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Real estate, History

How the Great Fire of London Changed the Face of Real Estate

In 1666, London suffered one of the worst disasters in its history: the Great Fire of London. The fire started in a bakery in Pudding Lane and spread quickly across the city, fueled by a strong wind, dry weather, and flammable materials. The blaze lasted for four days and destroyed about 13,000 houses and 87 churches, including the old St Paul’s Cathedral. About 100,000 people lost their homes and had to find new places to live. The fire also changed how the city was rebuilt, and the real estate sector developed. This article will look at some of the changes the fire brought to the city’s real estate.

Real estate, History

A City of Brick and Stone

One of the leading causes of the rapid-fire spread was the use of flammable materials, such as wood and thatch, in constructing houses and shops. The fire also exposed the vulnerability of the city’s water supply system, which was made mainly of wooden pipes that were easily damaged or drained.

To prevent such a disaster from happening again, King Charles II issued a royal proclamation that forbade the use of wood and thatch in rebuilding the city and ordered all new buildings to be made of brick or stone. He appointed six commissioners to oversee the reconstruction and enforce new regulations on the height, width, and layout of streets and buildings.

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The result was a more uniform and orderly city with more comprehensive, straighter streets and more spacious and fire-resistant buildings. The new buildings also had more windows and less ornamentation, reflecting the influence of classical architecture and the desire for more light and ventilation. The use of brick and stone also increased the durability and value of the properties, as they were less prone to decay and damage.

A City of Servitudes and Plugs

Another consequence of the Great Fire was the emergence of new legal and technical innovations in the real estate sector, such as servitudes and plugs. Servitudes were rights or obligations attached to a property that limited the owner’s freedom of use, such as allowing a neighbor to use a path across the owner’s land or requiring the owner to maintain a wall or a ditch. Servitudes were created by contract, will, or prescription, and they could be either personal (attached to a person) or absolute (attached to a property).

Servitude helped resolve disputes and facilitate cooperation among property owners, especially in a densely populated city where land was scarce and expensive. Servitudes also affected the value and marketability of properties, as they could either enhance or diminish the utility and attractiveness of a property.

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Plugs were devices inserted into the water pipes in the streets, which could be opened to access the water in case of fire. Plugs were introduced by the Fire Prevention Regulations of 1668, which stated that “plugs be put into the pipes in the most convenient places or every street, of which all inhabitants may take notice, that breaking of the pipes in a disorderly manner may be avoided. Plugs were an improvement over the previous system, which required breaking the pipes to get water and often resulted in water loss and damage.

Plugs were also a source of revenue for the city, as they were rented out to private individuals or companies, who could charge fees for their use. Plugs also increased the security and value of properties, as they provided a ready and reliable means of fire protection.

A City of Opportunity and Speculation

The Great Fire also created a new dynamic in the real estate market, opening up new opportunities for investment and speculation. The fire destroyed a large amount of the city’s housing stock, creating a high demand and a low supply of properties. This led to a sharp increase in rents and prices and a surge in construction activity.

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Many people saw the fire as a chance to profit from rebuilding the city. They engaged in various forms of speculation, such as buying and selling land, leasing and subleasing properties, and taking out mortgages and loans. Some of the most prominent speculators were the City of London Corporation, which owned many land and properties in the city, and the Office of Works, which was responsible for reconstructing public buildings, such as churches and markets.

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Speculation also involved a lot of risk and uncertainty, as the real estate market was subject to fluctuations and regulations. Some speculators made fortunes, while others lost everything. Some factors that affected the success or failure of speculation were the location and quality of the properties, the availability and cost of materials and labor, the competition and collusion among builders and buyers, and the enforcement and evasion of the laws and taxes.


The Great Fire of London was a tragic event that caused immense suffering and loss for the city’s people. But it also sparked a remarkable process of recovery and transformation, which had a lasting impact on the face of real estate in London. The fire changed the materials and design of buildings, the regulation and valuation of properties, and the dynamics and opportunities of the real estate market. The fire also shaped the identity and character of the city, as it became a more modern, resilient, and diverse place.

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