Reading: The great fire of London

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The great fire of London

The London of the middle of the 17th century was a city of narrow, dirty streets. Indeed, the streets were so narrow that it was often possible for a person at a window on one side of the street to shake hands with a neighbour on the otherside. There was little light and air. Rubbish lay piled up in dark corners. It is no wonder that epidemics were common. The greatest epidemic of the plague broke out in 1665.

It was a sad time for London. The streets were empty, shops were closed and there were few boats on the Thames. Every house in which there were sick people was shut up, and no one was allowed to go in or out, and the door of the house was marked with a red cross.

The following year the Great Fire took place. It broke out late on a Saturday night in a street not far from London Bridge. The summer had been dry, a hot east wind blew and the fire spread quickly. This is what we read in the diary of John Evelyn, who saw the terrible fire with his own eyes.

The Thames was covered with boats full of people. On the other side one could see carts carrying out the saved goods out into the fields and people putting up tents. At night the fire could be seen ten miles away.
The fire burned for five days and destroyed the greater part of the city. But it did the city good, as it cleared away the old wooden houses and dirty, narrow streets.

A monument near London Bridge still marks the spot where the fire broke out.
Sir Christopher Wren, the famous architect of that day, took part in rebuilding the city. The greater part of it had been of wood, but after the fire wider streets and brickhouses were built. The old church of St. Paul was among the buildings destroyed by the fire. In its place Wren built the present St. Paul's Cathedral. He lies buried under the roof of his own great work. These words are written on his grave: "Reader, it you want to see his monument, look around."