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London DisastersLondon Fires
Posted on Nov 15, 2004 - 02:03 PM by Bill McCann

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 avoidable 15
Apparel, ignition on the person 9
Bleaching hops 1
Bleaching nuts 1
Candles, various accidents with 131
Candles, ignited bed curtains 73
Candles, ignited window curtains 49
Carelessness, palpable instances of 17
Charcoal fires1
Chicory-roasting 1
children playing with candles 1
Children playing with fire 6
Children playing with gunpowder1
children playing with lucifers 4
Cinders put away unextinguished 19
coppers overheated 2
Fire sparks 69
Fire sparks kindled on hearths and other improper places 7
Firearms, discharging 2
Fireworks, making 4
Fireworks, letting off 6
Friction 1
flues, foul and ignited 34
flues, defective or overheated 37
Flues, blocked up 10
flues, of hot plate 3
Fumigation, incautious 2
Furnaces 16
Gas, escape of, from defective fittings 55
Gas, escape of, from street mains 2
Gas, lighting of 6
Gas, burning too high 9
Gas, explosions at works 2
Hearths, defective 2
Intoxication 9
Lamps, oil 2
Lamps, naphtha 3
Lime, slaking of 7
Linen, drying or airing before fire 39
Lucifer-matches, making 3
Lucifer-matches, accidentally ignited 8
Lucifer-matches, accidentally ignited by a cat 1
Lucifer-matches, accidentally ignited by sun's heat 2
Lucifer-matches, using 13
Naphtha, explosion of 1
Naphtha, bottle of, broken 1
Ovens, defective and overheated 7
Pitch and tar, boiling of 4
Shavings, loose, ignited 49
Spontaneous ignition of dung 1
Spontaneous ignition of lamp-black 3
Spontaneous ignition of phosphorus2
Spontaneous ignition of rags, wet 4
Spontaneous ignition of rags, greasy 1
Spontaneous ignition of tan 1
Smoking in bed 1
Stills, illicit 1
spirits, drawing off 1
Steam-boilers, heat from 3
Steam-boilers, explosion of 1
Stoves, improperly set, defective, and overheated 17
Stoves, drying 10
Stoves, ironing 2
Stoves, muffin 1
Stoves, pipe 9
Stoves, portable 2
Stoves, gas 2
Suspicious 9
tobacco, unextinguished 25
Varnish and oils etc., boiling of 7
Wilful 15
Unknown 58

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.

Note: The original article referred to the cat as "Pussy" but this has fallen foul of some browsers who seek to protect the modern sensibilities and rendered it as ***** so I have edited it to "Puss" which should pass - I think.


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