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Officially, More People Died Falling Off the Great Fire of London Monument Than in the Fire—But Only Officially

Which makes more sense, considering the fire destroyed nearly 90 percent of the homes in the city

(Rita Greer)

On Sunday, September 2, 1666, London caught on fire. The city burned through Wednesday, and the fire—now known as The Great Fire of London—destroyed the homes of 70,000 out of the 80,000 inhabitants of the city. But for all that fire, the traditional death toll reported is extraordinarily low: just six verified deaths.

To remember the fire, the city of London erected a monument. Six people have committed suicide by jumping off of it, and two have fallen accidentally to their deaths. You might hear this fun fact repeated on tours or forums: more people have died from falling off the monument than died in the fire. 

It’s probably not actually true. Fire has a tendency to destroy things, including bodies, and many, many people have pointed out that the deaths of the poor and middle-class people living in the city were probably never recorded. Officials didn't sort through bones and fragments of charred bodies of the middle and lower class—forensic technology wasn’t exactly advanced in 1666.

In his book The Great Fire of London: In That Apocalyptic Year, 1666, author Neil Hanson writes that “several hundred and quite possibly several thousand” people likely died in the fire. Which makes more sense, considering the fire destroyed nearly 90 percent of the homes in the city.

So while this particular fun fact is fun, it’s probably not true.

About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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