Over 70,000 Londoners were left homeless in 1666 when, in the early hours of September 2nd, a fire that began in a bakery on Pudding Lane swiftly grew to consume and devastate the entire city. It is believed that approximately 13,000 residences burnt to the ground. As London’s first Post Office at Cloak Lane surrendered to what we now know as the Great Fire Of London, Postmaster James Hicks quickly salvaged as much of the city’s correspondence as physically possible, and fled with his family to Barnet. Once there, still shaken, he sent this letter to his fellow Postmasters and informed them of the unfolding catastrophe.
(This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.)
To my good friends ye Postmasters betwixt London & Chester & Holly Head
it hath pleased Almighty God to visit this famous city of London with most raging fire which began on Sunday morning last about 2 a clock in Pudding Lane in a baker’s house behind the Kings Head tavern in New Fish Street & though all the means possible was used yet it could not be obstructed but before night it had burnt most part of ye City with St Magnus Church & part of ye Bridge to Q Hith to the water side, Canon Street, Dowgate, & upon Monday struck up Gratious Street, Lombard Street, Cornhill, Poultry, Bartholomew Lane, Throgmorton Street, Lothbury, & the last night & this day rages through all parts of the city as far as Temple Bar, Holborn Bridge, Smithfield & by all conjecture is not by any means to be stopped from further ruin except God in his infinite wisdom prevent it. I am at ye Red Lyon in Barnet with my family, & God in reasonable good health, notwithstanding great loss and sufferings by the distraction of our office yet I am commanded to let you know yet what little come to your hands from any ministers of State yet again give you all quick and speedy dispatch to me hither yet I may convey you home to Court or such places as I may receive directions for, & I am also to intimate to you which letters are sent to you from Court & shall see them sent forwards from here to you with speedy care & conveyance & so soone as pleasith God to put an end to ye violence of this fire some place will be picked on for ye general correspondence as formerly of which you shall God willing have advice at present this is all
Your sorrowfull friend
Barnet Sep. 4. 11 at night