Story Of London

London Fires

The following article from “The Leisure Hour – A Family Journal of Instruction and Recreation” appeared in issue No. 104 on Thursday, December 22, 1853. It gives us an exhaustive list of the causes of the 923 fires recorded in London in 1852. Perhaps the most startling cause was that of the Lucifer-matches ignited by a cat!

In the “Assurance Magazine” for July last, some curious particulars are furnished for the causes of London fires, which we extract, as being well calculated to impress upon our readers the necessity of caution in guarding against such calamities. It is, we may observe, in passing, an interesting feature of our day, that a journal like that which we have named, should be found devoted exclusively to the important science of assurance.

The causes of fire (during the year 1852), so far as could be satisfactorily ascertained, may be stated as follows:

Accidents, unforeseen and for the most part avoidable15
Apparel, ignition on the person9
Bleaching hops1
Bleaching nuts1
Candles, various accidents with131
Candles, ignited bed curtains73
Candles, ignited window curtains49
Carelessness, palpable instances of17
Charcoal fires1
children playing with candles1
Children playing with fire6
Children playing with gunpowder1
children playing with lucifers4
Cinders put away unextinguished19
coppers overheated2
Fire sparks69
Fire sparks kindled on hearths and other improper places7
Firearms, discharging2
Fireworks, making4
Fireworks, letting off6
flues, foul and ignited34
flues, defective or overheated37
Flues, blocked up10
flues, of hot plate3
Fumigation, incautious2
Gas, escape of, from defective fittings55
Gas, escape of, from street mains2
Gas, lighting of6
Gas, burning too high9
Gas, explosions at works2
Hearths, defective2
Lamps, oil2
Lamps, naphtha3
Lime, slaking of7
Linen, drying or airing before fire39
Lucifer-matches, making3
Lucifer-matches, accidentally ignited8
Lucifer-matches, accidentally ignited by a cat1
Lucifer-matches, accidentally ignited by sun’s heat2
Lucifer-matches, using13
Naphtha, explosion of1
Naphtha, bottle of, broken1
Ovens, defective and overheated7
Pitch and tar, boiling of4
Shavings, loose, ignited49
Spontaneous ignition of dung1
Spontaneous ignition of lamp-black3
Spontaneous ignition of phosphorus2
Spontaneous ignition of rags, wet4
Spontaneous ignition of rags, greasy1
Spontaneous ignition of tan1
Smoking in bed1
Stills, illicit1
spirits, drawing off1
Steam-boilers, heat from3
Steam-boilers, explosion of1
Stoves, improperly set, defective, and overheated17
Stoves, drying10
Stoves, ironing2
Stoves, muffin1
Stoves, pipe9
Stoves, portable2
Stoves, gas2
tobacco, unextinguished25
Varnish and oils etc., boiling of7

The causes of fire during the past year, it will be seen, do not present any remarkable feature of novelty. The discharge of firearms has caused two fires, but neither of them were very serious in their consequences. One of these accidents happened in Highbury Grove, Islington, shortly before eleven o’clock in the evening of 5th July. About an hour previous, one of the inhabitants, thinking an attempt was being made to enter his premises for the purposed of robbery, discharged a gun as a precaution to the intruders. The wadding, falling among a quantity of shavings in an unfinished building, set fire thereto, and threatened to destroy it; by the prompt and active exertions of the police and neighbours, however, the fire was soon extinguished.

Soon after two o’clock in the morning of January 26, a fire occasioned by a cat did considerable damage to the premises of Mr. Bryan, grocer etc., in Queen’s place, Holloway. It appeared that puss, in her nightly perambulations, came upon the stock of Lucifer-matches, which by her awkward mode of handling she contrived to ignite; the inflammable contents of the shop were soon in a blaze, and the premises doomed to destruction. The prompt arrival and judicious application of the Holloway fire-engine, however, confined the damage to the shop and parlour –m in the latter of whih was found the dead body of the feline incendiary, puss having died of suffocation.

A fire caused by rain is about the last thing that would be supposed capable of producing such a calamity; several of last year’s fires were, however, so occasioned. The rain, slaking lime, produced so much heat as to ignite combustible matters in contact therewith.

A singular fire broke out in Lincoln’s Inn fields on Wednesday evening, august 4. A large wagon belonging to Messrs. Younghusband & Co., railway carriers, laden with hemp, was being driven through the square, when all at once a body of flame burst forth from the hemp; the horses being detached, the wagon upset and the burning mass thrown into the road. The brigade engine from Holborn, with a body of firemen, had to be called in to extinguish the fire, the origin of which could not be very well accounted for. Spontaneous combustion or unextinguished tobacco is supposed to have been the cause.

The necessity of more attention being give to the regular cleaning of chimneys is shown by the fact that in no less than 34 instances chimneys on fire proved serious matters. “Oh, it is only a chimney on fire – there’s no danger,” is an everyday remark. On the 20th of April last, the firemen were called to a fire at No. 10, Dorset Street, Marylebone. The inmates observed, “There’s no danger,” and refused admittance to the firemen. In one hour after the mistake was made manifest, and the firemen’s aid earnestly solicited. The fire had communicated to the joists and rafters, several of which were burned, the ceiling in back and front rooms pulled down, and the contents much injured.