John BEER and Charles John WATTS

Inscription Police Memorial Toxteth Park cemetery
Liverpool Mercury, Jan 7th, 1893



The fire that broke out late on Thursday night in Juniper St, Bankhall, developed during yesterday morning into one of the most destructive fires Liverpool has suffered since the burning of the Landing Stage in 1874. Shortly before 11pm on Thursday night a constable noticed black smoke proceeding from the ground floor of Monas warehouses, Juniper St. The police fire station Vauxhall Rd and the Central Fire Station being communicated with, Insp MC CORMACK was quickly on the scene with a hose carriage, closely followed by the steamers JOHN HUGHES and CLINT, the Derby Rd Fire Station also despatched the steamer HAMILTON. Insp LOGAN shortly arrived to assume control of the brigade, who speedily got six branches in play from the main.

In Juniper St between Barr St and Costain St are five, six story warehouses, stored at the time from basement to roof with merchandise, chiefly cotton, the fire had broken out in the second of these from Costain St on the ground floor. The doors in these were broken in by the firemen, but such dense clouds of smoke ensued that it was impossible to gain entrance. Fire escapes were ran up and wherever the dense smoke left an approach water was poured in. By this time about 200 firemen were engaged under Insps LOGAN and MC CORMICK and the salvage corps and police were also on the scene.

The fire continued to spread and got hold of the warehouses on either side to that where it was first discovered. Suddenly at 4pm the gable of the warehouse on the corner of Costain St was blown out with a loud explosion and the roof fell in. 12 firemen were at the time on the roofs and put in imminent danger, escapes were run up and all were rescued from their perilous position. At about quarter to five the roof of the middle warehouse fell in were the fire arose and the flicker that had occasionally been seen through the smoke was replaced by sheets and tongues of flame that shot up and illuminated all the surroundings. Five firemen had previously ascended to the roof by a fire escape, that they had been engulfed, seemed to those below certain, however, the men had effected a hazardous escape by flying over the slates, slippery from the hard frost and leapt on to an adjoining warehouse over a passage a yard and a half in width.

Every effort was now called for from the large body of men engaged, for the strong hold the flames had obtained was apparent. The bottom floor going back from Juniper St some 82ft was closely packed with bales, through the smoke could be seen this mass of cotton glowing red hot. A large number of branches were brought into play, through which the steamers poured incessant streams of water. The brigade plied their efforts steadily, but the conflagration showed no signs of slackening and portions of the building collapsed from time to time. At this time the greatest excitement prevailed, it was evident that sooner or later the whole of the fabric of the warehouses would come down. Juniper St is but a narrow thoroughfare, consequently the greatest caution had to exercised by the firemen for their own safety. Shortly before 10pm, the top of the wall at the extreme end of the seat of the fire nearest the railway was seen to totter. A stampede was made by the large body of firemen engaged in the street, but one of them named BEER was struck by the falling bricks, his companion WATTS ran back to pull him out when the whole wall fell on them burying them, at the same time carrying away with it the corner and a portion of the roof of the warehouse opposite. The debris piled up the street to a height of about 15ft, the gap in the wall displaying the burning mass of cotton, bale upon bale , all charred and smoking disclosed, for the first time the firemen were able to get to the source. When it became known two of their men [both married] had been buried a number of salvage men and firemen went to search for their bodies, and after searching for an hour they were both discovered. Not an effort to cope with the fire however was relaxed, more branches were brought, the piles of bricks were used and for the first time since the commencement of the fire a real impression was made upon its ravages. About 11pm a second wall fell in Juniper St, great excitement followed and another rush had to be made, two other firemen were hurt by falling bricks, one was removed to the Northern Hospital. Two-thirds of the fire were now laid open and 16 branches were got to work, 8 from the JOHN HUGHES, 6 from the CLINT and 2 from the HAMILTON. After noon it became evident the fire was well in hand by 2pm the service of the steamers was dispensed with, 5 or 6 branches being kept playing from the main, and as the district was low lying the pressure from these was sufficient to deal with the smouldering remains.

After the dismissal of the majority of the force some unusual scenes were witnessed in the neighbouring streets. The men had black faces, dusty and cotton strewn clothing, they were wetted to the skin and their weary walk made patent to everyone what a fearful night they had spent. Those who lived in the city were accommodated as far as possible on the returning engines, and the tramcars were laden with them. Those who had to walk home had to suffer no little chaff from the ubiquitous and sarcastic street boys, who have no appreciation for work, The large staff of police which was in attendance under the Head Constable, Capt NOTT BOWER and the Asst Head Constable Mr H. ALLBUTT, Supt IRVINE, Supt DAVIES, Insp EDMONDSON, Acting Insp STOWELL, and Sergeants, BRAMBLE, ROBERTS, WEIR and COWMAN. Mr SHIMMIN for the Water Dept, and Mr MC CARTHY, the assistant building surveyor, were also present. The Salvage Brigade was directed by Chief officer BEALE and Superintendents JONES and YELLAND.

The warehouses were stored chiefly with cotton, one containing 4370 bales, , another 3147 bales, and another 3088 bales, several hundred bales of Egyptian cotton, and in the middle warehouse a quantity of sulphate of copper. The cotton was owned chiefly by Messers REISS Brothers, Browns Buildings, Messers PENNEFATHER and Co, Manchester Buildings, and Messers APOSTOLIDI Brothers, Sweeting St, a small quantity also being held by Messers MOLYENUX, TAYLOR and Co, Rumford St. The loss in each instance is covered by insurance, as are the warehouses themselves valued at 12,000 pounds tenanted by Mr J. R. THOMPSON. The damage to Juniper St is valued at 200,000 pounds.

Late last night it was considered that all danger of further outbreak had not passed and water was continually being poured on the buildings. With regard to the death of the two policemen it seems Insp LOGAN had a narrow escape he had mounted a stair close to the wall in order to better direct the hose, he heard a rumbling noise, saw the wall totter and fall with a great crash, he was observed standing on the staircase and came down at once, climbing over debris to reach safety, had the wall fallen inwards he would certainly have lost his life.

Liverpool Mercury, Jan 11th, 1893




In the presence of every indication of public sorrow, the funeral of the police-firemen, 206 C, John BEER, and 356 C, Charles John WATTS, took place yesterday at Toxteth Cemetery, Smithdown Rd. These two men perished on Friday last at the great cotton fire in Juniper St, the thrilling acts of heroism on the part of the two men so touched the feelings of the community, admiration of work nobly done and sympathy with the sorrowing relatives, as to bring together a vast body of people. Not only was there a great concourse within the cemetery gates, but all along the route there was dense masses of people assembled. In Smithdown Rd the pressure was so great that the procession passed down, as it were, a narrow alley-way. On either side people crowded together, windows and balconies were filled, some venturesome sightseers were up on the roof tops, no funeral in Liverpool for many years passed has called forth such a demonstration of popular sympathy. The procession commenced in Exe St, Windsor, where BEER resided, then on to the residence of WATTS in Asbridge St. There were about 800 - 900 policemen in uniform in the procession. First came a body of police, then a mounted constable, then a hose carriage bearing the body of BEER, drawn by fire-police horses mounted by constables, followed by carriages conveying the chief mourners.:- The widow and two children, Mrs BEER, [mother of the deceased], Mr and Mrs FAIR, Mr and Mrs TEARE, Mr and Mrs BOOTHMAN, Miss and Miss M. FAIR, Mr ASHCROFT, Messers TEARE Sen, LANCASTER, CORKHILL, MEAKIN, LECKIE, WILLIAMS, JONES, MULLINS, MORRIS, LLOYD, HORNBY, CRESTON and EVANS. Then followed the body of WATTS, deposited in like manner on a hose carriage, the coffin bearing as before the Union Jack and many wreaths, and the helmet of the deceased. Entwined in the bridle of each horse were white ribbons, mourners ;-

The widow, William WATTS [brother], Mr and Mrs RICHARDS, Mr and Mrs ROWLANDS, Miss and Miss A. DYAS.

The coffins were of French polished oak with brass mountings and the inscriptions were :-

John BEER, died 6th January 1893, aged 29

Charles John WATTS, died 6th January 1893, aged 23

On either side of the whole procession were constables in single file, and the Police Band under Mr CRAWLEY, had a place at the head until the cemetery gates were reached. There the band stayed until the solemn procession had passed into the cemetery. Along the line of route the band played in succession the Dead March, in Saul, [Handel], Beethovens march on the death of a hero, and Op 109. The procession as it passed up the main avenue of the cemetery was observed to include Mr H. H. HORNBY, [chairman of the Watch Committee], Councillors LEA and FLYNN, Capt NOTT BOWER [Head constable], Mr Henry ALLBUTT, Deputy, Mr T. E. SAMPSON, Coroner of Liverpool, Mr LUCAS, P. STUBBS, Magistrates clerk, representing Mr W. J. STEWART, Police magistrate, who is recovering from a severe cold, Mr FERGUSSON, late chief jailer at Walton, two members of the Manchester fire brigade, a boats crew of the river police under Insp ELLIOTT, and fire police with engines, from Bootle, Crosby, West Derby etc. The Liverpool Police included besides the chief officers above named, Superintendent, PARKINSON, IRVINE, HASSELL, EGERTON, SPERRIN [chief clerk], and WILLIS [Fire Brigade], Insp MC NOUGHT [representing Superintendent CRATNEY who was not well enough to attend in such inclement weather]. MC CONCHIE, STRETTELL, GRUB, COLLINGWOOD, HAMILTON, BRYSON, FINNEY, TOMLINSON [coroners beadle], and CHURCHILL [Police courts].

At the church door the bodies were received by Rev R. H. HAMMOND, Incumbent at St James, the Rev J. ADAMS Curate, the Rev W. M. BARROW, incumbent of St Clements, and the Rev W. B. WILLIAMS incumbent at St Dunstans. After the opening part of the burial service had been read, the body of BEER was first conveyed to the section of the cemetery where lie interred many policemen who have fallen in the execution of their duty. At the conclusion of the service here the coffin was covered as to ecclesiastical law. Then the body of WATTS was brought from the church and buried in the same grave. The committal prayer was again read and at the conclusion Mr HAMMOND delivered a brief and touching address. Mr S. CHISWELL [R. MCDOUGAL and Co Ltd] had charge of the funeral arrangements, floral tributes were beautiful and numerous, chief among them being those sent by the various police divisions, staff departments and fire police, including, 2 wreaths, 2 anchors, 2 crosses, 2 stars, 2 hearts and 2 designs of exceptional beauty, representing the Victoria Cross. Flowers supplied by the noted firm of Fishlock Brothers, Elliott St. Two beautiful wreaths were sent by the late chairman of the Fire Prevention Committee, Mr J. DUNCAN. The Union Jacks which covered the coffins were kindly lent by Messers Arthur SMART and Co, Wapping. The clerical staff of the Royal Liver Friendly Society was represented by Messers T. S. STEVENSON and J. E. PIERCE, who placed a wreath on the coffin as a testimony of their regard for the deceased John BEER during his employment in the society.

Liverpool Mercury, Jan 14th, 1893




In brief ;-

Coroners Court, Dale St, Liverpool, before Mr T. E. SAMPSON, city coroner, inquest resumed yesterday morning on the bodies of John BEER, aged 29, Exe St, and Charles John WATTS, aged 23, Asbridge St, members of the Liverpool Fire Brigade and on the 6th of this month lost their lives whilst in the execution of their duty at a cotton fire in Juniper St. Supt IRVINE watched the case on the behalf of the police, also present Supt WILLIS of the fire brigade, Dept Supt LOGAN AND Insp MC NAUGHT. Councillor M. H. MAXWELL was in court during the hearing of the evidence. The Coroner reminded the jury that the evidence given on the last occasion was merely that of identification.

Joseph EVANS, warehouseman employed by Messers J. R. THOMPSON and Co, said for the past 9yrs the firm rented 8 warehouses in the region of Juniper St. With an assistant he looked after them all. One warehouse E. 1235 was stored principally with American cotton, in that building the fire took place, there was nothing in the rooms of the warehouse to cause an explosion, without it was in the cotton itself. Witness thought the fire originated in Room No2, where there was cotton belonging to Messers REESE Brothers, the last man in that room was Thomas DICK, cotton porter, he was there on Tuesday before the fire, from that day the room was not opened until the fire took place. He was in the cellar of the building about 9 on the morning of the day on which the outbreak occurred. He went down to turn the water off on account of the frost. He locked up at 6pm and all seemed right.

Coroner, we are told that there was an explosion.

Witness said, he knew of nothing in the place that would explode or take fire itself, and could not give the slightest idea to the origin of the fire. When he went into the cellar that evening he did not take a lamp or light, he went in the dark because he knew the position of the water meter. When lamps were used they were locked-up lamps, he did not smoke in the warehouse or use any matches. He saw nobody smoking in the place or using any matches.

Cross examined by a juryman, witness was the person who gave out the lamps and they could not be opened unless he unlocked them. Before leaving he did not go through every room in the building. If a man fell asleep in a room after 5pm he would have to stay there all night. He had no check that all the men were out when the place was closed, it was possible for a man to be locked in but he had never known it. There was one staircase for two warehouses, a person might get in as far as the staircase but then would have to burst the door open, the keys were kept in his room, when he was out his assistant kept charge of them. It was only from hearsay he knew a bale of cotton might fire itself, this was the first accident he had, had, during the 9yrs he had been a warehousemen.

William THOMPSON, Assistant warehouse-keeper was then called, he said on the 5th he left about 6pm and noticed no signs of fire. He went down to the cellar a few times to turn the water off on account of the frost. He used a locked lamp he got from the office, he locked it himself and never opened it. He had no matches and did not smoke, he had no reason to relight his lamp. During the day he used his lamp as the rooms were dark, the previous day he was in the cellar but did not have to pass through the room where the fire originated to get to the cellar. The last witness did not go into the cellar after him at night. He did not know of anything which might cause an explosion, nothing could be put through the windows of the rooms. He was last in the room on the 3rd, he could not say if he had a lamp, if he had, it would be a lock-up lamp.

Cross examined by a juryman, if this lamp went out he would have to go back to the office in the dark for they did not carry the keys of the lamps out of the office. He had been 9yrs in this situation. After locking a lamp he always tried if it was fast. When the men were in the place of Messers REESE Brothers they had lamps with them, those men came to the office for the lamps and they had to leave matches and pipes in the office before going into the building

Thomas DICK, Cotton porter, employed by, Messers REESE Brothers on the 3rd of this month he was working in warehouse 1235 and 1236 in Juniper St. On the day of the fire he was in a warehouse close by that in which there was a fire.

John BIRD, living in Bebington said he was chief warehouseman to Messers REESE Brothers , the firm had cotton stored in the building in question. He was last in the place on the 2nd, no cotton had gone in our out of that warehouse since 29th December last, he knew nothing of an explosive character being stored there.

By a juryman, when Dick was in the warehouse he was simply clearing up the place as the Salvage Association had been very particular of late about having loose cotton taken up off the floor. He was not in the room where the fire broke out.

Archibald LOGAN, Dept Superintendent of the fire brigade, Hatton Garden, said a little before 11 the men where called out to the fire in question. He was in charge as Supt WILLIS was away on his holidays. They found dense volumes of smoke issuing out of all the doors which were locked The brigade forced an entrance and poured water on the cotton, the brigade and salvage worked hard. About 4am the roof fell in and they got 15 branches to work, at 4.45am an explosion took place which threw the roof up and then down and damaged the adjoining warehouse. Three warehouses then became ignited and burned with great fury. There was a terrible noise because along with the explosion the roof jumped up and fell simultaneously with one of the walls. There was a boiler near the roof used for a steam-hoist. There was no doubt an explosion took place.

Coroner, let us clear up this explosion, do you think that it was the boiler that exploded ?

Witness, could not say but it was possible.

A juryman, thought that if nothing could now be found of the boiler it was likely that it had exploded.

Witness, the fire was a serious one at 5am word was sent for all firemen to attend, BEER and WATTS came about 7 at 10.15 they were working branches in Juniper St, they seemed then perfectly safe. Witness was on a staircase in the building when he heard a loud crash by the falling of the wall, he ran for safety into the street. BEER and WATTS were then missing, a constable told him they believed they had been knocked down by the falling wall. Witness at once put men on to remove the debris and in about an hour the bodies were found close together, they were taken to hospital by ambulance. The wall that fell was the front wall, it did not appear to be dangerous before it came down, a side wall was leaning and he ordered all the men away from that. Witness had been working near the front wall just before the accident and he was surprised at it falling. He had 20ys experience of fires and this was the fiercest. When the wall fell the mortar seemed to leave the bricks. The men who were killed were good experienced men.

A juryman, is there any suggestion the explosion caused the wall to fall ?

Corner, we do not know it may have shaken it.

By the jury, Witness said that the warehouses seemed to be good buildings, when the wall fell there was no cotton by it, so the accident did not happen by the swelling of cotton. No officers were regularly set aside at fires for the sole purpose of watching for falling walls, although a keen lookout was kept by the officer in charge and other men. He had a narrow escape himself and had to run to get clear of the falling wall.

Warehouseman EVANS, recalled, said the warehouses were certified, no complaints had every been made against them by any insurance people.

In reply to a juryman, Mr LOGAN said that the explosion might have been caused by the accumulation of heated smoke and foul gases in one of the rooms.

PC 277 C stated he was at the fire and saw BEER and WATTS. He was near them when the wall fell, they ran towards the canal, he went in the other direction, if they had followed him or stood still they would have been saved, receiving nothing but a few bricks. Witness told Mr LOGAN he feared BEER and WATTS had been buried in the debris, he thought the wall bent slightly an hour before it fell. But did not tell Mr LOGAN as it did not seem dangerous, it was a well built wall.

PC 192 C, deposed he was at the fire and saw BEER and WATTS there, he was in an adjoining warehouse working at the fire, on seeing the wall crack he called to the men to clear out, it was the centre of the wall that cracked.

PC 155 C, said he saw the wall fall, when the alarm was given he ran to get out of away, he helped to recover the bodies.

PC. S BALDWIN, IRVING and JAMIESON gave corroborative evidence.

Dr DAWSON, said he examined the bodies of BEER and WATTS, and death was due to the falling of the wall, the bodies were terribly crushed, indeed the uniforms could not be taken off, death would have been instantaneous.

The Coroner in summing up said, the evidence showed no person had entered the warehouse from Tuesday to the day of the fire except the warehousemen who had sworn they had entered the place without lights and with lockup-lamps, he though the explosion was caused by the generation of steam in the boiler near the roof. The whole affair seemed to be an unfortunate accident as all had worked with good will, every precaution was taken and it was impossible to say what had caused the fire, although they might have a number of theories, he suggested they leave that an open question.

The Jury retired to consider their verdict, after 10mins they returned, the Foreman said that the jury was of the opinion John BEER and Charles John WATTS were accidentally killed by the falling of a wall at the fire in Juniper St, while bravely performing their duty as firemen. The Jury, he added also wished to make a presentment. They wished to express their deep regret at these continued terrible warehouse fires in Liverpool, entailing a loss of property and merchandise during the last 12mths to the extent of about half a million sterling.

The Coroner said he supposed the Jury knew that to be so as they had no evidence of it that day.

The Foreman, that was so, the Jury thought these fires should be thoroughly investigated by a public court of inquiry similar to those held after railway accidents, loss at sea and colliery explosions. In cases of fire the inquiry should be compulsory. They were inclined to think that many of these fires were not merely accidents or they would occur in other places. In Manchester, some 200,000 bales are stored, yet fires in cotton warehouses there were seldom heard of. They trusted some steps would be taken to sift these matters to the bottom, if these fires were prevented it might spare the pain of inquiring into the deaths of such brave fellows as BEER and WATTS. They had raised funds for the deceased The Coroner agreed with the presentment of the Jury and said that a Bill had been presented to the House of Commons last session for instituting inquiries in the case of fire, inquiries that should be made in Coroners Courts. The Home Secretary believed such inquiries would be a deterrent against arson and fraud. Of course it was far more important to have some safeguard against loss of life and he would see that the presentment was forwarded to the proper quarter. He thanked the Jury for their gift for the widows and orphans

The Foreman said, the Jury thought the police and firemen who were at Juniper St had acted in a noble and brave manner, and they congratulated Mr LOGAN upon his marvellous escape.


Copyright 2002 / To date