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Samuel Pepys saw a cat being pulled from the ruins of a burnt-out building by the Royal Exchange on 5 September. He wrote in his diary: ‘I also did see a poor cat taken out of a hole in the chimney…with the hair all burned off the body, and yet alive.’
While it is true that the February 1667 Rebuilding Act stated that ‘all the outsides of all Buildings in and about the said Citty be henceforth made of Bricke or Stone’ there were many brick buildings in London beforehand. In fact, records show that there were even brick houses on Pudding Lane, that notorious street where the fire began, before 1666.
Royal proclamations dating back over 60 years demanded that new buildings be built from brick. In March 1605 James I said that no one was to build a new house in London unless it was made from brick or stone because he wanted to reserve the country’s timber for the navy’s ships. Uptake was slow, however, and later proclamations repeated this demand several times, such as in October 1607, when King James stated that new brick or stone buildings would ‘both adorne and beautifie his said City, and be lesse subject to danger of fire'.
As these rules only applied to new houses, and appear to have only been sporadically obeyed, the Great Fire became the opportunity to enforce, re-state and refine existing rules. The disaster affected such a large area that thousands of brick houses had to be built to replace those that had been destroyed. This has left us with a false impression that the fire introduced brick to London.