The day a pint of beer saved a life in January 1730

Posted in Accident, Bills of Mortality, Murder, Newspapers, Suicide with tags , , , on 05/01/2014 by Craig Spence

Bad winter weather with bitter cold and thick fogs spread across London during January 1730. As a result there were several sudden deaths and accidental injuries. The Bill of Mortality for the week commencing 6 January shows only two sudden deaths: a child ‘found dead’ in the church yard of St Mary Magdalen in Bermondsey and another person reported as ‘murdered in the goal’ at St George Southwark. This last death was that of a newborn infant deliberately drowned by Sarah Townshend, the mother, who was at the time a felon ‘committed to the New Gaol’.

The following week’s Bill has a greater and more varied number of casualties. Published for the week commencing the 13 January the Bill reports six deaths:

1 killed accidentally by a fall at St Dunstan in the West;
2 drowned: one at St Mary Lambeth; one at St Martin in the Fields;
2 found dead: one, a girl, in the churchyard of Christchurch Spitalfields; one, a male infant, at St George in the East [Wapping];
1 hanged herself being lunatic at St James Westminster.

But of course there were also those who evaded death yet still received injury at this difficult time of year. The Daily Courant newspaper took great delight in reporting on Thursday 8 January 1730 that:

The same evening [Tuesday 6th], during the time of the prodigious fogs, a man mistaking his way, fell into the fleet ditch, by which accident he beat out one of his eyes, and was very much bruised.

Another man fell into the Common-shore [sewer] in King Street, Westminster; and a great many more accidents happened on the like occasion, both in the streets of London and Westminster; as also on the River Thames.

Perhaps the most interesting story of that edition is the one that refers to beer. While the labourer concerned received no injury it is his particularly close encounter with death, and escape, that made the event so newsworthy to the metropolitan readership:

The same day, a house pretty much out of repair in Bedfordbury fell down; a bricklayer’s labourer who was employed to pull off the pantyling to lighten it, had got off about 200 [tiles], and was gone to get himself a pint of beer being cold, when it fell down without doing any further damage.

This week in 1684 AND 1685: Plastering, ladders and a terrible coincidence

Posted in Accident, Bills of Mortality with tags , , , , , on 13/05/2012 by Craig Spence

As reported by the London Bills of Mortality for the week of 13th May 1684:

2 drowned one at St Katherine by the Tower and one at St Mary Magdalen Bermondsey;
1 by a fall from a ladder at St Giles without Cripplegate.

As reported by the London Bills of Mortality for the week of 12th May 1685:

1 drowned at St Katherine by the Tower;
1 killed by a coach at St Martin in the Fields;
1 accidentally killed by the wheel of a crane at St Sepulchre [without Newgate];
1 by a fall from a ladder at St Giles without Cripplegate.

Here we see information on two separate weeks taken from the London Bills of Mortality exactly one year apart. The observant will have already noticed that both weeks have some things in common; drownings at St Katherine by the Tower and deaths caused by falling from ladders. The coincidences have however only just begun. Let’s set aside the drownings, which were so frequent on the Thames that such similarities are often encountered in the Bills, and instead focus on the ladder casualties.

A 17th century ladder in use for fire fighting: Such ladders claimed the lives of 88 Londoners between 1654 and 1735.

What is evident from these reports are that both falls took place in the same parish, St Giles Cripplegate, yet given the size of that suburban parish this is perhaps not so surprising. The real coincidence comes when reference is made to the parish burial register. Here we find that the victim in 1684 was a plasterer named James Fox, the victim in 1685 was a man named John Cooper who we find was – and here’s the real coincidence – also a plasterer. So we have two men in the same occupation both falling to their deaths from ladders, in the same place and exactly one year apart. One suspects that for those who could remember the earlier event the 1685 incident gave them plenty to contemplate!

Between 1654 and 1735 the Bills of Mortality record the deaths of eighty-eight individuals who fell from ladders. This was not however the most significant cause of fatal falls, that was actually the more mundane situation of falling down stairs (which claimed 216 victims). Falling from ladders was however almost certainly related to occupational activities and hence we find bricklayers, carpenters painters and plasters in the accounts of ladder-related accidents. It is also notable that falls in these occupations also peaked during the months of May – the start of the building season – and again in August through to October – as building worked became intensified before winter weather curtailed such activity.

This week in 1728: Falling out of windows and into gin!

Posted in Accident, Bills of Mortality with tags , , , on 05/03/2012 by Craig Spence

As reported by the LondonBills of Mortality for the week of 5th March 1728:

1 bruised by a fall from a window at St Katherine Coleman;
1 found dead at St George the Martyr [Southwark];
1 found in the River of Thames, a boy unknown, buried at St Olave Southwark;
1 scalded in a distillers copper, a young man, at St James Clerkenwell.

A small but interesting group of fatalities from this first week of March in 1728. Falls from buildings, and especially windows, tended to occur disproportionately often during this first quarter of the year throughout the later 17th and early 18th centuries. Perhaps the first glimpses of warmer weather enticed people to open windows previously kept firmly shut against the colder weather, or maybe it just represents the recommencement of construction activity after the winter ‘break’.

Although adults were often found washed up on the shores of the Thames it was rarer to encounter the body of a child. Whether such fatalities were suicides, accident or murder victims was hard to tell, in this case however the first category might be fairly safely omitted. Finally the young man scalded to death was most likely a distiller’s (or brewer’s) servant or possibly apprentice. Just goes to show that it wasn’t only the consumers of gin who suffered early deaths but, as on this occasion, it could also be the manufacturers.

Hogarth’s ‘Gin Alley’ engraving of 1751 depicts the detrimental affects of gin but in this case on the consumers not the producers. We will return to this, and other of Hogarth’s works, in future posts as they often feature aspects of violent death in the metropolis.

Buried alive in London’s filth

Posted in Accident, Bills of Mortality, Newspapers, Suicide with tags on 05/02/2012 by Craig Spence

As reported by the London Bills of Mortality for the week of 2nd February 1731:

1 cut his own throat being a lunatick at St Giles without Cripplegate;
3 found dead – 2 in the street at St Peter Cornhill and 1 at St George in the East;
A man killed by a large quantity of earth at St Giles without Cripplegate.

‘Two men digging under a laystall at Mountmill near Islington, a great quantity of earth fell upon them, whereby one was killed the other much hurt.’ The Gentleman’s Magazine, 5 February 1731.

London’s waste swept from streets and gutter, or extracted from cesspits, was collected and disposed of during the 17th and 18th centuries by being dumped at a number of sites on the outskirts of the built-up area of the city. Over the years such dumps, or laystalls, often became significant local landmarks forming mounds or mounts several tens of feet high (see the section of Rocque’s 1747 map shown below which indicates at least four of Islington’s laystalls; one of which may have been known as the ‘Mountmill’).

The material that made its way onto these laystalls was frequently scavenged by the poor for objects or materials that could be re-used, sold on or simply burnt as fuel. It would seem that on this occasion, as on several others, the unfortunate diggers undermined the inherently unstable mound and were buried alive in its filth and waste.

Section of Rocque’s map of 1747 showing the laystall mounds in the vicinity of the Islington Roads to the north ofLondon(the lower mound in the centre is possibly the ‘Mountmill’ in question as a road of that name is just to the south of this area).

For a modern take on this type of event see this blog entry on rubbish tip landslides, (see post of 22 June 2008).

Boys will be boys as they venture onto thin ice

Posted in Accident, Bills of Mortality, Newspapers with tags , , on 29/01/2012 by Craig Spence

As reported by the London Bills of Mortality for the week of 31st January 1721:

1 found dead at St Margaret Westminster
1 hanged himself being distracted at St Andrew Holborn
2 drowned in a pond by the breaking of the ice at St Leonard Shoreditch
1 killed with a sword at St Brides Fleet Street and buried at St Anne Blackfriars

The Bills report the deaths of two drowned in a pond in the semi-rural parish of St Leonard Shoreditch, clearly the weather was wintery as the two in question died after the ice they were on broke plunging them into the freezing water. The register of St Stephen Coleman Street records one of these deaths when it noted the burial on 6 February 1721 of ‘Aron Peter drowned in a pond of water by the sudden breaking of the ice where on he was sliding.’

Contemporary newspapers, such as  Applebee’s Original Weekly Journal and the Weekly Journal or Saturday’s Post, support the Bills of Mortality by making it clear that Aron did not die alone. The newspapers report ‘two boys, whose parents lives in Swan Alley, Coleman Street’ … ‘were drowned in the pond behind the Haberdashers Alms-House, the ice breaking under them as they were sliding on it’. With only one burial noted in the parish register of St Stephen Coleman Street it suggests that these boys were more likely friends and neighbours rather than brothers.

This week in 1672

Posted in Accident, Bills of Mortality with tags , , , on 22/01/2012 by Craig Spence

As reported by the London Bills of Mortality for the week of 23rd January 1672:

2 killed; one at St Martinin the Fields, one at St Margaret Westminster;
1 by excessive drinking at St Olave Southwark;
1 broken leg;
A women burnt being drunk in St Paul Shadwell;
1 by a fall from a scaffold in St Giles without Cripplegate;
1 burnt at St Paul Covent Garden.

This account of sudden death from London’s teeming streets in 1672 is actually fairly typical. The use of the term ‘killed’ within the Bills of Mortality is not particularly helpful in describing the actual cause of death but a wider reading of the records suggest the use of this phrase was most often associated with those accidentally killed during casual violence; in other words various forms of manslaughter.

As for the role of alcohol as an agent of death the specific noting of those who died by ‘excessive drinking’ clearly had moralising overtones. Noting the drunken state of the woman who (in all probability) fell into the fire in the riverside parish of Shadwell perhaps represents a more direct attempt to evoke a salutary lesson while warning of the evils of drink.

 

Death by New River water – should have drunk beer, or maybe he did!

Posted in Accident, Bills of Mortality, Inquest with tags on 16/01/2012 by Craig Spence

On 15 January 1661 the Bills of Mortality reported the death of a man drowned at St John Clerkenwell. The parish burial register for that date provides a little more information noting that the man was a stranger and had drowned in the New River, or its reservoir, near to the Waterhouse in Islington (see Hollar’s excellent depiction below). It also notes that Mr Evans,  the Middlesex coroner, called an inquest on the body and then granted a warrant for burial. While drowning was the most frequent form of sudden violent death in early modern London the majority of these deaths took place in the River Thames. London’s lesser watercourses and smaller land-locked bodies of water did however contribute to the general toll; in fact between 1655-1735 at least eighty-three people drowned in the New River. How this particular individual came to be in the water is not known but it seems that the inquest jury decided this was neither a case of murder nor suicide, so perhaps a drunken stumble into the cold clean water of the New River was all that was needed. For more info on the New River Company see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_River_(England).

 An engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar of the reservoir and Waterhouse of the New River Company in 1665 (just four years after the unknown man was drowned).

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