Over the course of four days in September, 1666, a fire sparked in a bakery turned four-fifths of central London to dust. Wandering the streets around his home three days after the Great Fire subsided, the diarist John Evelyn describes a city in ruins—its buildings and landmarks “mealted, & reduc'd to cinders by the vehement heats,” its “bielanes & narrower streetes … quite fill'd up with rubbish, nor could one have possibly known where he was, but by the ruines of some church, or hall, that had some remarkable towre or pinacle remaining.” John Dryden echoes Evelyn's sense of disorientation in Annus Mirabilis, his poem dedicated to the people of London and published in 1667; he describes “the Cracks of Falling houses,” the “Shrieks of Subjects” as the Fire “wades the Streets,” threatens the palace, and lays the city's famed financial centers “to waste.” And he describes, too, the desperate attempts by those left homeless by the Fire to make spaces for themselves in the ruins:
Those who have [no home] sit round where once it was,
And with full Eyes each wonted Room require:
Haunting the yet warm ashes of the place,
As murder'd Men walk where they did expire.