Excerpts from the diary of John Evelyn

John Evelyn was a writer and diarist, writing during the time of the English Civil War, the Great Plague of London, and the Great Fire of London.

John Evelyn

1st June, 1666.

Being in my garden at 6 o’clock in the evening, and hearing the great guns go thick off, I took horse and rode that night to Rochester; thence next day toward the Downs and seacoast, but meeting the Lieutenant of the Hampshire frigate, who told me what passed, or rather what had not passed, I returned to London, there being no noise, or appearance at Deal, or on that coast of any engagement. Recounting this to his Majesty, whom I found at St. James’s Park, impatiently expecting, and knowing that Prince Rupert was loose about three at St. Helen’s Point at N. of the Isle of Wight, it greatly rejoiced him; but he was astonished when I assured him they heard nothing of the guns in the Downs, nor did the Lieutenant who landed there by five that morning.

3d June, 1666.

Whitsunday. After sermon came news that the Duke of Albemarle was still in fight, and had been all Saturday, and that Captain Harman’s ship (the Henry) was like to be burnt. Then a letter from Mr. Bertie that Prince Rupert was come up with his squadron (according to my former advice of his being loose and in the way), and put new courage into our fleet, now in a manner yielding ground; so that now we were chasing the chasers; that the Duke of Albemarle was slightly wounded, and the rest still in great danger. So, having been much wearied with my journey, I slipped home, the guns still roaring very fiercely.



5th June, 1666.

I went this morning to London, where came several particulars of the fight.

6th June, 1666.

Came Sir Daniel Harvey from the General and related the dreadful encounter, on which his Majesty commanded me to dispatch an extraordinary physician and more chirurgeons. It was on the solemn Fast-day when the news came; his Majesty being in the chapel made a sudden stop to hear the relation, which being with much advantage on our side, his Majesty commanded that public thanks should immediately be given as for a victory. The Dean of the chapel going down to give notice of it to the other Dean officiating; and notice was likewise sent to St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. But this was no sooner over, than news came that our loss was very great both in ships and men; that the Prince frigate was burnt, and as noble a vessel of ninety brass guns lost; and the taking of Sir George Ayscue, and exceeding shattering of both fleets; so as both being obstinate, both parted rather for want of ammunition and tackle than courage; our General retreating like a lion; which exceedingly abated of our former joy. There were, however, orders given for bonfires and bells; but, God knows, it was rather a deliverance than a triumph. So much it pleased God to humble our late overconfidence that nothing could withstand the Duke of Albemarle, who, in good truth, made too forward a reckoning of his success now, because he had once beaten the Dutch in another quarrel; and being ambitious to outdo the Earl of Sandwich, whom he had prejudicated as deficient in courage.

7th June, 1666.

I sent more chirurgeons, linen, medicaments, etc., to the several ports in my district.

8th June, 1666.

Dined with me Sir Alexander Fraser, prime physician to his Majesty; afterward, went on board his Majesty’s pleasure-boat, when I saw the London frigate launched, a most stately ship, built by the City to supply that which was burnt by accident some time since; the King, Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, being there with great banquet.

11th June, 1666.

Trinity Monday, after a sermon, applied to the remeeting of the Corporation of the Trinity-House, after the late raging and wasting pestilence: I dined with them in their new room in Deptford, the first time since it was rebuilt.

15th June, 1666.

I went to Chatham.—16th. In the Jemmy yacht (an incomparable sailer) to sea, arrived by noon at the fleet at the Buoy at the Nore, dined with Prince Rupert and the General.

17th June, 1666.

Came his Majesty, the Duke, and many Noblemen. After Council, we went to prayers. My business being dispatched, I returned to Chatham, having lain but one night in the Royal Charles; we had a tempestuous sea. I went on shore at Sheerness, where they were building an arsenal for the fleet, and designing a royal fort with a receptacle for great ships to ride at anchor; but here I beheld the sad spectacle, more than half that gallant bulwark of the kingdom miserably shattered, hardly a vessel entire, but appearing rather so many wrecks and hulls, so cruelly had the Dutch mangled us. The loss of the Prince, that gallant vessel, had been a loss to be universally deplored, none knowing for what reason we first engaged in this ungrateful war; we lost besides nine or ten more, and near 600 men slain and 1,100 wounded, 2,000 prisoners; to balance which, perhaps we might destroy eighteen or twenty of the enemy’s ships, and 700 or 800 poor men.

18th June, 1666.

Weary of this sad sight, I returned home.

2d July, 1666.

Came Sir John Duncomb and Mr. Thomas Chicheley, both Privy Councillors and Commissioners of His Majesty’s Ordnance, to visit me, and let me know that his Majesty had in Council, nominated me to be one of the Commissioners for regulating the farming and making of saltpetre through the whole kingdom, and that we were to sit in the Tower the next day. When they were gone, came to see me Sir John Cotton, heir to the famous antiquary, Sir Robert Cotton: a pretended great Grecian, but had by no means the parts, or genius of his grandfather.

3d July, 1666.

I went to sit with the Commissioners at the Tower, where our commission being read, we made some progress in business, our Secretary being Sir George Wharton, that famous mathematician who wrote the yearly Almanac during his Majesty’s troubles. Thence, to Painters’ Hall, to our other commission, and dined at my Lord Mayor’s.

4th July, 1666.

The solemn Fast-day. Dr. Meggot preached an excellent discourse before the King on the terrors of God’s judgments. After sermon, I waited on my Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Winchester, where the Dean of Westminster spoke to me about putting into my hands the disposal of fifty pounds, which the charitable people of Oxford had sent to be distributed among the sick and wounded seamen since the battle. Hence, I went to the Lord Chancellor’s to joy him of his Royal Highness’s second son, now born at St. James’s; and to desire the use of the Star-chamber for our Commissioners to meet in, Painters’ Hall not being so convenient.

12th July, 1666.

We sat the first time in the Star-chamber. There was now added to our commission Sir George Downing (one that had been a great … against his Majesty, but now insinuated into his favor; and, from a pedagogue and fanatic preacher, not worth a groat, had become excessively rich), to inspect the hospitals and treat about prisons.

14th July, 1666.

Sat at the Tower with Sir J. Duncomb and Lord Berkeley, to sign deputations for undertakers to furnish their proportions of saltpetre.


17th July, 1666.

To London, to prepare for the next engagement of the fleets, now gotten to sea again.

22d July, 1666.

Our parish still infected with the contagion.

25th July, 1666.

The fleets engaged. I dined at Lord Berkeley’s, at St. James’s, where dined my Lady Harrietta Hyde, Lord Arlington, and Sir John Duncomb.

29th July, 1666.

The pestilence now fresh increasing in our parish, I forbore going to church. In the afternoon came tidings of our victory over the Dutch, sinking some, and driving others aground, and into their ports.

1st August, 1666.

I went to Dr. Keffler, who married the daughter of the famous chemist, Drebbell,4 inventor of the bodied scarlet. I went to see his iron ovens, made portable (formerly) for the Prince of Orange’s army: supped at the Rhenish Wine-House with divers Scots gentlemen.

6th August, 1666.

Dined with Mr. Povey, and then went with him to see a country house he had bought near Brentford; returning by Kensington; which house stands to a very graceful avenue of trees, but it is an ordinary building, especially one part.

8th August, 1666.

Dined at Sir Stephen Fox’s with several friends and, on the 10th, with Mr. Odart, Secretary of the Latin tongue.

17th August, 1666.

Dined with the Lord Chancellor, whom I entreated to visit the Hospital of the Savoy, and reduce it (after the great abuse that had been continued) to its original institution for the benefit of the poor, which he promised to do.

25th August, 1666.

Waited on Sir William D’Oyly, now recovered, as it were, miraculously. In the afternoon, visited the Savoy Hospital, where I stayed to see the miserably dismembered and wounded men dressed, and gave some necessary orders. Then to my Lord Chancellor, who had, with the Bishop of London and others in the commission, chosen me one of the three surveyors of the repairs of Paul’s, and to consider of a model for the new building, or, if it might be, repairing of the steeple, which was most decayed.

26th August, 1666.

The contagion still continuing, we had the Church service at home.

27th August, 1666.

I went to St. Paul’s church, where, with Dr. Wren, Mr. Pratt, Mr. May, Mr. Thomas Chicheley, Mr. Slingsby, the Bishop of London, the Dean of St. Paul’s, and several expert workmen, we went about to survey the general decays of that ancient and venerable church, and to set down in writing the particulars of what was fit to be done, with the charge thereof, giving our opinion from article to article. Finding the main building to recede outward it was the opinion of Chicheley and Mr. Pratt that it had been so built ab origine for an effect in perspective, in regard of the height; but I was, with Dr. Wren, quite of another judgment, and so we entered it; we plumbed the uprights in several places. When we came to the steeple, it was deliberated whether it were not well enough to repair it only on its old foundation, with reservation to the four pillars; this Mr. Chicheley and Mr. Pratt were also for, but we totally rejected it, and persisted that it required a new foundation, not only in regard of the necessity, but for that the shape of what stood was very mean, and we had a mind to build it with a noble cupola, a form of church-building not as yet known in England, but of wonderful grace. For this purpose, we offered to bring in a plan and estimate, which after much contest, was at last assented to, and that we should nominate a committee of able workmen to examine the present foundation. This concluded, we drew all up in writing, and so went with my Lord Bishop to the Dean’s.

28th August, 1666.

Sat at the Star-chamber. Next day, to the Royal Society, where one Mercator, an excellent mathematician, produced his rare clock and new motion to perform the equations, and Mr. Rooke, his new pendulum.


2d September, 1666.

This fatal night, about ten, began the deplorable fire, near Fish street, in London.

3d September, 1666.

I had public prayers at home. The fire continuing, after dinner, I took coach with my wife and son, and went to the Bankside in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal spectacle, the whole city in dreadful flames near the waterside; all the houses from the Bridge, all Thames street, and upward toward Cheapside, down to the Three Cranes, were now consumed; and so returned, exceedingly astonished what would become of the rest.

The fire having continued all this night (if I may call that night which was light as day for ten miles round about, after a dreadful manner), when conspiring with a fierce eastern wind in a very dry season, I went on foot to the same place; and saw the whole south part of the city burning from Cheapside to the Thames, and all along Cornhill (for it likewise kindled back against the wind as well as forward), Tower street, Fenchurch street, Gracious street, and so along to Baynard’s Castle, and was now taking hold of St. Paul’s church, to which the scaffolds contributed exceedingly. The conflagration was so universal, and the people so astonished, that, from the beginning, I know not by what despondency, or fate, they hardly stirred to quench it; so that there was nothing heard, or seen, but crying out and lamentation, running about like distracted creatures, without at all attempting to save even their goods; such a strange consternation there was upon them, so as it burned both in breadth and length, the churches, public halls, Exchange, hospitals,  monuments, and ornaments; leaping after a prodigious manner, from house to house, and street to street, at great distances one from the other. For the heat, with a long set of fair and warm weather, had even ignited the air, and prepared the materials to conceive the fire, which devoured, after an incredible manner, houses, furniture, and every thing. Here, we saw the Thames covered with goods floating, all the barges and boats laden with what some had time and courage to save, as, on the other side, the carts, etc., carrying out to the fields, which for many miles were strewn with movables of all sorts, and tents erecting to shelter both people and what goods they could get away. Oh, the miserable and calamitous spectacle! such as haply the world had not seen since the foundation of it, nor can be outdone till the universal conflagration thereof. All the sky was of a fiery aspect, like the top of a burning oven, and the light seen above forty miles round about for many nights. God grant mine eyes may never behold the like, who now saw above 10,000 houses all in one flame! The noise and cracking and thunder of the impetuous flames, the shrieking of women and children, the hurry of people, the fall of towers, houses, and churches, was like a hideous storm; and the air all about so hot and inflamed, that at the last one was not able to approach it, so that they were forced to stand still, and let the flames burn on, which they did, for near two miles in length and one in breadth. The clouds also of smoke were dismal, and reached, upon computation, near fifty miles in length. Thus, I left it this afternoon burning, a resemblance of Sodom, or the last day. It forcibly called to my mind that passage—”non enim hic habemus stabilem civitatem“; the ruins resembling the picture of Troy. London was, but is no more! Thus, I returned.

4th September, 1666.

The burning still rages, and it is now gotten as far as the Inner Temple. All Fleet street, the Old Bailey, Ludgate hill, Warwick lane, Newgate, Paul’s chain, Watling street, now flaming, and most of it reduced to ashes; the stones of Paul’s flew like grenados, the melting lead running down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements glowing with fiery redness, so as no horse, nor man, was able to tread on them, and the demolition had stopped all the passages, so that no help could be applied. The eastern wind still more impetuously driving the flames forward. Nothing but the Almighty power of God was able to stop them; for vain was the help of man.

5th September, 1666.

It crossed toward Whitehall; but oh! the confusion there was then at that Court! It pleased his Majesty to command me, among the rest, to look after the quenching of Fetter-lane end, to preserve (if possible) that part of Holborn, while the rest of the gentlemen took their several posts, some at one part, and some at another (for now they began to bestir themselves, and not till now, who hitherto had stood as men intoxicated, with their hands across), and began to consider that nothing was likely to put a stop but the blowing up of so many houses as might make a wider gap than any had yet been made by the ordinary method of pulling them down with engines. This some stout seamen proposed early enough to have saved near the whole city, but this some tenacious and avaricious men, aldermen, etc., would not permit, because their houses must have been of the first. It was, therefore, now commended to be practiced; and my concern being particularly for the Hospital of St. Bartholomew, near Smithfield, where I had many wounded and sick men, made me the more diligent to promote it; nor was my care for the Savoy less. It now pleased God, by abating the wind, and by the industry of the people, when almost all was lost infusing a new spirit into them, that the fury of it began sensibly to abate about noon, so as it came no farther than the Temple westward, nor than the entrance of Smithfield, north: but continued all this day and night so impetuous toward Cripplegate and the Tower, as made us all despair. It also broke out again in the temple; but the courage of the multitude persisting, and many houses being blown up, such gaps and desolations were soon made, as, with the former three days’ consumption, the back fire did not so vehemently urge upon the rest as formerly. There was yet no standing near the burning and glowing ruins by near a furlong’s space.

The coal and wood wharfs, and magazines of oil, rosin, etc., did infinite mischief, so as the invective which a little before I had dedicated to his Majesty and published, giving warning what probably might be the issue of suffering those shops to be in the city was looked upon as a prophecy.

The poor inhabitants were dispersed about St. George’s Fields, and Moorfields, as far as Highgate, and several miles in circle, some under tents, some under miserable huts and hovels, many without a rag, or any necessary utensils, bed or board, who from delicateness, riches, and easy accommodations in stately and well-furnished houses, were now reduced to extreme misery and poverty.

In this calamitous condition, I returned with a sad heart to my house, blessing and adoring the distinguishing mercy of God to me and mine, who, in the midst of all this ruin, was like Lot, in my little Zoar, safe and sound.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: