Firebreak – Further Reading

Firebreak: London Ablaze!

The True Stories Behind the Game

Thank you for playing FIREBREAK: LONDON ABLAZE, and congratulations on making it out of the burning city in one piece. Although it’s not known how many people perished in the flames, you certainly wouldn’t have been alone – thousands of refugees fled through the city gates or onto boats on the Thames, taking with them what they could carry. It’s a scene vividly captured in the last picture in the game, an anonymous contemporary painting now in the Yale Center for British Art.

Pudding Lane

Although there are many myths about the Great Fire, many of the most popular stories are accurate. The fire did indeed start in a bakery at Fish Yard in Pudding Lane. The very oven where the fire began is even recorded, in a survey for the hearth tax taken just a fortnight before the fire. The baker, Thomas Farriner, was referred to at the time as “the King’s baker”, but in reality he was just a supplier of biscuits to the Royal Navy. He and his children survived by climbing to safety from a window, but their maid, whose name is sadly lost to history, was too afraid to follow them and became the fire’s first victim.

The Fire’s Spread

Today’s buildings in the City of London like the Gherkin and the Walkie-Talkie spread out from their small ground plans to take up more space above. It’s nothing new, and the timber-framed buildings of 17th-century London did just the same. Unfortunately that made it easy for the fire to leap from one side of a street to the other. The only way to stop it was literally to tear the houses down using long-handled metal ‘firehooks’, but the Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, at first refused to let this happen, and did indeed say that “a woman might piss it out”.

Saint Paul’s Cathedral

As noted on the print document, the one place where we’ve taken a little artistic licence is St. Paul’s. The reign of Charles II was called the Restoration, after all, and we restored the cathedral’s spire to help us with the shadow game. It had been lost just over a century earlier after it was struck by lightning. The fire was a second blow. If Wenceslaus Hollar’s before-and-after views are accurate, a lot of the structure was still standing afterwards, but it was an era for new ideas and new designs, and it made way for one of London’s most famous buildings.

Samuel Pepys’s Diaries

Pepys was a civil servant involved with the Royal Navy, and through his work became personally known to the King. His diaries are a treasure trove of detail, both personal (sometimes very personal…) and social. His house near the Tower of London came with his job, and was only just beyond the reach of the fire. An excellent web site has the full diary with notes and links. And yes, it’s true about the parmesan.

The Great Plague

One persistent myth about the Great Fire is that it put paid to the Great Plague. Living through a pandemic is, let’s face it, not a whole lot of fun, and if an even greater catastrophe comes hard on its heels it can be tempting to look on the bright side – “At least the fire did away with the plague!”. But the bubonic plague had been bubbling up from time to time for centuries (don’t get any ideas, coronavirus…), and it was already well on the wane before the fire started. The King and his court had returned to London in February of 1666, having fled the year before. As with most pandemics it was the poor who suffered the most, and the fire didn’t do them any favours either.


Charles II, after his years in exile, was of a European turn of mind, and he fancied a new London that was much less medieval. Unfortunately, the people who owned the tiny plots of land in the warren of the city’s streets wanted to hang on to their land, so the plans designed by the King’s favourite architect, Christopher Wren  came to nothing. He did design the new St Paul’s, though, merging the cross-shaped ground plan of a gothic cathedral with a very Italian dome. He and the scientist Robert Hooke designed the Monument that marked the rebuilding – which was carried out to strict new regulations that demanded bricks and tiles in place of the far more flammable timber and thatch that had fuelled the fire.