Archive for falls

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.

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