Archive for alcohol

April 1730 and London newspapers report the deaths of firemen, porters and servants killed by collapsing buildings at a ‘great fire’ on Fleet Street

Posted in Newspapers with tags , , , , on 01/04/2016 by Craig Spence

Mr Clinton was a distiller; his shop conveniently located in Fleet Street was to be found close to the corner of Fetter Lane. On the morning of 31 March 1730 he began his day by firing up his still to produce another batch of alcoholic intoxicants. During this process, and for some unexplained reason, the still-head became detached from the apparatus. Hot alcohol spewed across the room and coming into contact with the naked flames below the distilling vat it burst explosively into flame.

The ensuing fire was intense and quickly spread throughout Clinton’s building. Unfortunately for his neighbours within an hour-and-a-half the fire had also spread to theirs. The properties of Mr Kingham (a potter), Mr Allin (a shoemaker) and Mr Sawkins (innholder at the ‘Magpye and Horseshoe’) were all affected.

Firemen of the London insurance offices were quickly on the scene and together with a crowd of porters, servants and passers-by attempted to both fight the fire and remove goods and belongings from the affected and adjacent houses. Well into their task there was a sudden rumbling and without warning two of the houses collapsed.

The London newspapers tell the story of that day, and the following four, in some detail. Reports of the total number of casualties vary but certainly six died and maybe as many as sixteen. Many others were injured and rushed to the London hospitals for treatment.

Among the dead was James Mitchell an insurance company fireman. Mitchell was a resident of Westminster and had begun his working life as a waterman’s apprentice in 1718. Keen to take advantage of the higher status and regular income offered by the role of fireman he had abandoned the waters of the river and turned instead to the fires of the city to provide his ‘trade’. Others who died included a footman and a porter.

On the third day after the fire and collapse the efforts of those toiling to rescue anyone still trapped in the debris were rewarded when a servant maid was pulled alive from the ruins. Incredibly she had survived the fire trapped in the partially fallen vault underneath the ‘Horseshoe alehouse’. She did not survive long however tragically dying within minutes of being freed. It is likely that she was a victim of ‘crush syndrome’, a form of traumatic fatal injury not formally identified until studies of victims of the London Blitz were undertaken some 210 years later.

The London Newspapers made concerted efforts to report this event; the Daily Courant, The Weekly Journal or British Gazette, The Weekly Journal, the Daily Journal and the Daily Post all covered the story. The printer of The Weekly Journal, Mr Read Sen. resident of Whitefriars Street, secured a closer insight into the events than he might have wished. Having taken his own [fire] engine to the scene of the conflagration he was close at hand when the buildings collapsed.  By which means he not only secured a first-hand account of the incident but also a broken leg!

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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 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.

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.

 

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