Three lives lost - Destructive Fire in the Strand.
Extracts from an article in the Times 15th Sept 1837
Shortly after 4 o’clock yesterday morning the neighbourhood of the Strand and Adelphi was alarmed by a cry of ‘Fire’ raised by a chimneysweeper, who happened to be passing and discovered flames rushing out of the windows of the house of Mr Harris, who kept an India rubber and shell shop. The instant the alarm was given by the sweep several police constables came to the spot. And having sprung their rattles, with little delay procured all the assistance within call, and some were despatched to the different engine stations, while others went to seek means of escape for the inmates, who were in a few minutes brought to a sense of their imminent danger. The flames were, however, in the mean time making the most alarming progress and the materials of which the house was constructed (old lath and plaster) threatened soon to become one vast mass of fire. …….
……. At length a servant girl appeared at the second floor window in a dreadful state of alarm, crying to the firemen, “oh, the child; my master and his child.” Her master, Mr Harris also appeared in a few seconds at the window, but at this time there were no ladders nor fire-escapes of any kind, and the poor girl soon disappeared from the window, and was never afterwards seen alive. Several persons called to them to jump out, but this they appeared afraid to do, and it is believed that the unfortunate Mr Harris was surprised by the flames breaking in upon him before he had time to make his escape towards the back part of the premises…….
…….A young man and one or two members of the family escaped by ascending the tops of other houses; and it is stated, but we know not with what degree of truth, that the servant maid who lost her life was urged to go with them, but thinking more of the danger of her master and his child than of her own personal safety, perished in her attempt to save them. It appears that the fire-escape stationed in the Strand was brought to the house for the purpose of rescuing the inmates, but that in the confusion which prevailed it was righted with the wrong end upwards, and by the time it was righted the unfortunate persons before mentioned had disappeared from the windows.
The fire had not burnt more than half-an-hour when the whole front of the house consisting of timber framework, fell bodily into the street in flames, and as soon as the firemen succeeded in getting the fire sufficiently under to allow them to approach the second floor, they found the unfortunate Mr Harris and near him his poor child and the servant…….
…..The number of the house in which the fire originated is 48, and those of the adjoining houses, which are nearly destroyed, are 47 and 49. The last mentioned was that of Mr Bewlay, tobacconist, which is completely gutted, for, there being no party walls (indeed no brickwork at all) between the old houses, there was no resistance whatsoever to the flames, which in an amazingly short space of time made their way through the lath and plaster partitions…….
It appears that the wife of the unfortunate Mr Harris, who has perished in the melancholy manner, was staying down at Brighton for the benefit of her health…..
The servants and an apprentice of Mr Bewlay, and a young man who was in the employ of Mr Harris have lost everything they had, having made their escape in to great haste to think of anything but their lives; and a benevolent Jew, who knew something, though very little, of the deceased, has, we understand, opened a subscription for them……
The brother of Mrs Harris (Mr Samuels), who lived with them and attended to one part of their business, has gone to Brighton to break in as gentle a manner as possible to his bereaved sister the dreadful intelligence of the sad visitation…….
How the fire originated is not known, but it is believed to have broken out in a back room on the ground floor, used as a kitchen.
An inquest was last night held before Mr Higgs, the coroner …. to inquire into the circumstances which led to the death of Mr Harris, Esther Harris, his child and Elizabeth Wendon, his servant who fell victims to the dreadful fire described in our report above……
Hannah Ford sworn – I was servant to the deceased Mr Harris and was in the house when the fire broke out. I was asleep in the second floor back room, and when I went to bed I left the family of Mr Samuels up. They were lodgers in the house and occupied one side of the shop. I was awoke by my fellow servant, the deceased Elizabeth Wendon and I then ran to alarm my master who slept on the second floor front room. I heard him call for the fire escapes, and his door being locked I burst it open. My master was running about the room distracted, and I asked where the child was and I found it in bed in my master’s room and snatched it up and held as close to the floor as I could to prevent suffocation. The deceased girl Elizabeth Wendon, ran to the head of the stairs, but could get no further. The deceased child was then in my arms and my master was still leaning out of the window, calling “Fire!” I then ran up stairs with the child in my arms to alarm Miss Samuels, who had got upon the roof if the house. I handed her the infant, and escaped by that means myself. The shop of my master was quite safe when I went to bed. Mr Samuels was in that part of the shop which he occupied, and a gas light was burning there. His family were at that time below in the kitchen. It was then about half past 11 o’clock, and as I was going up stairs I saw no light in my master’s room. When I went upstairs to Mr Samuel’s room I told my deceased fellow servant to follow me, but she appeared not to hear, or was stupefied by fright. The Samuels were all in their night dresses on the roof when I got there and they did all they could to assist me in saving the infant……….
……the following verdict was agreed upon:-
“That the deceased Henry Harris, Esther Harris and Elizabeth Wendon, met their deaths by fire, but the jury had no evidence before them as to how the fire originated.” …….