting aside, utilising the current average price of a London house, the fire destroyed £7.5 billion worth of housing. Working on the idea that it destroyed a quarter of the housing stock in London at the time, the economic impact of that today would be a loss of £500 billion worth (Actuarial Post).
Provenance: Burden collection since the 1970s. Evelyn’s diary https://www.pepysdiary.com/indepth/2009/09/02/evelyns-fire/; Griffiths & Kesnerová (1983) p. 64, no. 113 (Hollar ill.); not in Hind (1922); ODNB; Pennington (1982) 1015.3 (Hollar); Pepys diary https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary; not in Scouloudi (1953) refer pp. 81-2; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011).