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The Flaming City

A linear walk tracing the route of the Great Fire of 1666, an event that created a demand for new furniture.

Distance 2.2 miles (3.6km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Paved streets

Landscape Alleys and roads in busy City of London

Suggested map AA Street by Street London

Monument tubeFarringdon tube

Dog friendliness Not a good one for dogs

Public toilets Monument, Mansion House


© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Take the Fish Street Hill exit from the tube station and bear right towards the Monument. Then follow the cobbled street for 20yds (18m) to see the plaque that marks the spot on the corner of Pudding Lane where the ill-fated bakery once stood. Bear right, then cross Lower Thames Street at the pedestrian crossing to reach St Magnus the Martyr Church.

2 A few paces further to the right of the church, climb a set of steps and, ignoring the first exit, continue to arrive on the west side of London Bridge. Continue ahead, away from the river, along King William Street and shortly turn left along Arthur Street and then sharp right into Martin Lane, past the Olde Wine Shades. At the end turn left into Cannon Street. (For a detour to see the red brick houses that survived the fire, turn next left into Laurence Poultney Hill.)

3 Cross the road and turn right into Abchurch Lane. At the end bear left along King William Street towards Bank tube station. Keep to the left, past the front of Mansion House, and notice the street on the left, Walbrook: this is the site of one of Wren's finest churches, St Stephen Walbrook Church. Turn left into Queen Victoria Street.

4 Continue ahead, then turn right into Bow Lane, past St Mary Aldermary and a row of shops, to St Mary-le-Bow at the end. Turn left into Cheapside which, despite being the widest road in the City, also went up in flames.

5 Cross this road, turn right into Wood Street and take the narrow alley on the right, Milk Street. Follow it round to enter a courtyard with an eerie entrance to the old debtors' prison. Carry on through the alley, to the left of the Hole in the Wall pub, to rejoin Wood Street.

6 Cross the road into Goldsmith Street and, at the Saddlers Hall opposite, turn left and rejoin Cheapside. Turn right and cross the pedestrian crossing to St Paul's Cathedral. Walk through the churchyard, bear left to reach Ludgate Hill and turn left.

7 Turn right and right again into Ava Maria Lane, which becomes Warwick Lane. At the end turn left along Newgate Street. At the traffic lights turn right along Giltspur Street, then left into Cock Lane.

8 Where another road meets it, turn right along Snow Hill Lane, past an angular building, and continue along Farringdon Road. At the traffic lights turn right, to reach Farringdon tube, where the walk ends.

Londoners in the 17th century must have wondered what had hit them when, within months of fighting off the Great Plague, a fire of monumental proportions began at a bakery in Pudding Lane. It was 2am in the morning on 2 September 1666 when the baker discovered the fire. He escaped to safety along a roof, but his young assistant was not so lucky. Neither were the 13,000 houses, 87 churches and 40 livery halls that perished in the flames but, incredibly, only eight people lost their lives, although how many later died after being left homeless is unknown. It took five days to contain the fire, partly because of the high number of houses with timber roofs and the rudimentary fire-fighting equipment available at the time.

The event at least offered an opportunity to give the City a facelift but, due to the sheer cost and to property rights, most of the rebuilding followed the original street lines. It did, however, create a safer, more sanitary capital than before, and with the new houses came a demand for new furniture, which was excellent news for cabinet-makers.

Within six years the City had been rebuilt, its boundaries extended and London was in the midst of an economic boom. By 1700 the population had increased five-fold to 500,000 inhabitants and, in terms of technical development, the city's manufacture of chests and cabinets led the way. Perhaps one of the most common items produced by a cabinet-maker was the table, candlestands and mirror ensemble, which had been introduced from France and soon became a standard item of furniture in many English homes. Cabinets were made by skilled craftsmen and therefore more expensive. However, the same techniques were later used for chests of drawers. To meet heavy demands furniture was, for the first time, offered across a range of quality and price.

Brisk trade with North America, the East Indies, East India and the Far East introduced new styles such as lacquer-ware. Although France led the way in furniture design, Oriental items such as screens were very popular. Most Londoners made do with 'japanned' furniture that was varnished in a cheaper imitation of lacquer, many of which survive today. Cane chairs too, were introduced from the Far East and most middle class homes had one or more of these so-called 'English chairs'. With the demand for furniture of all types and to match all pockets, the working life of a tradesman in the late 1600s was a happy one indeed.

While you're there

Head for the Museum of London in nearby London Wall to find out more about the Great Fire and the devastation witnessed by Samuel Pepys. This is the world's largest urban history museum - it offers an insight into London life from the Roman era to the 18th century. Many artefacts are on display, including a tiny crucifix delicately carved from bone by an inmate of Newgate Prison.

Where to eat and drink

The culinary highlight of this walk has to be the Place Below, a restaurant in the crypt of St Mary-le-Bow Church. It's very popular with discerning City workers for its mouth-watering vegetarian menu. If you arrive before midday, not only do you avoid the rush but the food is cheaper too.

What to look for

The statue on the building at the corner of Cock Lane of the 'Golden Boy' marks the spot where the fire is thought to have ended. On this site, until 1910, stood a pub called The Fortune of War where body-snatchers would leave bodies on benches and wait to hear from the surgeons of the nearby St Bartholomew's Hospital.


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