England, UK, Wanderlust

A Great Fire of London walk with kids – visit Great Fire of London locations

Oh the miserable and calamitous spectacle! So wrote one eyewitness after the Great Fire of London in 1666, when a chance spark from a baker’s oven led to a four-day conflagration which burned down 13,000 homes and left around 100,000 of London’s inhabitants homeless.

My daughter walks between concrete blocks with the words of the song London's Burning near Pudding Lane - a Great Fire of London walk with kids, visiting Great Fire of London locations
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The fire, which saw the King and his brother manning the buckets, along with diarist Samuel Pepys, and cannon blasting houses down to create firebreaks, changed the face of the city forever. But if you visit London today, you can still discover some of the Great Fire of London locations – so with my daughter learning about it in class, we came up with a Great Fire of London walk to visit them.

Because if 17th century London with its wooden houses and narrow streets is a world away from today’s metropolis, there’s still plenty to discover in the city’s streets.

Great Fire of London Walk: Stop 1

Where else should you start but Pudding Lane, home to the bakery where the fire itself began. Conspiracy theories have abounded over the years but the first spark came from an oven belonging to Thomas Farynor or Farriner, whose family awakened to thick smoke in the middle of the night.

His maid was the first casualty of the fire when she refused to jump from the window – the final death toll was recorded at six, although it seems likely there were more.

The plaque at Pudding Lane marking the point where the Great Fire of London started - a Great Fire of London walk with kids, visiting Great Fire of London locations

Today Pudding Lane in the City of London is a fairly unexciting little street but there’s still a plaque marking the spot where the fire began – or at least ‘near this site’.

This particular one was added in 1986 although you can see an original sign in the Museum of London (one of the later stops on this Great Fire of London walk).

While you’re here, keep an eye out for the concrete blocks marked with the lines of the children’s song London’s Burning – ‘London’s burning, London’s burning. Fetch the engines, fetch the engines. Fire fire! Fire fire! Pour on water, pour on water’.

Bonus marks if there are enough of you to sing it as a round.

Great Fire of London Walk: Stop 2

Just steps away is the most famous spot commemorating the fire – known simply as the Monument.

At the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill, it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and finished in 1677. The latest restorations were finished in 2009, with new golf leaf on the flaming orb at the top.

Standing 202 feet high, it’s 202 feet from the spot where the fire started on Pudding Lane – if you laid it down, it would reach right to the bakery.

As well as reading the plaque at the bottom, you can also climb the 311 steps to the gallery at the top to look out across the city.

There are Latin inscriptions on three sides of the monument – and one phrase was removed from the north panel in 1830 blaming the Catholics and ‘Popish frenzy’ for the fire.

Great Fire of London locations: Need to know

If you want to climb the Monument, payment is in cash only with adult tickets costing £5.40, and £2.70 for children aged five to 15. You can also get joint tickets for the Monument and the Tower Bridge Exhibition, for £12.80 and £6.40, as well as family tickets.

It’s open from 9.30am-6pm from April to September, and until 5.30pm from October to March. Last admission 30 minutes before closing and it’s closed entirely from December 24-26.

Only 33 people are allowed inside at any time, with a free certificate for those which make the climb. Needless to say, it gets very chilly on the top!

Great Fire of London Walk: Stop 3

Next, head west from the Monument towards St Paul’s Cathedral – one of the symbols of the rebuilt London and one of the iconic landmarks of the city.

On your way, keep an eye out for some of the other remnants of 17th century and medieval London, including the shields on the livery halls.

The original medieval St Paul’s was in a bad state of repair before the fire, damaged by a lightning strike which hit the nave and used as a stable during the English civil war.

Before the fire, no-one could agree whether to restore the original, demolish it completely or a compromise between the two… until the fire took the decision out of everyone’s hands.

The heat of the flames was so intense the stone cracked and exploded, even the lead on the roof melted. Some Londoners had taken shelter inside reasoning that stone wouldn’t burn as easily as the wooden houses, but the heat was too intense – not to mention the cathedral had a wooden roof.

Today it’s hard to imagine London’s skyline without Christopher Wren’s famous dome, one of the highest in the world, and you can visit except on Sundays or when it’s closed for special services – click here to book tickets.

Head to the Whispering gallery where a whisper on one side can be heard on the other – I remember doing this with my parents as a child, and it seems like magic that this should be possible.

There are two more galleries above with fabulous views if you’re happy to climb 528 steps. The Whispering Gallery is 259 steps, if you don’t fancy the complete climb.

You can also see tombs of famous Britons in the crypt, including Wren himself, Lord Wellington and Lord Nelson plus memorials to Florence Nightingale, Samuel Johnson and poet John Donne, the only one to have survived the fire.

If you don’t fancy going inside, you can walk around the outside to admire the dome, look at the statues and the churchyard – it’s also appeared in several films, from Mary Poppins to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

If you do go in, Harry Potter fans can also see Wren’s Geometric Staircase in the south-west tower which appeared Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Great Fire of London locations: Need to know

Tickets to St Paul’s cathedral cost £20 for adults (or £17 online), and £8.50 for children (or £7.20 in advance) and visitors spend around two hours inside on average. Prebooking is recommended, with open-dated tickets currently available – check the latest information on whether you need a timed slot.

There are family tours as well as multimedia guides. If you’re a UK taxpayer, you can add gift aid to your purchase and get free entry for the rest of the year.

Great Fire of London Walk: Stop 4

Head north towards the Museum of London near Barbican on London Wall – a small part of the original Roman wall still remains nearby, and you can track all of London’s history in this free museum, from the earliest settlements to modern day.

Stop at the family desk near the entrance and pick up the activity sheets – there’s one on the plague and Great Fire if you want to head straight to the gallery dedicated to this part of history.

If you’ve got time, there’s a separate rather chilling video display in an earlier gallery on the first appearance of the Black Death in the 14th century.

But the Great Fire exhibits alone are fascinating, with displays and another video telling the tale of the fire plus original artefacts.

Look up and you’ll see a fire hook suspended from the ceiling as well as a fire insurance symbol which would have been displayed outside houses.

There are also images of the houses, narrow at the bottom but wider at the top so neighbours could even shake hands through their windows without stretching (and which helped the flames leap from building to building) as well as examples of leather buckets and helmets to try on, and compare to more modern equivalents.

There’s also the original plaque which was displayed on Pudding Lane, and which puts the blame squarely on the Catholics in a plot to destroy the city, not to mention learning about the tale of the Frenchman Robert Hubert who was hanged for starting the fire, after confessing to it… despite not having done it.

It’s now accepted he was innocent, and was described as ‘not well in mind’.

Great Fire of London locations: Need to know

Entry to the Museum of London is free – it’s worth noting that there is a separate Museum of London Docklands, with its own interesting galleries and temporary exhibitions so don’t get the two mixed up.

For more details on visiting London’s free museums with kids, check out this post.

You need to climb up to the pedestrian high walk from Aldersgate Street, London Wall or St Martin’s-le-Grand to get into the museum (there are lifts and escalators as well as stairs) and the museum is planning to move to a new home with more space in West Smithfield, intending to open there in 2022.

The Museum of London opening hours are 10am-6pm.

Great Fire of London Walk: Stop 5

Head west to Chancery Lane for one more remnant of medieval London which survived the great fire – you can walk back down to St Paul’s and take the tube one stop, or catch a bus, if legs are getting tired by this point.

Staple Inn is one of only four original Tudor timber-framed buildings left in the City of London – you’ll spot the black and white timbered building not far from the tube exit on High Holborn, which dates back to the mid 16th century.

The fire stopped just before it reached this point. The front was then hidden under fireproof plaster for centuries before being restored.

Great Fire of London locations: Want more?

For more original buildings, there’s also 41 Cloth Fair not far from the Barbican and Museum of London, the oldest house in the City of London, built some time between 1597 and 1614, which survived as it was protected by the thick priory walls of St Bartholomew’s nearby.

Not far away is St Bartholomew’s Gatehouse which also dates from the 16th century, although the stone below is even older – another survivor protected by the priory. You can also find more ideas scattered around London here.

Or head east towards the Tower of London to All Hallows by the Tower, the oldest church in the City of London – originally founded in the 7th century.

Samuel Pepys climbed its tower to watch how the fire was spreading, recording his observations in his famous diary – it survived only thanks to the firebreaks created when surrounding buildings were demolished.

If you’re in central London, head over to Goodwins Court, one of the old alleyways just off St Martin’s Lane, where you can spot a fire mark, a small gold and red crest high up on the wall – dating from around 40 years after the Great Fire, it was one of several showing your house was protected in case of fire, in the days before fire brigades.

Get a free list of the top 20 places to get outdoors in London with kids if you sign up for the London with Kids newsletter here or check out this post for my top 49 free things to do in London with kids, the best Roman sites in London and more unusual things to do in London with kids

PIN FOR LATER: GREAT FIRE OF LONDON WALK

A Great Fire of London walk with kids, visiting Great Fire of London locations from Pudding Lane and the Monument to St Paul's Cathedral and the Museum of London, as well as some of the oldest buildings in the UK's capital. #londonwalks #londonwithkids #ukdayout #mummytravels

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