Islington was out of range of the 1666 fire of London, which swept through the city from 2 to 5 September. But its fields and pastures served as temporary asylums for thousands of homeless Londoners.
John Evelyn vividly captured the scene:
I then went towards Islington and Highgate, where one might have seen 200,000 people, of all ranks and degrees, dispersed and lying along by their heaps of what they could save from the fire, deploring their loss, and though ready to perish for hunger and destitution, yet not asking one penny for relief, which to me appeared a stranger sight than any I had yet beheld.
Whether the multitudes asked for assistance or not, St Mary’s Vestry minutes record that the church collected the sum of £17. 19s. and 1d. on 10 October 1666 “for the relief of poore distressed citizens of London, whose poverty came by fire.” The gift is made even more impressive when it is considered that many of Islington’s citizens were themselves poor and distressed at the time. In 1665, only a year earlier, St Mary’s Register listed 593 parishioners who had died of the plague, 94 in a single week.
(From an unpublished history of St Mary's, by S Allen Chambers Jr 2004)