London Bridge is Falling Down - The Great Fire of London 350 years on and the birth of Building Regulations

By Emma Horsley

September 2nd 2016 marks the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. The fire was started by a baker in Pudding Lane who did not put his hearth fire out properly after an evening in the pub. The fire lasted from 2nd September to Wednesday 5th September 1666 destroying 80% of the medieval city of London. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches and St Pauls Cathedral.

The number of lives lost is unknown. There were no records of the poor and middle class occupants and the intensity of the heat cremated its victims. The fire spread across half of London Bridge, burning the houses and homes on the bridge and threatening the Borough of Southwark on the South Bank. It stopped half way across due to an open space between the buildings on the bridge which acted as a fire break.

There were so many hazards in London which contributed to the rapid spread and intensity of the fire including the densely packed houses constructed of wood; many were 6 or 7 storey houses with projecting upper floors known as "jetties" creating a canopy across the narrow alleys all but touching neighbouring property.

Sir Christopher Wren begun advising on the repair of the Old St Pauls in 1661. The proposed work included renovations to the interior and exterior. The presence of wooden scaffolding around the stone building was largely responsible for its demise. After the fire, it was at first thought possible to retain a substantial part of the old cathedral, but ultimately the entire structure was demolished in the early 1670s.

The disaster led to the birth of building regulations with the London Building Act 1667, the first statute to provide a means for surveyors to enforce Government regulations. It stated that all houses were to be built in brick or stone and specified carefully the number of storeys and the width of walls. Streets should also be wide enough to act as a fire break. This applied to the walled city of London.

The current Building Regulations 2010 are minimum standards for design, construction and alterations and apply to virtually every building. They are developed by the Government and approved by Parliament. As a property owner, builder or developer you have the choice of where to get approval for your building work either from the Local Authority or the private sector as an Approved Inspector.

Unlike planning permission which provides approval to develop, build, alter or change the use of land and buildings, Building Regulations ensure buildings meet health, safety, welfare, convenience and sustainability standards. They set out how a building should be constructed or altered. The Government's guidelines are available at and your Local Authority will be able to offer advice and guidance on our current Building Regulations.

As a home owner it is important that you are aware that many jobs in your home need to be notified and approved as being compliant with the current 2010 Building Regulations; these include for example, installing electricity, new bathroom or plumbing installations, replacing a roof, new boilers or extensions to central heating systems, replacing windows or doors, cavity and solid wall insulation, electrical works around baths and showers.

You don't need Building Regulations approval for some exempt projects including like for like replacements of baths, toilets, basins and sinks, repairs, replacement and maintenance work where it doesn’t affect heating systems, oil tanks, fuse boxes or glazing units, new power and lighting points, or changes to existing circuits (except around baths and showers).

Competent Person Schemes allow trades people to carry out work without the need to apply for Building Regulations approval. Installers of windows or boilers, for example, who are registered for the scheme, can self-certify that their work complies with building standards and can deal with building control issues. They will report to your Local Authority about the work on your behalf and provide a certificate within 8 weeks of completion which can be used as evidence of compliance. This also shows up in solicitor's searches when you come to sell the home. Competent Person Schemes generally have insurance - backed warranties and complaints procedures if there is a problem with the work.

A lot has been learned since the tragic events of 2nd September 1666. This is a prime example of the evolution of legislation, as a result of which we have come to take safety in our homes for granted.

If you would like more information or advice on Residential issues, please contact Penny Joshi or a member of our Residential  team.