This week sees the 350th Anniversary of the 1666 Great Fire that devastated London and led to the introduction of the first proper system of Building Regulations in the UK
Laws had previously existed to reduce the risk of fire, prohibiting building with wood or roofing with thatch, but these laws had largely been ignored. Despite a number of previous fires timber-frame remained the most common form of construction in and as the population grew, so buildings were extended upwards creating jettied timber houses overhanging narrow streets.
The fire started in Pudding Lane in a baker’s shop owned by Thomas Farriner – who was the king’s baker His maid failed to put out the ovens at the end of the night, and the heat created by the ovens caused sparks to ignite the wooden home of Farriner. Strong winds fanned the flames and without any form of fire break the Great Fire spread rapidly between buildings, resulting in an estimated 80% of the city being destroyed and 70,000 people being made homeless. It was only the Thames that prevented the Fire spreading south and even greater losses.
That disaster led to the London Building Act of 1667, the first to provide for surveyors to enforce its regulations. Charles II decreed after the Fire that the City would be rebuilt in bricks or stone, and that streets should be wide enough to act as a fire break to prevent the spread of fire from one side to another. The number of storeys and width of walls were carefully specified.
Sir Christopher Wren was amongst the group tasked to draw up these regulations which became known as the London Building Act of 1667 and which applied to the walled City of London. Further acts of 1707 and 1709 extended control to Westminster, and by 1774 Building Regulations covered the whole of London. These Act's also included requirements for structural load-bearing walls, foundations, timber in party walls, joist centres, beam bearings, roof coverings and rainwater gutters and down-pipes, and was enforced by newly created District Surveyors - the fore runner of todays Building Inspector. Remnants of this system - the 1939 London Building Act (Amendment) Act and District Surveyors - still exist in London to this day.