Objects: Plans for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. Sir Christopher Wren’s (1632-1723) proposal (Plate 2.2, bottom half) was submitted to King Charles II on 11 September 1666. The other three were drawn by John Evelyn and submitted on 13 September 1666 (Plate 2.1, top half), December 1666 (Plate 2.1, bottom half), and February 1668 (Plate 2.2, top half). Other plans were presented to the king by Robert Hooke, Valentine Knight, and Richard Newcourt, among others. The King preferred Wren’s plan, but it was—as were other submissions—rejected by the House of Commons. Rather, the King and the Court of Aldermen appointed commissioners, including Wren and Hooke, to oversee the rebuilding of the city in less flammable brick and stone upon the old foundations.
Plate 2.1, Top Half: FIRST PLATE. / LONDINVM REDIVIVVM. Presented by me to his Majesty, a Week after the Conflagration, together with a Discourse now in the Paper Office. JE
Plate 2.1, Below the First Plan: Scale of Paces: 5 ped. / 80 160 240 320 400 480
1. Temple Bar.
2. Fleet Conduit.
3. St. Dunstan’s in the West.
4. Sergeants Inn.
5. The new Channell.
6. The Colledge of Physicians.
7. Doctors Commons.
8. St. Paul’s.
9.10. The two Sheriffs.
11. Mercers Chapell.
12. Bow Church.
13. The Fountain in Gracechurch / Street Market Place.
14. St. Dunstan’s in the East.
15. Guild Hall.
16. Christ’s Hospital & Church.
17. The Ld. Mayor’s House.
18. The Royal Exchange.
19. Trinity House.
20. Custome House, Admiralty / Court.
21. Navy Office.
23. The Fish Market.
25. St. Paul’s Wharfe.
26. The Sluce.
27. Newgate Prison, & Sessions / House; Bridewell, and / publick Workhouses.
28. The Church Yards.
29. The Key.
30. Blackfryars Church, and / Watling Street.
31. The Tower.
†. The several Parish Churches, / twenty in all. [14 only marked in the Plan.]
* The several Halls of the / twelve antient Companies.
Plate 2.1, Bottom Half: ANOTHER PROJECTION. [JE]
The REFERENCES to the several Places in this PROJECTION, which were designed to have been put here, are not inserted in the original DRAUGHT.
Sumptibus Societat:Antiquar:Lond. 1748.
Plate 2.2, Top Half: SECOND PLATE. / A PLAN OF LONDON: Containing twenty five Churches only, reserved on their old Foundations, with all the principal Streets almost in the same part they formerly were, and Spaces for all the rest of the Houses, Lanes, and Alleys of note, according to the Dimensions following. Though by reason of the narrowness of this Plan the measures are not exact.
The Key. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
Thames Street. . . . . . . . . . 40
Fleet Street to the Tower. . . . 50
Holborn to Aldgate. . . . . . . 55
Bridge to Bishopsgate. . . . . 50
St. Paul’s to Cheapside. . . . . . . . . 45
Guild Hall to Cheape. . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
Aldersgate Street to the Thames 40
Exchange to the Thames,] . . . . 40
and Moorgate. . . . . . . . . .]
Pater noster Row. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
Lombard Street. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
Old Bailey from Smithfield]. . . . . 35
to Blackfryars. . . . . . . . . . . . . ]
Warwick Lane to the Thames. . . . . 30
All the Streets leading]
from Cheapside to the] 30
Thames. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ]
Described by I. EVELYN Esq.F.R.S.
1. Fleet Street.
2. Fleet Conduit.
3. Shoe Lane.
4. St. Brides.
5. Ludgate Hill.
6. St. Sepulchre’s.
9. St. Dunstan’s West.
10. Temple Lane.
12. Fleet bridge and Channel.
13. Old Bailey.
15. St. Martin’s.
17. Christ’s Church.
18. Physicians College.
19. St. Andrew’s.
20. Baynard’s Castle.
21. St. Paul’s.
22. The Wharf or Key.
23. Queen Hyth.
24. Bridge Market.
26. Custom House.
27. The Tower.
28. The Bridge.
29. Thames Street.
30. St. Peter’s.
31. Paul’s Wharf.
32. Old Fish Street.
33. Watling Street.
36. Bread Street.
37. St. Martin’s.
38. St. Antholin’s.
39. Alhollows the Less.
40. St. Magnus.
41. St. Mary[at Hill.]
42. Alhollows Barking.
43. St. Mary’s Abchurch.
44. Alhollows Fenchurch Str.
45. Leaden Hall.
46. St. Michael’s.
47. Royal Exchange.
48. St. Mary’s[Woolnoth.]
49. French Church.
50 St. Margeret’s and New. / Throckmorton Street.
51. St. Olave’s.
52. Bow Church.
53. Guild Hall.
54. St. Iohn Evangelist.
55. St. Alban’s Wood Str.
56. St. Michael’s Wood Str.
57. St. Michael’s by Pater- / noster Row.
58. Sion College.
64. Market where stood the Stocks.
65. Cheapside Market.
66. Gracechurch Str. and Market.
67. Lombard Street.
68. Tower Street.
69. Fish-street Hill.
70. Threadneedle Street.
71. Bassinghall Street.
73. Coleman Street.
74. Wood Street.
75. Bartholomew Lane.
76. St. Martin’s Lane.
77. Pater-noster Row.
78. Bow Lane.
80. Ivy Lane.
81. St. Austin’s.
82. Warwick Lane.
Plate 2.2, Bottom Half: A PLAN of the City of LONDON, after the great Fire in the Year of our Lord 1666, according to the design and proposal of Sr. CHRISTOPHER WREN Kt. for rebuilding it. Shewing the Situation of the great Streets, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Exchange, Guild-hall, the Custom-house, and other publick Offices; Churches; Markets; and the Key by the River.
Sumptibus Societati: Antiquar:Lond. 1748.
Translation: Plate 2.1, Top Half: London Revived
Upper Plan: River Thames
Plate 2.1, Lower right-hand corner: Published by the Society of Antiquaries of London, 1748.
Plate 2.2, Top Half (in plan): River Thames
Plate 2.2, Lower right-hand corner: Published by the Society of Antiquaries of London, 1748.
Commentary by Barrett Kalter: Plates 2.1 and 2.2 reproduce John Evelyn’s and Christopher Wren’s plans for rebuilding London after the Great Fire of 1666. The fire started early on 2 September at a baker’s house in Pudding Lane. Fanned by strong winds, the flames rapidly spread through the City, razing the old wood-framed buildings and forcing residents to flee. Evelyn vividly describes “the miserable and calamitous spectacle” in his diary:
Three days later, the fire was finally brought under control, but by that point had destroyed 13,200 houses, which left an estimated 15% of the population (70,000 people) homeless (Bucholz and Ward 2012, 125). Nearly all of the City had burnt down, as a map of the aftermath engraved by Wenceslas Hollar strikingly shows.
…all the skie were of a fiery aspect, like the top of a burning Oven, & the light seene above 40 miles round about for many nights…the noise & crakling & thunder of the impetuous flames, the shreeking of Women & children, the hurry of people, the fall of towers, houses & churches was like an hideous storme, & the aire all about so hot and inflam’d that at the last one was not able to approch it…London was, but is no more. (Evelyn 1955, 3.453-54)
Wren submitted his plan (Plate 2.2, bottom half) to the king on 11 September. In his proposal, he warned that simply rebuilding on the old foundations would squander the “Opportunity in our hands of makeing This Place the most convenient City for Trade in the World” (quoted in Jardine 2002, 263). His design replaces the tangled medieval street plan with a grid balanced at each end by impressive plazas that surround key landmarks. In the east, the intersection of three major streets forms a star centered on Fleet Conduit tower; in the west is a new financial and administrative hub that includes the Royal Exchange, Mint, Bank, Post Office, and Excise Office. Major thoroughfares from this site and from the Tower converge on St. Paul’s, symbolically linking the nation’s economic, religious, and military institutions. The addition of a quai evenly extended from the Tower to Temple Garden gives easy access to the traffic of goods on the Thames. Wren conceived a plan that would meet the needs of business and give London the splendor befitting an imperial capital.
On 13 September, Evelyn discussed his plan (Plate 2.1, top half) to rebuild with Charles II, the Queen, and the Duke of York (Evelyn 1955, 3.463). He advised that if left unregulated, rebuilding could result in “a very ugly city;” however, with forethought, “such a city [will] emerge out of these sad and ruinous heaps, as may dispute it with all the cities of the World; fitter for commerce, apter for government, sweeter for health, more glorious for beauty; and in sum whatsoever indeed could be desired to render it consummately perfect” (quoted in Darley 2006, 220). His design resembles Wren’s in several respects: there is a grid of streets that end in a quay, with a plaza at Fleet Conduit. Four diagonal boulevards form a diamond around a fountain in Gracechurch Street. The southern point of this diamond opens onto London Bridge, and the eastern stretches to touch St. Paul’s. Evelyn’s plan possesses a starker geometry than Wren’s, with half as many streets delineated. Furthermore, to achieve symmetry, Evelyn pushed his design beyond the western limit of the fire’s damage (represented in the figure by a bold line) to incorporate the rest of the area up to London Wall, thereby unifying the City aesthetically. He also wanted the Exchange moved to the quay, the “wretched houses” on the riverside of Southwark demolished to make room for warehouses, the main avenues reserved for splendid terraced residences, with small shops and craft studios concealed in adjacent courts and smoke-producing industries removed from the City entirely — a recommendation he had earlier made in a 1661 tract on air pollution, Fumifugium (quoted in Darley 2006, 222). Evelyn’s bold scheme would transform the City into a space of baroque spectacle and affluent leisure. But he later conceded that in his haste to complete the plan, he treated the City as a “rasa tabula,” and after having a chance to examine Hollar’s engraving of post-fire London, Evelyn drew a second plan (Plate 2.1, bottom half) in December 1666 (Evelyn to Samuel Tuke 27 September 1666, in Evelyn 1870, 323). No legend accompanies this plan, so the location of particular buildings is uncertain, but a comparison to Hollar shows that in this revision Evelyn followed much of the old street plan, widening and straightening routes to ease traffic, while leaving unchanged the streets in the area the fire did not reach. Finally, in February of 1668, Evelyn produced the third plan (Plate 2.2, top half), the most detailed and grid-like of the three, with “all the principal Streets almost in the same part they formerly were.” Viewed in succession, the three images reveal a scaling back of Evelyn’s ambitions, as his utopian vision of the future yields to the weight of history.
Among the other plans for a new City of London were those drawn by Robert Hooke, Valentine Knight, and Richard Newcourt, which may have influenced the layout of Philadelphia (Tinniswood 2003, 198-204). The King preferred Wren’s plan, but the House of Commons rejected it, partly out of concern that if the City were not quickly rebuilt, residents and businesses would relocate and never return. Implementing any of the proposed plans would have meant determining who owned what property throughout the City and then purchasing land needed for the construction of redirected roads and new squares, a laborious and costly endeavor. And surely Charles II did not want to test the extent of his prerogative by seizing the land so soon after a civil war fought on one side against his father’s absolutism. The King and Court of Aldermen instead established a committee — which included Wren and Hooke — to oversee the rebuilding of London on the old foundations, but in brick and stone rather than wood. The publication of Evelyn’s and Wren’s unrealized plans in Vetusta Monumenta preserves not so much the remains of the past as powerful ideas of what might have been, allowing readers of the volume to build alternate versions of London in their imaginations.
Bucholz, Robert and Joseph P. Ward. 2012. London: A Social and Cultural History, 1550-1750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Darley, Gillian. 2006. John Evelyn: Living for Ingenuity. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Evelyn, John. 1955. The Diary of John Evelyn. Edited by E.S. De Beer. 6 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
------. 1870. Memoirs Illustrative of the Life and Writings of John Evelyn, Esq., F.R.S.. Edited by William Bray. NY: Putnam.
Jardine, Lisa. 2002. On a Grander Scale: The Outstanding Career of Sir Christopher Wren. London: Harper Collins.
Society of Antiquaries of London. 1718-. Minutes of the Society’s Proceedings.
Tinniswood, Adrian. 2003. By Permission of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire of London. London: Jonathan Cape.