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The Great Fire of Southwark 1212

1707595_origThe Great Fire of Southwark struck London in July 1212. The exact date is not known, it is thought to have been the 10th though some report it on the 11th or even the 12th. Nor is the exact cause of the fire known though we do know that the fire started in Southwark, south of the Thames. The fire first destroyed St Mary Overie (Our Lady of the Canons) and spread to the rebuilt London Bridge.

Although the bridge had been built in stone it had atop it wooden shops and houses which caught ablaze easily. People had begun to flee over the bridge for safety whilst some travelled in the opposite direction to help fight the blaze. High winds fanned the flames causing the fire to spread quickly, until eventually both sides of the bridge were ablaze. This unfortunately trapped those who remained on the bridge.

It is said that 3,000 died either in the fire itself or drowned in the Thames in their attempts to escape, though the Museum of London amongst other sources believes that this is likely an exaggeration.

The fire was one of the most severe early fires of the city and is said to have damaged a large proportion of the city. St Mary Overie was rebuilt and is now Southwark Cathedral. The Cathedral features a burnt stone supposedly from the original building though the authenticity of this has yet to be proven.

In May 1676, ten years after the Great Fire of London on the opposite side of the Thames, another great fire of Southwark broke out and burned for 17 hours, during which King Charles II and his brother James helped fight the flames, ordering fire breaks to be created by blowing up houses in the path of the fire. A similar method had been used to try and stop the fire on the far bank ten years before.

In 1861, a further Great fire broke out in Southwark and again destroyed many buildings between Tooley Street and the Thames, around Hays Wharf and extending west almost as far as St Olave’s Church.