previous next


The great fire in London.--First appearance of the flames.
[from the London Star, June 24]

The metropolis on Saturday evening was visited by one of the most terrific conflagrations that has probably occurred since the great fire in 1666. Certainly, for the amount of property destroyed, nothing like it has been experienced the last half century, the loss being estimated at £2,000,000. The scene of this catastrophe was on the water side of Tooley street, nearest London Bridge — a locality which has been singularly unfortunate during the last twenty-five years--some of the largest fires have occurred there. The out break took place in the extensive range of premises known as Cotton's wharf and bonded warehouses, belonging to Messrs. Scovell. They had an extensive river frontage, and the whole space on the land side extending to Tooley street was covered with eight or nine massive brick warehouses, six stories in height, some of which were formerly used as ordnance (Government) stores, the whole occupying, as we are informed, about three acre.

These buildings were filled with merchandize of every description. There were some thousands of chests of tea and silk stored in the upper floors, while in the lower one there was an immense stock of Russian tallow, various oils, bales of cotton, hops and grain. Every portion of the entire establishment might be said to have been loaded with goods, and of the whole of this very valuable property, said to be valued at upwards of a million, not a vestige remains but the bare walls and an immense chasm of fire, which at dusk last evening lighted up the Pool and the east end of the city. To be added to this very serious loss is the destruction of the whole of the western range of Alderman Humphrey's warehouse, flanking the new dock, known as Hay's wharf, the burning of four warehouses and quay, comprising Chamberlain's wharf, adjacent to St. Olave's Church, besides many other buildings in Tooley street.


Brigade Director Braidwood killed.

The saddest loss of all, however, was the deplorable accident which befell Mr. James Braidwood, Director of the London Fire Brigade, who, it will be seen by the subjoined details, perished at an early stage of the fire.

Intelligence of the outbreak reached the headquarters of the brigade in Wattling street at ten minutes to five o'clock, and all the available force and engines belonging to that establishment were at once dispatched to the spot. Reaching the western avenue in Tooley street, leading to Cotton's wharf, a dense quantity of smoke was observed issuing from the loop-hole doors on the first story of one of the main centre bonded warehouses abutting on the wharf, and in a line with other warehouses stretching to Tooley street. This centre building had only been recently erected, and its construction gave rise to some dispute between the insurance company and Messrs. Scovell, which we are informed had only been arranged a few days since.

Mr. Braidwood surveyed the course of the fire with his usual cool and practical eye, and posted his men where the best command could be had ever the scene of destruction.--About half past 7 o'clock he entered the gateway leading to the wharf nearest St. Olave's Church, and proceeded down the avenue, where four of his men were supporting and directing two branches from the floating engine. By this time the warehouse in which the fire commenced was gutted; but the enormous stock of tallow which had been stored in the lower floor caused the flames to rise to a considerable height, and, if anything, raged more furiously when water was scattered over them. The adjacent building also contained a large quantity of cotton and oil, which ran down through the loop-holes in a stream to the vaults as the warehouses ignited.

At intervals there were loud reports, as f from the explosion of carbon or barrels of oil; but at the time it did not excite any particular alarm, as the firemen had been assured that those warehouses contained no explosive material, such as saltpetre, although there was a large stock of it in another part of the wharf. The police, who by this time had got command of the thoroughfares leading to the wharf, had cleared this western gateway or avenue, and, with the exception of the firemen, there was only a few standing by. Mr. Braidwood, who had visited the men several times previously, seeing the distressed state they were in from the intense heat and their great exertions, called one of his attendants, and gave each of them a ‘ "nip"’ of brandy, and then noticing another of his men in a similar exhausted state, and whose eyes had suffered much from the heat, turned his back on the warehouse to give the man some of the brandy. At this moment a terrific explosion suddenly occurred, and in an instant it was seen that the whole of the frontage of the second warehouse was coming down, falling outwards into the avenue.

Mr. Henderson, foreman of the Southern district of the brigade, who was standing within a few paces of Mr. Braidwood, shouted for them "all to run.!! The men dropped their branches. Two, with Mr. Henderson, escaped by the great gateway, and the other men ran in the opposite direction on to the wharf, where they jumped into the river. Mr. Braidwood made an effort to follow Mr. Henderson, but it was only momentarily, for he was struck down by the upper part of the wall and buried beneath some tons of brickwork.--His death must have been instantaneous. Several of his men would have rushed to extricate him, and indeed some did, hopeless as the task was, but another explosion happening caused the men to fly in great terror. The sad fate of this gentleman had a most depressing effect upon all, and to add to their trouble the conflagration had assumed a most awful ascendancy. It is stated that there were three men standing by at the time, and it is feared that they have perished. We are in a position, however, to state Mr. Braidwood is the only member of the fire brigade who has perished.


A terrific night scene.

Towards ten o'clock the aspect of the conflagration had become quite appalling, and terror and dismay seized upon all. The continual explosions of the saltpetre destroyed all the windows of the surrounding warehouses on both sides of Cotton's wharf, as also shattering the loop hole doors of the various floors. By this means the great warehoused of Mr. Alderman Humphrey, forming the Western division of Hay's wharf and dock, nine stories in height, and extending inland some hundreds of feet, ignited, together with a large leather warehouse in Hog Lane, adjoining the land side entrance to the wharf On the St. Olave's Church side of Cotton's wharf the fire was making as rapid ravages, flavoring penetrated the four extensive warehouses comprising Chamberlain's wharf, besides many houses and other buildings in a line with Tooley street. That they must share a similar fate as that of Cotton's wharf was evident, and what rendered matters worse, the firemen were comparatively powerless.

The two powerful steam floating engines were compelled to be hauled away in consequence of the flaming matter which poured over the wharf walls and covered the surface of the river the whole length of the burning warehouses; as it was they had lost a large quantity of hose by the walls being blown down. The two steam land engines built for the brigade by Shand and Mason were working vigorously in Tooley street, but the overpowering heat prevented the men approaching the river near enough to be of any practical service. Indeed the duty was fraught with great danger, and they were very properly called off. The whole of the carriage way of Tooley street was ankle deep in hot oil and tallow, which flowed in all directions from the warehouse, and the fear was that it would by some misfortune be brought into contact with turpentine and get ignite.


The American ship Pentucket in danger.

By eleven o'clock the whole of the above-mentioned warehouses at Hay's wharf and Chamberlain's wharf were gutted. It then became evident that the fire would not progress and further westward, towards London Brides. There was a slight break between Chamberlain's wharf and St. Clave's Church, although at one time there was every likelihood of the sacred edifice being destroyed.--Hay's wharf now became the centre of operations. A wide dock separated the two divisions of warehouses, although they were connected by a flank warehouse on the land side Mr. Alderman Humphrey and Mr. Humphrey, Jr., collecting all the available strength of auxiliaries, made strenuous efforts to stay the fire from laying held of the eastern range of buildings. In the dock lay two ships — the Stockton steamer, which was to have sailed in the course of Saturday evening, and the American ship Pentucket. It was low water. It was impossible to extricate them, and the rigging having taken fire, it was supposed that they either would be burned or crushed by the walls of the gutted warehouse which threatened to fall. Several engines were brought to play in all directions, and after two hours incessant labor the fire was conquered and stopped at this point. Eventually both ships were towed out of the dock into the river.


The latest report from the ruins.
[from the London times, June 25]

The huge pile of ruins caused by this fearful disaster continues as unapproachable as ever. Even with all the assistance afforded by the late heavy rains, and the continuous streams of water which are poured on them on all parts from the mains by night and day, the heat they give off is so intense that it is impossible to penetrate beyond a few yards inside the blackened walls from the land side. Nothing dare approach them from the river. In the centre several large cellars of oil and tallow are blazing as furiously as ever. The glare of these flames, which are unseen during the day, shines out as brightly-as before with nightfall, when, of course the alarm is spread that the fire has again started on a fresh career of destruction. There is, however, we are happy to say, not the least danger now of such additional loss. All the ruins on the outskirts (except, as we have said, those next the river,) are not only cold, but well saturated with water.

The burning cellars in the centre, which cannot be reached, must burn themselves out, and from what is known of their contents, a long time must elapse before this takes place if they are left to themselves. The chiefs of the Fire Brigade, however, are of opinion that in a day or two more they will be able to get the hose sufficiently forward to reach even these centres of fire; and if so, we may soon hope to see the last embers of this tremendous conflagration extinguished. The cellar full of tallow, beneath the warehouse which leans so fearfully over the spot where Mr. Braidwood's body was discovered, has almost burnt itself away. Since Monday evening the hose of three engines has been pouring in streams at one end, and driving the great mass of fire it contains out at the other, in the centre of the ruins, where it is impotent for further mischief. So great has been the quantity of water poured in here that the vaults have been almost flooded, and an immense quantity of the melted tallow floated completely out.

The body of flame at this spot is now so much reduced that the firemen have been enabled to advance far enough to reach with water the walls at the end of the vault, through the apertures of which the mass of flame has been pouring since Saturday afternoon, and which are therefore almost white with heat. Tremendous clouds of steam are thrown off here as the jets of the hose fall upon the brickwork. Unfortunately, however, this side of the warehouse is as much out of the perpendicular as the front, and is certain to become still more so as the mass of brickwork contracts in cooling, so that even when the fire is entirely extinguished, the imminent danger will prevent the spot being used as a base of operations for penetrating further towards the centre, where the great vaults still boil and flame unchecked. Adjoining the cellar which has thus been partially extinguished is another, stored entirely with lard and bacon. This has never been on fire, though to judge from the hot jets of steam that have been issuing from the loopholes since Sunday, the contents must have been as effectually overdone as if the flames had actually found their way in.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
St. Olave's church (United Kingdom) (2)
London Bridge (North Dakota, United States) (1)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
James Braidwood (8)
Cotton (5)
Alderman Humphrey (4)
Hay (4)
Chamberlain (4)
Henderson (3)
Scovell (2)
Shand (1)
Russian (1)
Mason (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1666 AD (1)
June 25th (1)
June 24th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: