Saturday, September 02, 2006

September 2: Great Fire of London Day

Today is the anniversary of the start of the Great Fire of London in the year 1666. The fire broke out in the king's bakery in Pudding Lane on the morning of September 2 and quickly spread throughout the city, raging for four days and nights (1).

Samuel Pepys, a naval administrator and Member of Parliament, kept an extensive diary from 1660-1669. In the following excerpt from his September 2, 1666 entry, he recount events during the early hours of the fire:

Some of our maids sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast today, Jane called up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose, and slipped on my night-gown and went to her window, and thought it to be on the back side of Mark Lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off, and so went to bed again, and to sleep. . . . By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish Street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places, . . .and there I did see the houses at the end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side . . . of the bridge. . . . (2).

In the 17th century there were no fire brigades in London, a city that had one year previously been devastated by the Great Plague. The best hope for containing the fire was to pull down houses in the fire's path to create firebreaks. Despite the lord mayor's orders to do so, many property owners refused to sacrifice their homes. By the time the fire finally died out it had claimed 13,000 houses, 87 churches including St. Paul's Cathedral. There were only five documented deaths; however, nearly 200,000 people were left homeless (1).

Today's Challenge: Idioms on Fire
Many English expressions (idioms) feature fire. Given the number of words in the expression and the literal translation of the idiom from The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, see if you can identify the expression.

1. 2 words: To start to talk or ask questions.

2. 5 words: To worsen an already bad situation, as by increasing anger, hostility, or passion.

3. 2 words To become inflamed with enthusiasm.

4. 4 words: To combat evil or negative circumstances by reacting in kind.

5 3 words: A severe ordeal or test, especially an initial one.

6. 6 words: To pressure someone to consent to or undertake something.

7. 3 words: To take part in a dangerous undertaking.

8. 4 word: To function very well (3)

Quote of the Day: If the Almighty were to rebuild the world and asked me for advice, I would have English Channels round every country. And the atmosphere would be such that anything which attempted to fly would be set on fire. Winston Churchill

1. fire away
2. add fuel to the fire
3. catch fire
4. fight fire with fire
5. baptism of fire
6. hold someone's feet to the fire
7. play with fire
8. fire on all cylinders

1 -

2 - Samuel Pepys Diary. 1665-55. Bibliomania.

3 - Ammer, Christine. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

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