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Title: Fires and Firemen: from the Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science and Art, Vol XXXV No. 1, May 1855
Author: Anonymous
Language: English
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The Eclectic Magazine
of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art
Vol XXXV.--No. I
May, 1855.

1: Fires and Firemen
Annual Reports of Mr. Braidwood to the Committee of the Fire Brigade
[From the Quarterly Review]

Among the more salient features of the Metropolis which instantly
strike the attention of the stranger are the stations of the Fire
Brigade.  Whenever he happens to pass them, he finds the sentinel on
duty, he sees the "red artillery" of the force; and the polished axle,
the gleaming branch, and the shining chain, testify to the beautiful
condition of the instrument, ready for active service at a moment's
notice.  Ensconced in the shadow of the station, the liveried watchmen
look like hunters waiting for their prey--nor does the hunter move
quicker to his quarry at the rustle of a leaf, than the Firemen dash
for the first ruddy glow in the sky.  No sooner comes the alarm than
one sees with a shudder the rush of one of these engines through the
crowded streets--the tearing horses covered with foam--the heavy
vehicle swerving from side to side, and the black helmeted attendants
swaying to and fro.  The wonder is that horses or men ever get safely
to their destination; the wonder is still greater that no one is
ridden over in their furious drive.

Arrived at the place of action, the hunter's spirit which animates the
fireman and makes him attack an element as determinedly as he would a
wild beast, becomes evident to the spectator.  The scene which a
London fire presents can never be forgotten: the shouts of the crowd
as it opens to let the engines dart through it, the foaming head of
water springing out of the ground, and spreading over the road until
it becomes a broad mirror reflecting the glowing blaze--the black,
snake-like coils of the leather hose rising and falling like things of
life, whilst a hundred arms work at the pump, their central heart--the
applause that rings out clear above the roaring flame as the
adventurous band throw the first hissing jet--cheer following cheer,
as stream after stream shoots against the burning mass, now flying
into the socket-holes of fire set in the black face of the
house-front, now dashing with a loud shir-r against the window-frame
and wall, and falling off in broken showers.  Suddenly there is a loud
shrill cry and the bank of human faces is upturned to where a
shrieking wretch hangs frantically to an upper window-sill.  A
deafening shout goes forth, as the huge fire-escape comes full swing
upon the scene: a moment's pause, and all is still, save the beat,
beat, of the great water pulses, whilst every eye is strained towards
the fluttering garments flapping against the wall.  Will the ladder
reach, and not dislodge those weary hands clutching so convulsively to
the hot stone?  Will the nimble figure gain the topmost rung ere
nature fails?  The blood in a thousand hearts runs cold, and then
again break forth a thousand cheers to celebrate a daring rescue.
Such scenes as this are of almost nightly occurrence in the Great
Metropolis.  A still more imposing yet dreadful sight is often
exhibited in the conflagrations of those vast piles of buildings in
the City filled with inflammable merchandise.  Here the most powerful
engines seem reduced to mere squirts; and the efforts of the
adventurous Brigade men are confined to keeping the mischief within
its own bounds.

When we recollect that London presents an area of 36 square miles,
covered with 21,600 square acres of bricks and mortar, and numbers
more than 380,000 houses; that all the riches it contains are nightly
threatened in every direction by an ever-present enemy; that the
secret match, the spontaneous fire, and the hand of the drunkard, are
busily at work, it is evident that nothing but a force the most
disciplined, and implements the most effective, can be competent to
cope with so sudden and persevering a foe.

As late as twenty-two years ago there was no proper fire police to
protect the Metropolis against what is commonly called the
"all-devouring element."  There was, it is true, a force of 300
parochial engines set on foot by Acts which were passed between the
years 1768-74--Acts which are still in existence--but these engines
are under the superintendence of the beadles and parish engineers, who
are not the most active of men or nimble of risers.  It may easily be
imagined, therefore, that the machines arrived a little too late; and,
when brought into service, were often found to be out of working
order.  Hence their employment did not supersede the private engines
kept by some of the insurance offices long prior to their existence.
On the contrary, owing to the increase of business which took place
about this time, the different companies thought it worth their while
to strengthen their former establishments, and this process continued
while the parochial engines, with a few honorable exceptions, were
dropping into disuse.

About the year 1833 it became evident that much was lost, both to the
public and to the insurance companies, by every engine acting on its
own responsibility--a folly which is the cause of such jealousy among
the firemen at Boston (United States), that rival engines have been
known to stop on their way to a fire to exchange shots from revolvers.
It was therefore determined to incorporate the divided force, and
place it under the management of one superintendent, each office
contributing towards its support, according to the amount of its
business.  All the old established companies, with one exception,[*]
shortly came into the arrangement, and Mr. Braidwood, the master of
the fire-engines of Edinburgh, being invited to take the command,
organized the now celebrated _London Fire Brigade_.

[*] The West of England Fire-Office, which retains the command of its
own engines.

At the present moment, then, the protection against fire in London
consists, firstly, in the 300 and odd parish engines (two to each
parish), which are paid for out of the rates.  The majority of these
are very inefficient, not having any persons appointed to work them
who possess a competent knowledge of the service.  Even women used now
and then to fill the arduous post of director; and it is not long
since a certain Mrs. Smith, a widow, might be seen at conflagrations,
hurrying about in her pattens, directing the firemen of her engine,
which belonged to the united parishes of St. Michael Royal and
St. Martin Vintry, in the city.  We question, indeed, if at the
present moment any of the parish-engines are much better officered
than in the days of widow Smith, with the exception of those of
Hackney, Whitechapel, Islington, and perhaps two or three others.
Secondly, there are an unknown number of private engines kept in
public buildings, and large manufactories, which sometimes do good
service when they arrive early at small fires in their neighborhood,
although, singularly enough, when called upon to extinguish a
conflagration in their own establishments, they generally "lose their
heads," as the Brigade men express it, and very many instances have
occurred where even the parish-engines have arrived and set to work
before the one on the premises could be brought to bear upon the fire.
The cause is clear.  The requisite coolness and method which every one
can exercise so philosophically in other people's misfortunes, utterly
fail them when in trouble themselves.  The doctor is wiser in his
generation, and is never so foolish as to prescribe for himself or to
attend his own family.

Thirdly, we have, in contrast to the immense rabble of Bumble engines
and the Bashi-Bazouks of private establishments, the small complement
of men and material of the Fire Brigade.  It consists of twenty-seven
large horse-engines, capable of throwing 88 gallons a minute to a
height of from 50 to 70 feet, and nine smaller ones drawn by hand.  To
work them there are twelve engineers, seven sub-engineers, thirty-two
senior firemen, thirty-nine junior firemen, and fourteen drivers, or
104 men and 31 horses.  In addition to these persons, who form the
main establishment, and live at the different stations, there is an
extra staff of four firemen, four drivers, and eight horses.  The
members of this supplementary force are also lodged at the stations,
as well as clothed but are only paid when their services are required,
and pursue in the daytime their ordinary occupations.  This not very
formidable army of 104 men and 31 horses, with its reserve of eight
men and eight horses, is distributed throughout the Metropolis, which
is divided into four districts as follows:--On the north side of the
river--1st.  From the eastward to Paul's Chain, St. Paul's Churchyard,
Aldersgate-street, and Goswell-street-road; 2d. From St. Paul's, &c.,
to Tottenham court-road, Crown street, and St. Martin's-lane; 3d. From
Tottenham-court-road, &c., westward, 4th. The entire south side of the
river.  At the head of each district is a foreman, who never leaves it
unless acting under the superior orders of Mr. Braidwood, the
superintendent or general-in-chief, whose head-quarters are in

In comparison with the great Continental cities such a force seems
truly insignificant.  Paris, which does not cover a fifth part of the
ground of London, and is not much more than a third as populous,
boasts 800 _sapeurs-pompiers_: we make up, however, for want of
numbers by activity.  Again, our lookout is admirable: the 6,000
police of the metropolis, patrolling every alley and lane throughout
its length and breadth, watch for a fire as terriers watch at
rat-holes, and every man is stimulated by the knowledge, that if he is
the first to give notice of it at any of the stations, it is half a
sovereign in his pocket.  In addition to the police, there are the
thousand eager eyes of the night cabmen and the houseless poor.  It is
not at all uncommon for a cabman to earn four or five shillings of a
night by driving fast to the different stations and giving the alarm,
receiving a shilling from each for the "call."

In most Continental cities a watchman takes his stand during the night
on the topmost point of some high building, and gives notice by either
blowing a horn, firing a gun, or ringing a bill.  In Germany the
quarter is indicated by holding out towards it a flag by day, and a
lantern at night.  It immediately suggests itself that a sentinel
placed in the upper gallery of St. Paul's would have under his eye the
whole Metropolis, and could make known instantly, by means of an
electric wire, the position of a fire, to the head station at
Watling-street, in the same manner as the Americans do in Boston.
This plan is, however, open to the objection, that London is
intersected by a sinuous river, which renders it difficult to tell on
which bank the conflagration is raging.  Nevertheless we imagine that
the northern part of the town could be advantageously superintended
from such a height, whilst the southern half might rest under the
surveillance of one of the tall shot-towers on that bank of the
Thames.  The bridges themselves have long been posts of observation,
from which a large portion of the river-side property is watched.  Not
long ago there was a pieman on Londonbridge, who eked ont a precarious
existence by keeping a good look-out up and down the stream.

Watling-street was chosen as the headquarters of the Fire Brigade for
a double reason: it is very nearly the centre of the city, being close
to the far-famed London Stone, and it is in the very midst of what may
be termed, speaking igneously, the most dangerous part of the
metropolis--the Manchester warehouses.  As the Fire Brigade is only a
portion of a vast commercial operation--Fire Insurance--its actions
are regulated by strictly commercial considerations.  Where the
largest amount of _insured_ property lies, there its chief force is
planted.  It will, it is true, go any reasonable distance to put out a
fire; but of course it pays most attention to property which its
proprietors have guaranteed.  The central station receives the
greatest number of "calls;" but as a commander-in-chief does not turn
out for a skirmish of outposts, so Mr. Braidwood keeps himself ready
for affairs of a more serious nature.  When the summons is at
night--there are sometimes as many as half-a-dozen--the fireman on
duty below apprizes the superintendent by means of a gutta percha
speaking-tube, which comes up to his bedside.  By the light of the
ever-burning gas, he rapidly consults the "London Directory," and if
the call should be to what is called "a greengrocer's street," or any
of the small thoroughfares in bye-parts of the town, he leaves the
matter to the foreman in whose district it is, and goes to sleep
again.  If, however, the fire should be in the city, or in any of the
great West-End thoroughfares, he hurries off on the first engine.
Five minutes is considered a fair time for an engine "to horse and
away," but it is often done in three.  Celerity in bringing up aid is
the great essential, as the first half hour generally determines the
extent to which a conflagration will proceed.  Hence the rewards of
thirty shillings for the first, twenty for the second, and ten
shillings for the third engine that arrives, which premiums are paid
by the parish.  All the engines travel with as few hands as possible:
the larger ones having an engineer, four firemen and a driver, and the
following furniture:--

"Several lengths of scaling-ladder, each 6 1/2 feet long, all of which
may be readily connected, forming in a short space of time a ladder of
any required height; a canvas sheet, with 10 or 12 handles of rope
round the edge of it for the purpose of a fire-escape; one 10-fathom
and one 14-fathom piece of 2 1/2-inch rope; six lengths of hose, each
40 feet long, 2 branch-pipes, one 2 1/2 feet, and the other from 4 to
6 feet long, with one spare nose-pipe; two 6-feet lengths of
suction-pipe, a flat rose, stand-cock, goose-neck, dam-board,
boat-hook, saw, shovel, mattock, pole-axe, screw-wrench, crow-bar,
portable cistern, two dog-tails, two balls of strips of sheepskin, two
balls of small cord, instruments for opening the fire-plugs, and keys
for turning the stop-cocks of the water-mains."

The weight of the whole, with the men, is not less than from 27 to 30
cwt., a load which, in the excitement of the ride, is carried by a
couple of horses at the gallop.

The hands to work the pumps are always forthcoming on the spot at any
hour of the night, not alone for goodwill, as every man--and there
have been as many as five hundred employed at a time--receives one
shilling for the first hour and sixpence for every succeeding one,
together with refreshments.  In France, the law empowers the firemen
to seize upon the bystanders, and compel them to give their services,
without fee or reward.  An Englishman at Bordeaux, whilst looking on,
some few years since, was forced, in spite of his remonstrances, to
roll wine-casks for seven hours out of the vicinity of a
conflagration.  We need not say which plan answers best.  A Frenchman
runs away, as soon as the _sapeurs-pompiers_ make their appearance
upon the scene, to avoid being impressed.  Still, such is the
excitement that there are some gentlemen with us who pursue the
occupation of firemen as amateurs; providing themselves with the
regulation-dress of dark green turned up with red, and with the
accoutrements of the Brigade, and working, under the orders of
Mr. Braidwood, as energetically as if they were earning their daily

The fascination of fires even extends to the brute creation.  Who has
not heard of the dog "Chance," who first formed his acquaintance with
the Brigade by following a fireman from a conflagration in Shoreditch
to the central station at Watling-street?  Here, after he had been
petted for some little time by the men, his master came for him, and
took him home; but he escaped on the first opportunity, and returned
to the station.  After he had been carried back for the third time,
his master--like a mother whose son will go to sea--allowed him to
have his own way, and for years he invariably accompanied the engine,
now upon the machine, now under the horses' legs, and always, when
going up-hill, running in advance, and announcing the welcome advent
of the extinguisher by his bark.  At the fire he used to amuse himself
with pulling burning logs of wood out of the flames with his mouth.
Although he had his legs broken half a dozen times, he remained
faithful to his pursuit; till at last, having received a severer hurt
than usual, he was being nursed by the firemen beside the hearth, when
a "call" came, and at the well-known sound of the engine turning out,
the poor brute made a last effort to climb upon it, and fell back dead
in the attempt.  He was stuffed and preserved at the station, and was
doomed, even in death, to prove the fireman's friend: for one of the
engineers having committed suicide, the Brigade determined to raffle
him for the benefit of the widow, and such was his renown that he
realized £123 10s. 9d.

Mr. Samuel Brown, of the Institute of Actuaries, after analyzing the
returns of Mr. Braidwood, as well as the reports in the "Mechanics'
Magazine," by Mr. Baddeley, who has devoted much attention to the
subject, drew up some tables of the times of the year, and hours of
the day, at which fires are most frequent.  It would naturally be
supposed that the winter would show a vast preponderance over the
summer months; but the difference is not so great as might be
expected.  December and January are very prolific of fires, as in
these months large public buildings are heated by flues, stoves, and
boilers; but the other months share mishaps of the kind pretty
equally, with the exception that the hot and dry periods of summer and
autumn are marked by the most destructive class of conflagrations,
owing to the greater inflammability of the materials, than in the
damper portions of the year.  This, from the desiccating nature of the
climate, is especially the case in Canada and the United States, and,
coupled with the extensive use of wood in building, has a large
influence in many parts of the Continent.  The following list of all
the great fires which have taken place for the last 100 years will
bear out our statement:--

          |                                |             | Value of  |
          |                                |             | Property  |
 Month    | Description of Property, &c.   |  Place      | Destroyed | Year
January   | Webb's Sugar-house             | Liverpool   |    £4,600 | 1829
          | Lancelot's-hey                 |    "        |   198,000 | 1833
          | Town-Hall and Exchange         |    "        |    45,000 | 1795
          | Caxton Printing Office         |    "        |    --     | 1821
          | Dublin and Co. Warehouse       |    "        |    --     | 1834
          | Suffolk-street                 |    "        |    40,000 | 1818
          | Mile End                       | London      |   200,000 | 1834
          | Royal Exchange                 |    "        |    --     | 1838
February  | York Minster                   | York        |    --     | 1829
          | 3 West India Warehouses        | London      |   300,000 | 1829
          | House of Commons               | Dublin      |    --     | 1792
          | Argyle Rooms                   | London      |    --     | 1830
          | Camberwell Church              |    "        |    --     | 1841
          | Custom House                   |    "        |    --     | 1814
          | Hop Warehouse                  | Southwark   |    --     | 1851
          | J.F.Pawson and Co.'s           | St. Paul's  |           |
          |     Warehouses                 |  Church Yard|    40,000 | 1853
          | Pickford's Wharf               | London      |    --     | 1824
          | Goree Warehouses               | Liverpool   |    50,000 | 1846
March     | New Orleans                    | United St.  |  $650,000 | 1853
          | 15,000 houses at Canton        | China       |    --     | 1820
          | 13,000 houses                  | Peru        |    --     | 1799
          | Manchester                     | England     |    --     | 1792
          | Fawcett's Foundry              | Liverpool   |   £41,000 | 1843
          | Oil Street                     |    "        |    12,600 | 1844
          | Apothecaries' Hall             |    "        |     7,000 | 1844
          | Sugar House,                   |             |           |
          |     Harrington-street          |    "        |    30,000 | 1830
April     | 1000 Buildings                 | Pittsburg   |$1,400,000 | 1845
          | Savannah                       | United St.  |   300,000 | 1852
          | Parkshead, Bacon-street        | Liverpool   |   £36,000 | 1851
          | Windsor Forest                 | England     |    --     | 1785
          | Margetson's Tan-yard,          |             |           |
          |     Bermondsey                 | London      |    36,000 | 1852
          | 1158 Buildings, Charleston     | United St.  |    --     | 1838
          | Horsleydown                    | London      |    --     | 1780
May       | Dockhead                       | London      |    --     | 1785
          | Great Fire, 1749 houses        | Hamburgh    |    --     | 1842
          | 23 Steamboats at St. Louis     | United St.  |  $600,000 | 1849
          | 15,000 houses                  | Quebec      |    --     | 1845
          | York Minster                   | York        |    --     | 1840
          | Duke's Warehouses              | Liverpool   |    --     | 1843
          | Okell's Sugar-house            |    "        |    --     | 1799
          | Gibraltar Row                  |    "        |    --     | 1838
          | Liver Mills                    |    "        |    £8,700 | 1841
          | Billingsgate                   | London      |    --     | 1809
June      | Rotherhithe                    | London      |    --     | 1765
          | Copenhagen                     | Denmark     |    --     | 1759
          | Montreal                       | Canada      |$1,000,000 | 1852
          | St. John                       | Newfoundland|    --     | 1846
          | Louisville                     | United St.  |   100,000 | 1853
          | 47 persons, Quebec Theatre     | Canada      |    --     | 1846
          | 1300 houses, Quebec            |    "        |    --     | 1845
          | Gutta Percha Co., Wharf Road   | London      |   £23,000 | 1853
          | Humphrey's Warehouse, Southwark|    "        |   100,000 | 1851
July      | Hindon                         | Wiltshire   |    --     | 1754
          | 15,000 Houses                  | Constantinople   --     | 1756
          | 12,000 Houses                  | Montreal    |    --     | 1852
          | 300 Houses                     | Philadelphia|    --     | 1850
          | 300 Buildings                  | N. America  |  $160,000 | 1846
          | 302 Stores                     | New York    | 1,200,000 | 1846
          | Apothecaries' Hall             | Liverpool   |    --     | 1851
          | Glover's Warehouses            |    "        |   £17,000 | 1851
          | Dockyard                       | Portsmouth  |    --     | 1770
          | Wapping                        | London      | 1,000,000 | 1794
          | Ratcliffe Cross                |    "        |    --     | 1794
          | Varna                          | Turkey      |    --     | 1854
August    | Dublin                         | Ireland     |    --     | 1833
          | Gravesend                      | England     |    60,000 | 1847
          | Walker's Oil Mill              | Dover       |    30,000 | 1853
          | Falmouth Theatre               | Falmouth    |    --     | 1792
          | Buildings, Albany              | United St.  |  $600,000 | 1849
          | 10,000 Houses                  | Constantinople   --     | 1782
          | Smithfield                     | London      |  £100,000 | 1822
          | East Smithfield                |    "        |    --     | 1840
          | Bankside                       |    "        |    --     | 1814
          | Gateshead                      | England     |    --     | 1854
September | 46 Buildings                   | New York    |  $500,000 | 1839
          | 200 Houses, Brooklyn           |    "        |   150,000 | 1848
          | Scott, Russell, and Co., Ship  |             |           |
          |     Builders, Mill Wall        | London      |   L80,000 | 1853
          | St. Paul's Church, Covent      |             |           |
          |     Garden                     |    "        |    --     | 1795
          | 60 Houses, Rotherhithe         |    "        |    --     | 1791
          | Astley's Amphitheatre          |    "        |    --     | 1794
          | Mark Lane                      |    "        |   150,000 | 1850
          | Covent Garden Theatre          |    "        |    --     | 1808
          | Store Street and Tottenham     |             |           |
          |     Court Road                 |    "        |    --     | 1802
          | Macfee's                       | Liverpool   |    40,000 | 1846
          | Gorees                         |    "        |   400,000 | 1802
          | Formby Street                  |    "        |   380,000 | 1842
          | Cowdray House                  | Sussex      |    --     | 1793
October   | 52 Buildings                   | Philadelphia|  $100,000 | 1839
          | Grimsdell's, Builder's Yard    | Spitalfields|    --     | 1852
          | Withwith's Mills               | Halifax     |   £35,000 | 1853
          | Robert-street                  | N.Liverpool |   150,000 | 1838
          | Lancelot's-hey                 | Liverpool   |    80,000 | 1854
          | Memel Great Fire               | Prussia     |    --     | 1854
          | London Wall                    | London      |    84,000 | 1849
          | 20 Houses, Rotherhithe         |    "        |    --     | 1790
          | Lancelot's-hey                 | Liverpool   |    30,000 | 1834
          | Wapping                        | London      |   100,000 | 1823
          | Houses of Parliament           |    "        |    --     | 1834
          | Pimlico                        |    "        |    --     | 1834
November  | Royal Palace                   | Lisbon      |    --     | 1794
          | New York                       | United St.  |    --     | 1835
          | 20 Houses, Shadwell            | London      |    --     | 1796
          | Aldersgate-street              |    "        |  £100,000 | 1783
          | Cornhill                       |    "        |    --     | 1765
          | Liver-street                   | Liverpool   |     6,000 | 1829
          | Wright and Aspinall,           |             |           |
          |     Oxford-street              | London      |    50,000 | 1826
          | Hill's Rice Mills              |    "        |     5,000 | 1848
December  | Dock Yard                      | Portsmouth  |    --     | 1776
          | Patent Office and Post Office  | Washington  |    --     | 1836
          | 600 Warehouses                 | New York    |$4,000,000 | 1835
          | Fenwick-street                 | Liverpool   |   £36,000 | 1831
          | Brancker's Sugar-house         |    "        |    34,000 | 1843
(Extracted from the Royal Insurance Company's Almanac, 1854.)

One reason, perhaps, why there is such a general average in the number
of conflagrations throughout the year, is, that the vast majority
occur in factories and workshops where fire is used in summer as well
as winter.  This supposition appears at first sight to be contradicted
by the fact, that nearly as many fires occur on Sunday as on any other
day of the week.  But when it is remembered that in numerous
establishments it is necessary to keep in the fires throughout that
day, and as in the majority of cases a very inadequate watch is kept,
it is at once apparent why there is no immunity from the scourge.
Indeed, some of the most destructive fires have broken out on a Sunday
night or on a Monday morning--no doubt because a large body of fire
had formed before it was detected.  A certain number of accidents
occur in summer in private houses from persons on hot nights opening
the window behind the toilet glass in their bedrooms, when the draught
blows the blind against the candle.  Swallows do not more certainly
appear in June, than such mishaps are found reported at the sultry

If we watch still more narrowly the habits of fires, we find that they
are active or dormant according to the time of the day.  Thus, during
a period of nine years, the percentage regularly increased from 1.96
at 9 o'clock A.M., the hour at which all households might be
considered to be about, to 3.34 at 1 P.M., 3.55 at 5 P.M., and 8.15
per cent at 10 P.M., which is just the time at which a fire left to
itself by the departure of the workmen, would have had swing enough to
become visible.

The origin of fires is now so narrowly inquired into by the officers
of the Brigade, an by means of inquests, that we have been made
acquainted with a vast number of curious causes, which would never
have been suspected.  From an analysis of fires which have occurred
since the establishment of the Brigade, we have constructed the
following Tables:--

Curtains                              2,511
Candle                                1,178
Flues                                 1,555
Stoves                                  494
Gas                                     932
Light dropped down Area                  13
Lighted Tobacco falling down do.          7
Dust falling on horizontal Flue           1
Doubtful                                 76
Incendiarism                             89
Carelessness                            100
Intoxication                             80
Dog                                       6
Cat                                      19
Hunting Bugs                             15
Clotheshorse upset by Monkey              1
Lucifers                                 80
Children playing with do.                45
Rat gnawing do.                           1
Jackdaw playing with do.                  1
Rat gnawing gaspipe                       1
Boys letting of Fireworks                14
Fireworks going off                      63
Children playing with Fire               45
Spark from Fire                         243
Spark from Railway                        4
Smoking Tobacco                         166
Smoking Ants                              1
Smoking in Bed                            2
Reading in do.                           22
Sewing in do.                             4
Sewing by Candle                          1
Lime overheating                         44
Waste do.                                43
Cargo of Lime do.                         2
Rain Slacking do.                         5
High Tide                                 1
Explosion                                 6
Spontaneous Combustion                   43
Heat from Sun                             8
Lightning                                 8
Carboy of Acid bursting                   2
Drying Linen                              1
Shirts falling into fire                  6
Lighting and Upsetting Naphtha Lamp      58
Fire from Iron Kettle                     1
Sealing Letter                            1
Charcoal Fire of a Suicide                1
Insanity                                  5
Bleaching Nuts                            7
Unknown                               1,323

Among the more common causes of fire (such as gas, candle, curtains
taking fire, children playing with fire, stoves, &c.), it is
remarkable how uniformly the same numbers occur under each head from
year to year.  General laws obtain as much in small as in great
events.  We are informed by the Post-Office authorities that about
eight persons daily drop their letters into the post without directing
them–we know that there is an unvarying percentage of
broken heads and limbs received into the hospitals–and here
we see that a regular number of houses take fire, year by year, from
the leaping out of a spark, or the dropping of a smouldering pipe of
tobacco.  It may indeed be a long time before another conflagration
will arise from "a monkey upsetting a clotheshorse," but we have no
doubt such an accident will recur in its appointed cycle.

Although gas figures so largely as a cause of fire, it does not appear
that its rapid introduction of late years into private houses has been
attended with danger.  There is another kind of light, however, which
the insurance offices look upon with terror, especially those who make
it their business to insure farm property.  The assistant secretary of
one of the largest fire-offices, speaking broadly, informed us that
the introduction of the lucifer match _caused them an annual loss of
ten thousand pounds!_ In the foregoing list we see in how many ways
they have given rise to fires.

Lucifers going off probably from heat	80
Children playing with lucifers	        45
Rat gnawing lucifers	                 1
Jackdaw playing with lucifers	         1

One hundred and twenty-seven known fires thus arise from this single
cause; and no doubt many of the twenty-five fires ascribed to the
agency of cats and dogs were owing to their having thrown down boxes
of matches at night--which they frequently do, and which is almost
certain to produce combustion.  The item "rat gnawing lucifer" reminds
us to give a warning against leaving about wax lucifers where there
are either rats or mice, for these vermin constantly run away with
them to their holes behind the inflammable canvas, and eat the wax
until they reach the phosphorus, which is ignited by the friction of
their teeth.  Many fires are believed to have been produced by this
singular circumstance.  How much, again, must lucifers have
contributed to swell the large class of conflagrations whose causes
are unknown! Another cause of fire, which is of recent date, is the
use of naphtha in lamps--a most ignitable fluid when mixed in certain
proportions with common air.  "A delightful novel" figures as a
proximate, if not an immediate, cause of twenty-two fires.  This might
be expected, but what can be the meaning of a fire caused by a high
tide?  When we asked Mr. Braidwood the question, he answered, "Oh! we
always look out for fires when there is a high tide.  They arise from
the heating of lime upon the addition of water."  Thus rain, we see,
has caused four conflagrations, and simple overheating forty-four.
The lime does no harm as long as it is merely in contact with wood,
but if iron happens to be in juxtaposition with the two, it speedily
becomes red-hot, and barges on the river have been sunk, by reason of
their bolts and iron knees burning holes in their bottoms.  Of the
singular entry, "rat gnawing a gaspipe," the firemen state that it is
common for rats to gnaw leaden service pipes, for the purpose, it is
supposed, of getting at the water, and in this instance the gray
rodent labored under a mistake, and let out the raw material of the
opposite element.  Intoxication is a fruitful cause of fires,
especially in public houses and inns.

It is commonly imagined that the introduction of hot water, hot air,
and steam pipes, as a means of heating buildings, cuts off one avenue
of danger from fire.  This is an error.  Iron pipes, often heated up
to 400°, are placed in close contact with floors and
skirting-boards, supported by slight diagonal props of wood, which a
much lower degree of heat will suffice to ignite.  The circular rim
supporting a still at the Apothecaries' Hall, which was used in the
preparation of some medicament that required a temperature of
300°, was found not long ago to have charred a circle at least
a quarter of an inch deep in the wood beneath it, in less than six
months.  Mr. Braidwood, in his evidence before a Committee of the
House of Lords in 1846, stated that it was his belief that by long
exposure to heat, not much exceeding that of boiling, water, or
212°, timber is brought into such a condition that it will fire
without the application of a light.  The time during which this
process of desiccation goes on, until it ends in spontaneous
combustion, is, he thinks, from eight to ten years--_so that a fire
might be hatching in a man's premises during the whole of his lease
without making any sign!_

Under the heads "Incendiarism," "Doubtful," and "Unknown," are
included all the cases of wilful firing.  The return Incendiarism is
never made unless there has been a conviction, which rarely takes
place, as the offices are only anxious to protect themselves against
fraud, and do not like the trouble or bad odor of being prosecutors on
public grounds.  If the evidence of wilful firing, however, is
conclusive, the insured, when he applies for his money, is
significantly informed by the secretary, that unless he leaves the
office, _he will hang him_.  Though arson is no longer punished by
death, the hint is usually taken.  Now and then such flagrant
offenders are met with, that the office can not avoid pursuing them
with the utmost rigor of the law.  Such, in 1851, was the case of a
"respectable" solicitor, living in Lime Street, Watling Street, who
had insured his house and furniture for a sum much larger than they
were worth.  The means he adopted for the commission of his crime
without discovery were apparently sure; but it was the very pains he
took to accomplish his end which led to his detection.  He had
special]y made to order a deep tray of iron, in the centre of which
was placed a socket, the tray he filled with naphtha, and in the
socket he put a candle, the light of which was shaded by a funnel.
The candle was one of the kind which he used for his gig-lamp, for he
kept a gig, and was calculated to last a stated time before it reached
the naphtha.  He furtively deposited the whole machine in the cellar,
within eight inches of the wooden floor, in a place constructed to
conceal it.  The attorney went out, and on coming back again found, as
he expected, that his house was on fire.  Unfortunately, however, for
him--if it is ever a misfortune to a scoundrel to be detected--it was
put out at a very ear]y stage; and the firemen, whilst in the act of
extinguishing it discovered this infernal machine.  The order to make
it was traced to the delinquent; a female servant, irritated at the
idea of his having left her in the house to be burned to death, gave
evidence against him; he was tried and convicted, and is now expiating
his crime at Norfolk Island.  Plans for rebuilding this villain's
house, and estimates of the expense, were found afterwards among his

The class "Doubtful" includes all those cases in which the offices
have no moral doubt that the fire has been wilful, but are not in
possession of legal evidence sufficient to substantiate a charge
against the offender.  In most of these instances, however, the
insured has _his reasons_ for taking a much smaller sum than he
originally demanded.  Lastly, we have the "Unknown," to which 1323
cases are put down, one of the largest numbers in the entire list,
though decreasing year by year.  Even of these a certain percentage
are supposed to be wilful.  There is no denying that the crime of
arson owes its origin entirely to the introduction of fire insurance;
and there can be as little doubt that of late years it has been very
much increased by the pernicious competition for business among the
younger offices, which leads them to deal too leniently with their
customers; or, in other words, to pay the money, _and ask no
questions_.  It is calculated that _one fire in seven which occur
among the small class of shopkeepers in London is an incendiary fire_.
Mr. Braidwood, whose experience is larger than that of any other
person, tells us that the greatest ingenuity is sometimes exercised to
deceive the officers of the insurance company as to the value of the
insured stock.  In one instance, when the Brigade had succeeded in
extinguishing the fire, he discovered a string stretched across one of
the rooms in the basement of the house, on which ringlets of shavings
dipped in turpentine were tied at regular intervals.  On extending his
investigations he ascertained that a vast pile of what he thought were
pounds of moist sugar, consisted of parcels of brown paper, and that
the loaves of white sugar were made of plaster of Paris.  Ten to one
but the "artful dodge" which some scoundrel flatters himself is
peculiarly his own, has been put in practice by hundreds of others
before him.  For this reason, fires that are wilful generally betray
themselves to the practiced eye of the Brigade.  When an event of the
kind is "going to happen" at home, a common circumstance is to find
that the fond parent has treated the whole of his family to the

There is another class of incendiary fires which arise from a species
of monomania in boys and girls.  Not many years ago, the men of the
Brigade were occupied for hours in putting out no less than half a
dozen fires which broke out one after another in a house in West
Smithfield, and it was at last discovered that they were occasioned by
a youth who went about with lucifers and slily ignited every thing
that would burn.  He was caught in the act of firing a curtain in the
very room in which a fireman was occupied in putting out a blaze.  A
still more extraordinary case took place in the year 1848, at Torluck
House, in the Isle of Mull.  On Sunday, the 11th of November, the
curtains of a bed were ignited, as was supposed, by lightning; a
window-blind followed; and immediately afterwards the curtains of five
rooms broke out one after another into a flame, even the towels
hanging up in the kitchen were burnt.  The next day a bed took fire,
and it being thought advisable to carry the bed-linen into the
coach-house for safety, it caught fire three or four times during the
process of removal.  In a few days the phenomenon was renewed.  The
furniture, books, and every thing else of an inflammable nature, were,
with much labor, taken from the mansion, and again some body-linen
burst into a flame on the way.  Even after these precautions had been
taken, and persons had been set to watch in every part of the house,
the mysterious fires continued to haunt it until the 22d of February,
1849.  It was suspected from the first that they were the act of an
incendiary, and upon a rigid examination of the household before the
Fiscal-General and the Sheriff the mischief was traced to the daughter
of the housekeeper, a young girl who was on a visit to her mother.
She had effected her purpose, which was perfectly motiveless, by
concealing combustibles in different parts of the house.

The most ludicrous conflagration that perhaps ever occurred was that
at Mr. Phillips's workshop, when the whole of his stock of instruments
for extinguishing flame were at one fell swoop destroyed.  "'Tis rare
to see the engineer hoist with his own petard," says the poet; and
certainly it was a most laughable _contre-temps_ to see the
fire-engines arrive at the manufactory just in time to witness the
fire-annihilators annihilated by the fire.  A similar mishap occurred
to these unfortunate implements at Paris.  In juxtaposition with this
case we are tempted to put another, in which the attempt at extinction
was followed by exactly the opposite effects.  A tradesman was about
to light his gas, when, finding the cock stiff, he took a candle to
see what was the matter; whilst attempting to turn it the screw came
out, and with it a jet of gas, which was instantly fired by the
candle.  The blaze igniting the shop, a passer-by seized a wooden pail
and threw its contents upon the flames, which flared up immediately
with tenfold power.  It is scarcely necessary to state that the water
was whiskey, and that the country was Old Ireland.

Spontaneous combustion is at present very little understood, though
chemists have of late turned their attention to the subject.  It
forms, however, no inconsiderable item in the list of causes of fires.
There can be no question that many of those that occur at
railway-stations, and buildings, are due to the fermentation which
arises among oiled rags.  Over-heating of waste, which includes
shoddy, sawdust, cotton, &c., is a fearful source of conflagrations.
The cause of most fires which have arisen from spontaneous combustion
is lost in the consequence.  Cases now and then occur where the
firemen have been able to detect it, as for instance at Hibernia Wharf
in 1846, one of Alderman Humphreys' warehouses.  It happened that a
porter had swept the sawdust from the floor into a heap, upon which a
broken flask of olive-oil that was placed above, dripped its contents.
To these elements of combustion the sun added its power, and sixteen
hours afterwards the fire broke out.  Happily it was instantly
extinguished; and the agents that produced it were caught, red-handed
as it were, in the act.  The chances are that such a particular
combination of circumstances might not occur again in a thousand
years.  The sawdust will not be swept again into such a position under
the oil, or the bottle will not break over the sawdust, or the sun
will not shine in on them to complete the fatal sum.  It is an
important fact, however, to know that oiled sawdust, warmed by the
sun, will fire in sixteen hours, as it accounts for a number of
conflagrations in saw-mills, which never could be traced to any
probable cause.

By means of direct experiment we are also learning something on the
question of explosions.  It used to be assumed that gunpowder was
answerable for all such terrible effects in warehouses where no gas or
steam was employed; and as policies are vitiated by the fact of its
presence, unless declared, many squabbles have ensued between insurers
and insured upon this head alone.  At the late great fire at
Gateshead, a report having spread that the awful explosion which did
so much damage arose from the illicit stowage of seven tons of
gunpowder in the Messrs. Sisson's warehouse, the interested insurance
companies offered a reward of 100l. to elicit information.  The
experiments instituted, however, by Mr. Pattinson, in the presence of
Captain Du Cane, of the Royal Engineers, and the coroner's jury
impanelled to inquire into the matter, showed that the water from the
fire-engine falling upon the mineral and chemical substances in store
was sufficient to account for the result.  The following were the
experiments tried at Mr. Pattinson's works at Felling, about three
miles from Gateshead.

"Mr. Pattinson first caused a metal pot to be inserted in the ground
until its top was level with the surface; and having put into it 9
lbs. of nitrate of soda and 6 lbs. of sulphur, he ignited the mass;
and then, heating it to the highest possible degree of which it was
susceptible, he poured into it about a quart of water.  The effect was
an immediate explosion (accompanied by a loud clap), which would have
been exceedingly perilous to any person in its immediate vicinity.
The experiment was next made under different conditions.  The pot into
which the sulphur and nitrate of soda were put was covered over the
top with a large piece of thick metal of considerable weight; and
above that again were placed several large pieces of clay and earth.
It was deemed necessary to try this experiment in an open field, away
from any dwelling-house, and which admitted of the spectators placing
themselves at a safe distance from the spot.  The materials were then
ignited as before; and when in the incandescent state, water was
poured upon the mass down a spout.  The result was but a comparatively
slight explosion, and which scarcely disturbed the iron and clods
placed over the mouth of the vessel.  Another experiment of the kind
was made with the same result.  At length, a trial having been made
for a third time, but with this difference that the vessel was covered
over the top with another similar vessel, and that the water was
poured upon the burning sulphur and nitrate of soda with greater
rapidity than before, by slightly elevating the spout, the effect was
to blow up the pot on the top into the air to a height of upwards of
seventy feet, accompanied by a loud detonation.  With this the coroner
and jury became convinced that whether or not the premises in Hillgate
contained gunpowder, they contained elements as certainly explosive,
and perhaps far more destructive."

We may here mention as a curious result of the Gateshead fire that
several tons of lead, whilst flowing in a molten state, came in
contact with a quantity of volatilized sulphur.  Thus the lead became
re-converted into lead-ore, or a sulphuret of lead, which as it
required to be re-smelted, was thereby debased in value from some
twenty-two to fifteen shillings a ton.

The great fire, again, which occurred in Liverpool in October last,
was occasioned by the explosion of spirits of turpentine, which blew
out, one after another, seven of the walls of the vaults underneath
the warehouse, and in some cases destroyed the vaulting itself, and
exposed to the flames the stores of cotton above.  Surely some law is
called for to prevent the juxtaposition of such inflammable materials.
The turpentine is said to have been fired by a workman who snuffed the
candle with his fingers, and accidentally threw the snuff down the
bung-hole of one of the barrels of turpentine.  The warehouses burnt
were built upon Mr. Fairbairn's new fireproof plan, which the
Liverpool people introduced, some years ago, at a great expense to the

Water alone brought into sudden contact with red hot iron is capable
of giving rise to a gas of the most destructive nature--witness the
extraordinary explosions that are continually taking place in
steam-vessels, especially in America, which mostly arise from the
lurching of the vessel when waiting for passengers, causing the water
to withdraw from one side of the boiler, which rapidly becomes red
hot.  The next lurch in an opposite direction precipitates the water
upon the highly-heated surface, and thus explosive gas, in addition to
the steam, is generated faster than the safety-valves can get rid of

A very interesting inquiry, and one of vital importance to the
actuaries of fire-insurance companies, is the relative liability to
fire of different classes of occupations and residences.  We already
know accurately the number of fires which occur yearly in every trade
and kind of occupation.  What we do not know, and what we want to
know, is the proportion the tenements in which such trades and
occupations are carried on, bear to the total number of houses in the
metropolis.  The last census gives us no information of this kind, and
we trust the omission will be supplied the next time it is taken.
According to Mr. Braidwood's returns for the last twenty-one years,
the number of fires in each trade, and in private houses, has been as

Private Houses                      4,638
Lodgings                            1,304
Victuallers                           715
Sale Shops and Offices                701
Carpenters and Workers in Wood        621
Drapers, of Woollen and Linen         372
Bakers                                311
Stables                               277
Cabinet Makers                        233
Oil and Color men                     230
Chandlers                             178
Grocers                               163
Tinmen, Braziers, and Smiths          158
Hooses under Repair and Building      150
Beershops                             142
Coffee-shops and Chophouses           139
Brokers and Dealers in Old Clothes    134
Hatmakers                             127
Lucifer-match makers                  l20
Wine and Spirit Merchants             118
Tailors                               113
Hotels and Club-houses                107
Tobacconists                          105
Eating-houses                         104
Booksellers and Binders               103
Ships                                 102
Printers and Engravers                102
Builders                               91
Houses unoccupied                      89
Tallow-chandlers                       87
Marine store Dealers                   75
Saw-mills                              67
Firework Makers                        66
Warehouses                             63
Chemists                               62
Coachaakers                            50
Warehouses (Manchester)                49
Public Buildings                       46

If we look at the mere number of fires irrespective of the size of the
industrial group upon which they committed their ravages, houses would
appear to be hazardous according to the order in which we have placed
them.  Now, this is manifestly absurd, inasmuch as private houses
stand at the head of the list, and it is well known that they are the
safest from fire of all kinds of tenements.  Mr. Brown, of the Society
of Actuaries, who has taken the trouble to compare the number of fires
in each industrial group with the number of houses devoted to it, as
far as he could find any data in the Post-office Directory, gives the
following average annual percentage of conflagrations, calculated on a
period of fifteen years:--

Lucifer-match makers                30.00
Lodging-houses                      16.51
Hatmakers                            7.74
Chandlers                            3.88
Drapers                              2.67
Tinmen, Braziers, and Smiths         2.42
Carpenters                           2.27
Cabinet Makers                       2.12
Oil and Color Men                    1.56
Beershops                            1.31
Booksellers                          1.18
Coffee-shops and Coffee-houses       1.20
Cabinet Makers                       1.12
Licensed Victuallers                  .86
Bakers                                .75
Wine Merchants                        .61
Grocers                               .34

It will be seen that this estimate in a great measure inverts the
order of "dangerous," as we have ranged them in the previous table,
making those which from their aggregate number seemed to be the most
hazardous trades appear the least so, and _vice versâ_.  Thus
lucifer-match makers have a bad pre-eminence; indeed, they are
supposed to be subject to a conflagration every third year, while the
terrible victuallers, carpenters, mercers, and bakers, at the top of
the column, shrink to the bottom of the list.  These conclusions
nevertheless are only an approximation to the truth, since it is
impossible to procure a correct return of the houses occupied by
different trades.  Even if a certain class of tenements is
particularly liable to fire, it does not follow that it will be held
to be very hazardous to the insurers.  Such considerations are
influenced by another question, Are the contents of houses forming the
group of that nature that, in case of their taking fire, they are
likely to be totally destroyed, seriously, or only slightly damaged?
For instance, lodging-houses are very liable to fire, but they are
very seldom burnt down or much injured.  Out of 81 that suffered in
1853 not one was totally destroyed; only four were extensively
affected; the very large majority, 77, were slightly scathed from the
burning of window and bed curtains, &c.  Among the trades which are
too hazardous to be insured at any price are--we quote from the Tariff
of the "County Fire-office,"--floor cloth manufacturers, gunpowder
dealers, hatters' "stock in the stove," lamp-black makers,
lucifer-match makers, varnish-makers, and wadding-manufacturers;
whilst the following are considered highly hazardous,--bone-crushers,
coffee-roasters, composition-ornament makers, curriers, dyers,
feather-stovers, flambeau-makers, heckling-houses, hemp and flax
dressers, ivory-black makers, japanners and japan-makers,
laboratory-chemists, patent japan-leather manufacturers, lint-mills,
rough-fat melters, musical-instrument makers, oil and color men,
leather-dressers, oiled silk and linen makers, oil of vitriol
manufacturers, pitch-makers, rag-dealers, resin-dealers, saw-mills,
seed-crushers, ship-biscuit bakers, soap-makers, spermaceti and wax
refiners, sugar-refiners, tar dealers and boilers, thatched houses in
towns, and turpentine-makers.

It is a notable fact that the city of London, which is perhaps the
most densely inhabited spot the world has ever seen, has long been
exempt from conflagrations involving a considerable number of houses.
"The devouring element," it is true, has made many meals from time to
time of huge warehouses and public buildings; but since the great fire
of 1666 it has ceased to gorge upon whole quarters of the town.  We
have never had, since that memorable occasion, to record the
destruction of a thousand houses at a time, a matter of frequent
occurrence in the United States and Canada--indeed in all parts of
Continental Europe.  The fires which have proved fatal to large plots
of buildings in the metropolis, have in every instance taken place
without the sound of Bow bells.  A comparison between the number of
fires which occurred between the years 1838 and 1843, in 20,000 houses
situated on either side of the Thames, shows at once the superior
safety of its northern bank, the annual average of fires on the latter
being only 20 against 36 on the southern side.  For this exemption we
have to thank the great disaster, if we might so term what has turned
out a blessing.  At one fell swoop it cleared the city, and swept away
for ever the dangerous congregation of wooden buildings and narrow
streets which were always affording material for the flame.

The means to be adopted to prevent the flames spreading, resolve
themselves into taking care not to open doors or windows, which create
a draught.  The same rule should be observed by those outside; no door
or glass should be smashed in before the means are at hand to put out
the fire.

_Directions for aiding persons to escape from premises on fire._

1. Be careful to acquaint yourself with the best means of exit from
   the house both at the top and bottom.

2. On the first alarm reflect before you act.  If in bed at the time
   wrap yourself in a blanket, or bedside carpet; open no more doors
   or windows than are absolutely necessary, and shut every door after

3. There is always from eight to twelve inches of pure air close to
   the ground: if you can not therefore walk upright through the
   smoke, drop on your hands and knees, and thus progress.  A wetted
   silk handkerchief, a piece of flannel, or a worsted stocking drawn
   over the face, permits breathing, and, to a great extent, excludes
   the smoke.

4. If you can neither make your way upwards nor downwards, get into a
   front room: if there is a family, see that they are all collected
   here, and keep the door closed as much as possible, for remember
   that smoke always follows a draught, and fire always rushes after

5. On no account throw yourself, or allow others to throw themselves,
   from the window.  If no assistance is at hand, and you are in
   extremity, tie the sheets together, and, having fastened one end to
   some heavy piece of furniture, let down the women and children one
   by one, by tying the end of the line of sheets round the waist and
   lowering them through the window that is over the door, rather than
   through one that is over the area.  You can easily let yourself
   down when the helpless are saved.

6. If a woman's clothes should catch fire, let her instantly roll
   herself over and over on the ground; if a man be present, let him
   throw her down and do the like, and then wrap her in a rug, coat,
   or the first _woollen_ thing that is at hand.

7. Bystanders, the instant they see a fire, should run for the
   fire-escape, or to the police station if that is nearer, where a
   "jumping-sheet" is always to be found.

Dancers, and those that are accustomed to wear light muslins and other
inflammable articles of clothing, when they are likely to come in
contact with the gas, would do well to remember, that by steeping them
in a solution of alum they would not be liable to catch fire.  If the
rule were enforced at theatres, we might avoid any possible recurrence
of such a catastrophe as happened at Drury Lane in 1844, when poor
Clara Webster was so burnt before the eyes of the audience, that she
died in a few days.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Fires and Firemen: from the Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science and Art, Vol XXXV No. 1, May 1855" ***

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ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.