Photo by Slim Plantagenate
Roman London was once burnt down by Queen Boudicea, whose statue stands opposite Big Ben, but London’s real Year Zero was the Great Fire of 1666, which left it a smoking ruin.
Ambitious plans were drawn up by energetic court architect Sir Christopher Wren for a 'new London' of wide avenues but the people moved back to their homes and rebuilt on the existing congested street plan: there was work to be done.
“London is a commercial city and immediately after the fire everyone’s only concern was to get it up and running as soon as possible,” says historian Dr David Starkey. “There was no time for grand vision or noble vistas – lovely though they would have been. But the City is always rebuilding – it is like a slow-motion film, rising and falling. The City depends as much on bust and destruction as it does on boom.”
The most famous structure to arise from the ruins was Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral, one of 51 London churches built to replace the 86 lost in the fire. St Paul’s was the center of church law, which was once the only law. It attracted scribes to write petitions for the illiterate and their permanent desks near the cathedral’s walls gave us the words “stationery” and “stationer’s”. The growth of the legal profession in this area led to young lawyers staying in inns nearby, and the so-called Inns of Court nearby are another feature of City life.
Take me to see London's churches!