I think there are lessons to be learned from the Great Fire of London of 1666.  I am not talking about fire prevention or fire-fighting.  Technology has moved on enough to make almost anything we might learn from 1666 redundant.

On thinking about what I just said, I realise there are two lessons we could do well to learn.

  1. The fire was allowed plenty of time to develop and spread.  The authorities were very slow to act.  Even if you can not prevent something, you can usually mitigate its effects by prompt action.
  2. The one thing that was done that was effective, eventually, was to create firebreaks.  Buildings were pulled down and some were set on fire, so that when the fire reached them there was nothing to burn.  Even if you leave it late to take action, doing something can still help mitigate the damage to some extent.  Never give up.

All right, that was a digression.  Here comes my main point.

Who was to blame?

The public, and a lot of people in authority too, blamed foreigners and Roman Catholics for starting the fire.  This was a result of the climate of fear and suspicion prevailing at the time.  One man who kept his head, determined to get at the truth, was the King, Charles II.

What was the truth?

A baker’s oven had overheated, eventually causing the chimney to catch fire.  It all spread from there.

I cannot help seeing a parallel with the present.  Fear and suspicion.  Blame foreigners or religious minorities.  See every misfortune, especially every crime, as politically motivated.  I remember when ‘Reds under the bed’ was a popular obsession in the USA which soon caught on here.

Can we never learn?