London’s built heritage

The single event that had the greatest impact on London’s buildings took place nearly 355 years ago – The Great Fire of London.  In the course of just four days it destroyed much of the City of London and was to influence construction in London for centuries to come.  At the time the City was not just the financial centre it was a highly populated residential area.

The vast majority of the buildings were of timber frame construction, many with thatched roofs, and not only built close together but were jettied, overhanging the street at first floor level and above, which had the effect of a chimney drawing the flames up.  Open fires were the main source of both heat and light, so an outbreak like the Great Fire were not uncommon, but the fire of 1666 was on an unprecedented scale.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that water 'pipes' were generally made of wood so, as the intensity of the fire grew, the very means of getting water to fight the fire caught alight.  This was addressed a year later in the Fire Prevention Regulations, produced by the City of London, which ensured in future there would be adequate access to water.  

In all about five sixths of the walled area of medieval London was destroyed.  By royal proclamation rebuilding was not allowed to begin until the Rebuilding Act of 1667 was passed.  One of the key parts of the legislation was that “no man whatsoever shall presume to create any house or building, whether great or small, but in stone or brick”.

It took ten years to rebuild the most ravaged areas, a significant number of the churches and principal buildings, such as the livery company halls, were overseen and/or designed by Christopher Wren.  Whilst the grandest buildings were generally constructed of stone, private dwellings were normally of brick.  The construction of terraces of brick houses with tiled or slate roofs stated to appear and by the early 18th century became commonplace.  Some of the finest examples are still to be seen in areas such as Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Spitalfields.

Gradually the development of London moved west as the marshy land of Pimlico, Chelsea and even parts of Knightsbridge were drained allowing some of the country’s finest architects such as Cubit and Nash to have a lasting impact on not just the architecture but also the layout of London as we know it today.

The impact of bombing during the Second World War; the shortage of building materials thereafter; the result of 'slum clearing' that followed, which saw many period buildings being demolished rather than repaired; the clamour today to optimise the footprint of any building, which has seen period building being demolished and replaced by ever high structures of glass and steel;  the heart of buildings being ripped out to make better use of the space within.  All this has, and continues, to put the capital’s period buildings at risk.  

The purpose of the London Period Property pages of our website is to champion London’s historic buildings and encourage buyers to become custodians of the capital’s built heritage and cherish it.

Dawn Carritt
020 7664 6646
9th January 2020