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The men who changed the face of London

London contains just about every type of domestic structure imaginable and I’ve seen most of them.

But the capital’s housing stock would look different to the way it does today if it weren’t for two individuals.

One of them you will have heard of and the other you will probably not recognise.

Some 430 years ago London was a mass of timber-framed black and white houses, all featuring wattle and daub infill. Many of these might have survived Thomas Farriner of Pudding Lane, in whose bakery the first sparks of The Great Fire of London were kindled in the early hours of September 2 1666.

Over the course of the next four days no fewer than 13,200 houses were destroyed in a fire so intense that it melted the lead roof on the old St Paul’s Cathedral.

Virtually every house in the area that we now refer to as the City was destroyed and 70,000 of its 80,000 inhabitants were made homeless.

There was no fire-fighting service back then and the only way of stopping the fire was to demolish whole streets to form fire breaks. Unfortunately, this only added to the carnage as the flames simply jumped the breaks.

And anyway, the Lord Mayor at the time, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, failed to take the fire seriously at first and delayed sanctioning the creation of fire breaks until well into the second day, which didn’t help.

The task of rebuilding the capital was given to Sir Christopher Wren, who designed the new St Paul’s (pictured) among many other great buildings.

But it is tantalising to think that if Farriner had not fallen asleep that night in 1666 many Tudor homes would have survived.

Our capital then grew organically for almost 400 years until a certain Austrian painter and decorator whose name you will know intervened.

The most intense periods of bombing were between 1940 and 1941 when Hitler tried to bring England to its knees as a prelude to invasion and then again in 1945 as a last throw of the dice.

The number of houses lost in these periods of destruction has never been accurately calculated but, as the great Sir Christopher was commissioned to rebuild the capital in 1666, second time around the job was given to Sir Patrick Abercrombie.

Sir Patrick saw this as a wonderful opportunity to carry out an extensive programme of slum clearance, as the Luftwaffe had already done half the job for him.

It’s commonly believed that London was only bombed in World War II but this is not true. German Zeppelin airships carried out a number of raids in World War I, particularly over the East End of London where many houses on Commercial Road were destroyed.

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